Seniors Participate in Science Research Symposium

On October 22, the Science Department hosted its annual Science Student Research Symposium. Nine amazing senior scientists from the Class of 2020 spent their summers in research labs across the country. The students worked to complete graduate-level projects with their mentors, demonstrating their love of scientific learning. The students presented their experiences and research, followed by their poster presentations.
Here is a synopsis of each student’s work:
Jennifer Liu
Characterization of New AAV Variants for Intramuscular Gene Delivery in Mice
This summer, Jennifer interned at the Gene Therapy Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She worked under the mentorship of Dr. Makoto Horiuchi and his team at the Wilson Lab. Jennifer worked to determine which of 11 adeno-associated virus (AAV) serotypes is most effective for intramuscular gene delivery in mice. The findings of her research will provide an idea of which type of AAV transduces cells most successfully and efficiently, taking steps toward gene therapy being implemented in humans.
Abby Lynch and Emily Xiong
Health Related Quality of Life in Patients with Friedreich’s Ataxia
Over the summer, Emily Xiong and Abby Lynch worked at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with Dr. David Lynch, Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania. They shadowed Dr. Lynch and the team who study Friedreich’s Ataxia, a rare, neurodegenerative disease. Along with administering patient questionnaires, they shadowed patient visits in clinic. They utilized these health-related quality of life questionnaires to study patients’ quality of life with Friedreich’s Ataxia and how different symptoms were impacted over time. Emily and Abby focused on studying the impact of Friedreich’s Ataxia on patients’ generic quality of life and vision, bladder control, fatigue and pain in symptom-specific questionnaires.
Ava Rosenberger
Quantification of Organic Compounds’ Hydrogen Bonding Strength as Hydrogen Bond Donors
Ava Rosenberger interned at The University of Pennsylvania in Dr. Marisa Kozlowski’s Organic Chemistry research lab. There, she worked alongside graduate student Thomas Paniak to quantify the strength of various organic compounds as hydrogen bond donors. Hydrogen bonding is extremely important in rational drug design and medicinal chemistry. Although this chemical interaction is a crucial element in vital biological functions, quantifying the strengths of hydrogen bond donors remained an elusive task before the Kozlowski group launched their research. Prior to the Kozlowski group, chemical compounds’ hydrogen bonding abilities were determined by their pKa values, which while effective for quantifying the hydrogen bonding abilities for compounds with similar chemical structures, neglect secondary interactions and binding geometry. To overcome this problem, the Kozlowski group created a streamlined approach to determine hydrogen bonding strengths using a UV-Vis spectrophotometer. This technique has allowed the Kozlowski group to measure the hydrogen bonding abilities of a vast number of chemical compounds and to use those findings to predict trends among groups of similar compounds. Avalon’s work this past summer contributed to the project’s new direction of performing single and double point titrations to quantify the strength of hydrogen bond donors rather than performing the full titrations that were completed in the past.
Abby Shen
Tagging NELFE with GFP using CRISPR-cas9 to Examine the Oncogenic Role of NELFE in Hepatocellular Carcinoma
This past summer, Abby Shen interned at Jefferson University where she assisted and learned from post-doc Dr. Kai Zhang, Ms. Anna Barry and Dr. Hien Dang. She mainly worked alongside Dr. Zhang, investigating the RNA-binding protein NELFE’s role in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), or liver cancer. As an oncogenic protein, NELFE binds to and stabilizes mRNAs in the cytoplasm, enhancing the translation of oncogenes that lead to HCC in tumor cells. She assisted the research team in the application of CRISPR gene-editing technology to insert a green fluorescent protein (GFP) tag next to the NELFE gene, then verifying the location and viability of the insertion. If the GFP insertion had been incorporated correctly in the cell’s genome, a fusion protein should be produced so that NELFE would glow under microscope observation, allowing its abnormal activity in liver cancer cells to be tracked and observed. The verification process involved PCRs, Western blots and the extraction and modification of plasmid DNA in bacterial cells grown on agar plates.
Rucha Tank
The Role of m6A in Purkinje Cells in the Cerebellum of Adult Mice
Rucha Tank conducted research at the Song Laboratory at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania this past summer. Under the guidance of mentor Dr. Eunchai Kang, and observation of Dr. Guo-li Ming and Dr. Hongjun Song, she gained insight on the importance of Neural Stem Cells and Epigenetics. Rucha specifically continued research on the role of METTL14, a writer protein that performs RNA modification, in Purkinje Cells in the Cerebellum of Adult Mice. The main focus of research was to determine whether the PCP2Cre: METTL14 line of knockout mice had Purkinje cell changes that displayed developmental defects or neurodegeneration after a span of five to 20 weeks.
Katherine Yang
Investigation of Antimicrobial Resistance in Foodborne Pathogens in Eight Countries from Historical Sample Data
This summer, Katherine Yang worked with Dr. Zuyi Huang to explore the rise in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in foodborne pathogens around the world. Using the R statistical analysis program, principal component analysis and hierarchical clustering, she completed a multivariate statistical analysis of AMR genomic data from eight different countries. She aimed to determine significant AMR genes and resistant foodborne pathogens, and examine the rise and spread of antimicrobial resistance around the world. Her results identified the most common important AMR genes and pathogens as well as a general global rise in AMR, linking this rise and spread to the global trade.
Melody Yu
A Gene Therapy Approach to Primary Hyperoxaluria Type 1
This past summer, Melody Yu interned at the University of Pennsylvania Gene Therapy Lab in the Wilson Lab. She worked alongside Dr. Jenny Greig’s liver team under the mentorship of Melanie Smith. She conducted research on a gene therapy treatment for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, a disease that affects the liver and kidneys and causes kidney stones because of the lack of an enzyme, AGXT. She tested the urine, serum and liver tissue samples of genetically engineered mice to see if the AAV8 vector carrying human genes was properly transduced into the mice. She performed multiple western blots, a method using gel electrophoresis to detect the presence and length of specific proteins or enzymes. Melody verified that the vectors were indeed successfully transduced and that this gene therapy treatment could be used for primary hyperoxaluria type 1 patients in the future.
Grace Yun
Cingulate Gyrus Epilepsy: The Overview of its Functional Neuroanatomy and its Clinical and Behavioral Aspects
This past summer, Grace Yun interned in the Department of Neurosurgery, Jefferson Integrated Magnetic Resonance Imaging Center at Thomas Jefferson University under the guidance of Dr. Chengyuan Wu and Dr. Madhi Alizadeh. She conducted research on cingulate gyrus, a rare form of epilepsy that can cause seizures of unusual behavior, sensations and loss of awareness. Cingulate gyrus epilepsy consists of complex partial seizures with complex motor gestural automatisms at the onset, autonomic signs and changes in mood and affect. Various surgical observations such as video electroencephalography (EEG), positron emission tomography (PET) and EEG electrodes implantation can detect the onset seizure location while lesionectomy, temporal lobe resection, extratemporal lobe resection and craniotomy can be performed to prevent the spread of epilepsy around the limbic system. Diffusion MRI (Dti) data was collected and compared with that of patients who suffer from other types of epilepsy in order to understand the clinical aspects of CGE and how it differs from other forms of epilepsy. During her internship, Grace tested this hypothesis by conducting observations to compare the origin of cingulate gyrus epilepsy with the other types of epilepsies. Also, Grace had the opportunity to observe Dr. Madhi as he conducted scans on brain activity in the MRI. Additionally, she shadowed Dr. Wu during the patient conference, thereby recognizing the translational nature of cingulate gyrus epilepsy research.