School: Health Sciences
Department: Biology & Chemistry
The research focus is on identifying chemicals found in the environment that are able to mimic the effects of estrogen and the cellular pathways through which they exert their effect. Environmental estrogens (xenoestrogens) are synthetic or naturally-occurring chemicals. Synthetic xenoestrogens are widely used in industrial products such as plastics, household products, herbicide, and pesticide. Naturally-occurring environmental estrogens are found in plants (phytoestrogens) and fungi (mycoestrogen). By mimicking estrogenic activity in cells, environmental estrogens alter normal hormone activity and are termed endocrine disruptors. Environmental estrogens have been linked with interference hormone biosynthesis, reproductive and developmental abnormalities, altered homeostasis, decreased bone density, and increased cancer risk. Studying the mechanism of action of environmental estrogens will help determine their impact on human and animal health.
Having a background in cell and molecular biology gives me the opportunity to introduce students such as Levi to biotechnology techniques. By learning these techniques, students working with me can incorporate them into their research.
This research will lead to a better understanding of the risk environmental estrogens pose to animal and human health. Also, the research will identify cellular pathways through which the environmental estrogens alter normal function and development, potentially leading to new ways of preventing or treating diseases such as cancer.
I enjoy working with students and helping train them for a career in science, medicine, biotechnology, or other health professions. One of the most rewarding parts of being a mentor is observing students become more confident in their abilities as they learn and master new skills. Students are not the only ones to learn. As a mentor, I also learn much from my students. As I challenge them, they also challenge me which gives me a new perspective on things.
Our approach is a total team effort. We work together developing and optimizing assays used for the project. Although part of a team effort, Levi has made this project his own. The chemicals being tested are those Levi identified as potentially being estrogenic. We met to discuss results and troubleshoot issues that invariably arise. Through Levi’s hard work, this project is yielding some exciting results.
School: Health Sciences
Major: Biomedical Science and Health Promotion: Clinical concentration.
We have been developing dose-response curves of various chemicals found in the environment that mimic the effects of estrogen (xenoestrogens). I am using a strain of yeast that has human estrogen receptors built into it to detect the presence of these xenoestrogens and determine if these molecules are present in sufficient quantities in the environment to cause diseases in humans, such as breast cancer and other reproductive disorders.
Based on these results, we are studying the precise cellular pathway through which these xenoestrogens induce their estrogenic effects using another yeast genetic system. It appears that the classical estrogen signaling pathway in the cell may not be the only route through which these molecules exert their effects, so we are looking at alternative mechanisms.
Getting started with my research project was a matter of talking to a professor whom I was a TA for and finding out more about his prior research at other institutions. From there, we decided to start up a new project together at Liberty that continued his previous work. We applied for and received several research grants, developed protocols, secured a lab space, and began data collection.
For me, conducting research is much more than just listing several mastered laboratory techniques on my CV or several hundred hours of extracurricular experience on my medical school application. My research shows what I am passionate about, it represents a variety of experiences that have taught me critical thinking, leadership, and initiative. Being able to develop a publishable research project from start to finish as an undergraduate has prepared me to conduct further, more advanced research, particularly in a clinical context alongside my future role as a physician.
I remember the first day that I was in the lab actually conducting my research and recording my first pieces of data. I was thrilled that all our funding was secure, that we had lab space to work in, and that our genetically-modified yeast system was functional, but I also knew there was still a lot of hard work ahead. Now, as I look forward to getting my first publication from this research, I am starting to see my investments of time and energy in the project pay off; spending hour after hour collecting small pieces of data suddenly started to come together into one, large, complete puzzle, and this made it worth all the effort.
My best piece of advice in getting involved in undergraduate research at LU is to get to know your professors, show an interest in their projects, and if what they’re doing excites you, simply ask if they have an open spot for you on their team. However, make sure that it’s a project that you care about and you want to contribute toward; do not get stuck committing many hours of your time into something that does not work toward your personal goals and interests. The earlier you start looking into these opportunities, the better.