Introduction— Cecelia Hembrough

Hi everyone! I’m Cecelia, a rising senior with a major in Molecular Biology and minors in Chemistry and Italian. I’m a sousaphone player in the Pitt Band, Vice-President of the campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity, and I’ve written down every single book I’ve read since 2014 (and I average like 30 books a year!)

Protein Misfolding and Degradation

For the past year I’ve worked in Jeff Brodsky’s lab studying protein misfolding and how it can lead to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. Proteins are the building blocks of life and when they aren’t formed correctly, they can wreak havoc on the body unless broken down and eliminated. I have been working with my graduate student mentor Grant Daskivich on a project that centers on determining a specific chaperone (or “helper”) protein that can break apart dense clumps (or aggregates) of misfolded protein and target them for degradation. We already know of this protein (Hsp104) in yeast, but we’re looking for a version in humans. Because dense aggregates tend to be implicated in diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, finding this protein is vital for our understanding of disease progression and eventual treatments.

Unfortunately, due to quarantine, I won’t be able to go into the lab and do benchwork and experiments. However, I’m excited to spend the summer reading papers and consolidating what I’ve already done to write the introduction to my senior thesis, as well as plan out experiments and future directions for when I’m able to return.

Professional Goals

My future goal is to attend medical school and become a physician, potentially in pediatrics, OBGYN, or family medicine. I’m looking forward to this summer in the Brackenridge Fellowship to improve my communication skills, especially with those who don’t have the same level of knowledge and understanding of complex biochemistry. I know as a physician I will be working with an extremely diverse population of cultural and educational backgrounds, and I will need to be able to explain diagnoses and treatments in a way that can be understood by anyone. The Brackenridge Fellowship will give me the opportunity to explain my research to other students of diverse, varied backgrounds, and I will be able to improve my scientific communication skills to a much more diverse population than just the other scientists in my lab.

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