I encountered my first research experience in the Biochemistry Laboratory in Oklahoma Christian University. During three semesters in Biochemistry lab, I gained knowledge in Protein Purification, Protein Assay, Enzyme Cytochemistry, Enzyme Assay, DNA Purification, Transfection and other techniques. A specific project was assigned to the students in lab, and we had to accomplish the objectives together. Though that was my first encounter with research, it intrigued me, and I decided that I would like to be more deeply involved with research. Hence, I participated in an Intro to Research class, and I was assigned to work with Dr. Paula Grammas, who is studying Alzheimer's disease at the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Dr. Grammas utilized rats as an animal model for her research. For four months, I assisted the laboratory technician with different laboratory techniques such as DNA Purification, Restriction Enzyme Digestion, and DNA Ligation. I also dissected rat brains to make pathological slides. I observed and collected data concerning the behaviors of rats, and was instructed in the proper mentality to analyze data and results. Also, I had an opportunity to observe and assist brain surgery on rats. Through this experience, my interest in research became stronger. However, I wanted to understand more concerning the field and experience the opportunity of conducting my own project. In the summer of 2001, I fulfilled this desire through participating in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program organized by the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
I was paired with a faculty mentor, Dr. Guangpu Li, in the Department of Biochemistry during the SURE program. This provided the opportunity to conduct a research project and make decisions concerning the development of my project. Dr. Li was interested in finding a connection between Rab 5, a protein responsible for Endocytosis, and Ras GAPase Activating Protein (Ras GAP), which was responsible for cell proliferation. The effect of Ras p120 GAP, a protein that inactivates Ras protein, on the mechanism of Endocytosis was studied. In particular, Ras p120 GAP was shown to inactivate Rab5, a protein that is responsible for internalization and/or endosome fusion, in vitro . The objective of the project was to develop a system that will allow assessing whether Ras p 120 GAP inactivates Rab 5 in cell culture. Hence, a virus vector encoding a fusion protein, consisting of the catalytic domain of p120 Ras GAP and a Syntaxin transmembrane anchor, was constructed. Through Horse Radish Peroxidase (HRP) Uptake Essay, Endocytosis in naive baby hamster kidney (BHK) cells was compared to BHK cells over-expressing the fusion protein after transfection with the viral vector. The research project and the results were presented with Microsoft PowerPoint and a poster before the researchers of the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. In November of 2001, it was presented in a research presentation competition organized by the Oklahoma Academy of Science, and I received first-price in the biomedical section. The SURE program also organized seminars concerning careers in the research field, and during the seminars, I had a chance to interact with researchers in the Health Sciences Center. These were crucial because they clarified misconceptions and provided me a better understanding about the research field.
In the SURE Program, I discovered the excitement of biomedical research. The research field has always fascinated me-it is a field full of possibilities and challenges, and only through determination and keeping focus can one achieve the ultimate goal. There is still so much that is unknown and uncertain in research; thus, there are always new aspects to be learned and understood. The SURE program was beneficial in assisting my understanding concerning the research field. Throughout the program, there were obstacles interfering with my project; however, it was truly rewarding when I overcame these problems through determination and creativity. Often, the experiments did not lead to the expected results and objectives were not accomplished. However, at the same time, different discoveries were made. The excitement that rose from unexpected discovery motivated me to undertake further investigation. The most gratifying stage of the investigation was making the final presentation of the project. Through my experience, I am eager to include research in my professional life.