CURF Introduction: Protein–More Than Just a Food Group!

My research focuses on a protein, plakophilin 2 (PKP2), and its role in cardiomyocytes or heart muscle cells. PKP2 is a desmosomal protein, meaning it is a protein that promotes cell-to-cell adhesion and communication between cells. When PKP2 is disrupted, it often leads to fatal consequences. The major problem scientists are faced with when it comes to PKP2, and diseases caused by mutations in PKP2, is the lack of research. Another protein, alpha-T-catenin, is thought to bind directly to PKP2, but this interaction is not well understood. The binding region is unknown, but it is believed that mutations to PKP2 disrupt this interaction and cause problems with adhesion. The process of the heart breaking down caused by PKP2 remains unknowni (Patel & Green, 2014). This prompts the question: how can scientists create medication or a cure for a disease when they do not even know the basic biochemistry behind the functional protein? They cannot. With Dr. Adam Kwiatkowski, I will be performing experiments, primarily using biochemistry to understand this protein and its interaction with alpha-T-catenin.  

My professional goals are currently open. I am interested in many options, such as biology research, and clinical psychology. If I go into biology research, my wet bench skills and knowledge from the lab will directly transfer to the new lab. While cell biology research and clinical psychology may seem unrelated, having a broad understanding of research is one of the foundations of clinical psychology–you must have passion and multiple perspectives to best help clients. The Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship allows me to practice my fellowship/grant writing skills, which are important when working at a nonprofit or a research facility, both of which are possibilities for my future. Having experience with fellowship/grant writing interests future employers and agencies that I may pursue a relationship with. I plan on taking a gap year before going into graduate school; during the gap year, I hope to work at the Kwiatkowski lab to gain more experience and take extra time to consider all my options for my future.  

I am a biology and psychology major with a minor in chemistry. I am the assistant editor-in-chief of Forbes & Fifth, the University of Pittsburgh’s undergraduate journal that highlights the skill, creativity, and unique perspectives from undergraduate students around the globe. We publish ten pieces of writing including research papers, creative articles, scholarly works, and more. Along with eight pieces of art per semester. Any undergraduate can submit their work through our website. The following is a link to the Forbes & Fifth webpage: This work ties in with clinical psychology and cell biology. Many people find it cathartic to write or draw as a way of expressing themselves. Forbes & Fifth celebrates their talent and allows others to find comfort in a shared experience or a piece of art that they find themselves getting lost in. Forbes & Fifth aids in my scientific research. When I am stuck on an experiment or problem, taking a step back and using the creative side of my brain helps me refocus and solve the problem. 

i Dipal M. Patel & Kathleen J. Green (2014) Desmosomes in the Heart: A Review of Clinical and Mechanistic Analyses, Cell Communication & Adhesion, 21:3, 109-128, DOI: 10.3109/15419061.2014.906533

This is my photo on the lab website!

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