CURF Introduction: My journey in research

Hello, my name is Michelle Khattri, and I am one of the recipients of the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research fellowship!

I am in my third year at Pitt as a biology major and chemistry minor. I am working under the mentorship of Dr. Shuda and Dr. Osmanbeyoglu at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. For my project, I am studying the link between Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC). Specifically, I am finding transcription factors involved in both HPV and HNSCC in order to be able to use them as biological markers that can detect HPV positive HNSCC. This research has significant implications on how we can screen and treat cancers in the future, especially since HPV positive HNSCC responds better to radiation therapy and therefore usually has a better prognosis than HPV negative HNSCC. In addition to my research project, I also help out with other projects my mentor is working on, such as studying the Merkel Cell Virus (MCV).

Throughout my project, I have learned much more than I ever thought I would- and truthfully, much more than I have in most of my classes. Going into research, I didn’t even know how to work a pipette, the most basic tool in the lab! Now, I can use various lab techniques, such as cDNA synthesis, RNA extraction, PCR, immunoblotting, cell culture, and more. 

When I first started college, I don’t remember having many specific goals. I remember being a little lost on what exactly I wanted to do career-wise. One thing I did know was that I was interested in biology- and that I wanted to manifest this interest into something I could use in my future career. As of right now, I want to pursue either medical school or a PhD program where I can hopefully apply a lot of the knowledge I have learned from my education as well as from my research project. No matter what career I end up choosing, the most important value I want to retain is the ability to keep learning new things, and keep being fascinated by the things I do learn. CURF will be able to provide me with the means of accomplishing these goals. Receiving funding for my project and recognition of the work I am doing motivated me to realize and attain my objectives. In addition, CURF will enable me to meet new people who are also passionate about their research, and provide me with a platform to practice communicating my research as well as what I have learned along the way. 

Finally, something unique about myself is I learned how to skateboard over the summer and fell in love with it. I also enjoy ice skating and roller skating- even though I fall almost every time I put them on! Here is a picture of me at the ice skating rink at PPG downtown!

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