Introduction- Ella Roberts

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Hi everyone! My name is Ella, and I am a rising senior majoring in Biological Sciences, minoring in Chemistry, and earning a certificate in the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine. A fun fact about me is that I absolutely LOVE dogs, and I am currently staying with my parent’s one and a half-year old dog named Cooper. Having the opportunity to take part in research as an undergraduate student has helped me develop important critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and I am excited to delve more into research and learn about other people’s interests and goals.

For my project, I am working under the mentorship of Dr. Kara Bernstein, as well as gaining the support from other members of this amazing lab! My research project for this summer is focused on DNA double-stranded break repair, and how mutations in proteins involved in repairing these breaks can lead to certain types of cancer- specifically breast and ovarian cancer. One of the most dangerous types of DNA damage are double-stranded breaks, which can lead to cancer if not repaired correctly and are fatal to cells if they are not repaired at all. Luckily, our cells have repair mechanisms to fix those double-stranded breaks, where the most error-free mechanism is a process known as “homologous recombination”. But in order for homologous recombination to occur, the cell requires the help of various proteins, a group of these proteins are known as the RAD51 paralogs. Issues can arise when these proteins, which are supposed to help repair DNA, do not function correctly due to mutations in the DNA that encodes them.

Of these RAD51 paralogs, I will specifically be focusing on the paralogs known as XRCC2 and XRCC3. I will be looking through data to compile a list of all the know mutations in these paralogs that have been associated cancer to build a “map” of where these mutations are located on these proteins, and use prediction analysis tools to predict if the mutation will be damaging. Once this protein map has been created, it will be used in experiments in the lab to examine the extent of these mutations on homologous recombination. This research is important because it provides us with the tools to develop treatments to specifically target homologous recombination deficient cells, and hopefully improve the outcome of patients diagnosed with these types of cancers.

My current professional goal is to go to medical school to become a pediatrician. One aspect that draws me to medicine is the how many components there are in the medical field, and the importance of communication between patients and their health-care providers. Through this fellowship, I am excited to take part in a community with a variety of interests and hear about the growth of everyone’s projects. Additionally, I believe that this will help develop my communication skills by presenting my project to a diverse group of people, which is a skill I will most certainly take with me to the medical field.

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