Research by Tiffany Phuong ’16 (Aldan, Pa.) and Kofi Boateng ’16 (Bronx, N.Y.) this summer is contributing to their goals of becoming doctors and could also help in the fight against cancer.
They are working on an interdisciplinary project looking at how the protein MYD88 affects tumor growth with Robert Kurt, associate professor and head of biology, and Chun Wai Liew, associate professor of computer science and chair of health and life sciences.
“MYD88 is a protein involved in cell signaling; in particular it is very important for successful inflammatory responses,” Kurt says. “Kofi and Tiffany are studying the role of MYD88 in tumor cells. Determining the role of MYD88 in cancer may help us understand how inflammation can contribute to cancer progression or to make tumors regress.”
Phuong (Aldan, Pa.) and Boateng (Bronx, N.Y.), who are Interdisciplinary Research Fellows, are working to perform protein isolation of MYD88 and create a computer model that can make predictions about how MYD88 affects cancer. They received this research opportunity through the Science Horizons program funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. They are two of five students selected from Science Horizons to do summer research through the HHMI grant.
“My main job is to sequence the MYD88 gene expression,” says Boateng, a neuroscience major. “To do this, I have read articles on the cell signaling pathways to immunity. In particular, toll-like receptors play a critical role in innate immunity by detecting invading pathogens. If you have a mutated MYD88 that will dictate how well the cell can respond to pathogens.”
This research requires expertise in both biology and computer science.
“This project is only really possible by having our departments work together,” says Kurt. “Working at the intersection of disciplines also helps make research students more well-rounded. Scientific research is a process, and if Kofi and Tiffany learn how to conduct research then they are well prepared to address virtually any other research problem.”
This experience has made Phuong, a biology major, want to continue research in the future. She plans to pursue both an M.D. and a Ph.D. after she graduates.
“Doing research with Professor Kurt has helped me realize that there is boundless information to be discovered. I’ve come to appreciate the fact that learning in research is accumulating and interpreting infinite knowledge,” she says. “I want to be able to understand a patient’s health condition in a way that considers the person’s own interpretation of their condition by how they feel and also the medical scientific aspect.”
Boateng also hopes to go to medical school after he graduates. He would like to be a pediatric surgeon or a cardiologist.
“I know for a fact that what I learned and continue to learn during this summer will help me in other science courses because I have learned so much,” he says. “I have become more confident in my abilities to ask questions, accept challenges, and not feel intimidated by things that I don’t understand.”