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September 2011

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Poster session marks high point for summer interns

By Melissa Kerr
September 2011

Kristen Leger

Kristen Leger from North Carolina State University said she looks forward to continuing the research into protein arginylation modification through an internship during the fall. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Diana Dayal, second from left, mentor to her right, Ezequiel Marron, Ph.D., and her parents

William G. Enloe High School rising senior Diana Dayal, second from left, joined with her proud parents and her mentor, visiting fellow Ezequiel Marron, Ph.D., to her right, at Dayal's poster. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

left to right, Amanda Arulpragasam and Neena Davisson

Amanda Arulpragasam, left, explained her research to fellow intern Neena Davisson. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The 2011 NIH Summer Internship Program(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/summers/) at NIEHS marked the culmination of eight to twelve weeks of sustained effort in NIEHS labs with the annual poster session July 28 in Rodbell Auditorium. The event gave the 45 interns an opportunity to talk about their accomplishments within the Institute's labs over the summer program and showcase their abstracts and posters.

The auditorium was filled with students presenting their findings, postdoctoral fellows judging the posters, and NIEHS scientists interested in the interns' scientific discoveries. The noise level was high and the aisles crowded as the interns spoke about their work, their mentors, and the experiences the summer program provided them.

A summer of focused research and learning

At the beginning of the summer program, interns join a lab based on their individual interests and have the unique opportunity of truly being incorporated into a laboratory setting. During the summer, they work on a project from start to finish, designing and conducting experiments for their pilot studies, which have the potential of becoming part of peer-reviewed publications or presentations at scientific meetings.

During the poster session, the young scientists get valuable experience in thinking on their feet, as they articulate the contents of their posters and the research involved, as well as field questions and observations from senior scientists. The posters are judged by postdoctoral fellows on the quality of the science, the poster presentation, and the oral presentation.

Rahul Jaswaney, one of the winners in the undergraduate division, said he was grateful for the guidance he received. His experience in the lab of Robert Langenbach, Ph.D., has fed Jaswaney's interest in research. “Dr. [Darshini] Trivedi's emphasis on understanding the bigger picture of this project allowed me to keep each experiment in proper perspective,” he explained. “I truly enjoyed working on this project.”

Having the summer program participants in the labs is also a benefit to seasoned scientists, and the Langenbach lab was especially pleased with Jaswaney's work. “Rahul is a very bright, enthusiastic, affable young man, and indeed it has been a pleasure to have had him in our group,” said Langenbach.

At an ice cream social later in the day, NIEHS Deputy Scientific Director Bill Schrader, Ph.D., presented awards for the best posters in three categories (see text box). Schrader opened the ceremony by saying, “It was a great morning of science.” He also said he hoped that the students enjoyed being at NIEHS as much as NIEHS enjoyed having them here.

(Melissa Kerr studies chemistry at North Carolina Central University. She is currently an intern in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

Kyle Ham, right

Mount Olive College rising senior Kyle Ham, right, discussed his work on epigenetic regulation of histone H3. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Rahul Jaswaney

Undergraduate poster co-winner Jaswaney said of his project, “It felt like puzzle working and I found it extremely interesting.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

left to right, Jack Dutton and Bill Schrader, Ph.D.

Graduate poster winner Dutton, left, accepted his award from Schrader. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Nicholas Fitzgerald and family members

Fitzgerald, right, whose poster tied with Jaswaney's in the undergraduate category, explained his research to family members. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Bill Schrader, Ph.D. addressing the summer intern participants

Schrader encouraged the summer intern participants to continue their pursuit of the sciences. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Greeshma Somashekar and Bill Schrader, Ph.D.

High School poster winner Somashekar, left, showed off the award she received from Schrader. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Poster competition winners by category

  • High school: Rising senior Greeshma Somashekar - North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics - Mentor Stavros, Garantziotis, M.D., Matrix Biology Group
    Inter-alpha-trypsin inhibitor heavy chain 4 (ITIH4) is a serum protein found in the tissue of the lung. The concentration becomes elevated in patients with various types of cancer as well as acute lung injury, making this compound a potential biomarker for these diseases. The challenge for Somashekar was to investigate the functional effects of three ITIH4 domains with regard to cell activation and migration. She was able to create ITIH4 constructs in varying sizes. These constructs will allow further investigation into the functional effects of each of the ITIH4 domains on cell activation and migration.
  • Undergraduate (tie): Rising junior Nicholas Fitzgerald - North Carolina State University - Mentor Ken Tomer, Ph.D., Mass Spectrometry Group
    Fitzgerald studied how Anthrax lethal toxin impacted protein expression in macrophages and cardiomyocytes. He found that most of the proteins showed little change from Anthrax lethal toxin exposure. Of the observable changes in macrophages, the most significant change was an up-regulation of stress proteins. In the cardiomyocytes, there was a change in a protein that is a component in endocytosis.
  • Undergraduate (tie): Rising sophomore Rahul Jaswaney - Washington University in St. Louis - Mentor Robert Langenbach, Ph.D., NIEHS Metabolism and Molecular Mechanisms Group
    Jaswaney set out to further understand the affect of beta-arrestin 2 (betaArr2) on the occurrence of abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA). BetaArr2 is a protein that has been known to dampen certain signaling, such as the angiotensin II receptor. These complexes initiate a signaling pathway known for its contribution to a variety of diseases, including AAA formation. He found that a deficiency of BetaArr2 resulted in a reduction in the occurrence of AAA.
  • Graduate: Veterinary student Jack Dutton - North Carolina State University - Mentor Terry Blankenship-Paris, D.V.M., NIEHS Comparative Medicine Branch
    Research models often use surgery performed on mice. Historically, surgery has involved multiple injections, which have the potential to cause additional stress and injury to the animal. Dutton's challenge was to develop a formulation of buprenorphine, a treatment for pain, that can be given at the time of surgery and also provide pain relief throughout the recovery period. He found that a gel solution would sustain buprenorphine for longer than the injectable form, maintaining acceptable levels throughout the post-surgery recovery period.

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