Reflecting on my CURF Experience

Over the course of the semester, I have grown tremendously as a researcher. I learned that judgment, communication, organization, and persistence are all important skills to have while conducting scientific research. Research has also helped me improve my problem-solving skills and challenge myself. Moreover, I have learned to be patient and flexible when coming across challenges in my research. This semester, I had the opportunity to learn various new computational, molecular, and biochemical lab techniques that helped me assess the impact of the 12 disease-associated-mutations identified in potassium chloride co-transporter 2 (KCC2). These mutations cause disorders such as schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, and epilepsy. I conducted cycloheximide chase assays with the some of the predicted deleterious mutations to quantify the stability of these proteins compared to normal, “wild-type protein” in human embryonic kidney cells (HEK293). Throughout this process I also had the opportunity to conceptualize the objective of each new mutation analyzed and relied on the advice and guidance I received from my mentor Morgan Kok, as well as my principal investigator Dr. Jeffrey Brodsky. I also became familiar with computational tools such as ImageJ and Prism 8, which helped me realize how important statistical analysis is in addition to experimentation in research. These tools assisted us in examining the results on a larger scale for the research questions we were testing. While conducting research in the Brodsky lab I learned that collaboration is an important skill as an undergraduate researcher makes the jump from gaining knowledge from other’s discoveries to making discoveries on their own. Overall, research has taught me how difficult it can be at times to investigate the unknown. However, the rigorous process of self-correction in scientific research can lead to discoveries that are fascinating and rewarding.

Additionally, my CURF experience has emphasized the importance of sharing my research progress to a knowledgeable community. This fellowship has given me the opportunity to effectively demonstrate my findings and express myself in a concise way to more than just the science community. Moreover, by reading other peer’s blog posts of their research I have gained new insights and perspectives of the different types of research that are conducted at the university. I am extremely grateful for the experience that I have gained from CURF, as it has enhanced not only my research skills but also allowed for personal growth in the scientific field. 

In thinking about how I can build on this experience, in the future, I plan to continue investigating KCC2 and the effect of the disease-associated-mutations on the protein. I will continue to conduct cycloheximide chase assays and western blots to further assess the stability of these mutated proteins compared to wild type. Moreover, I will also use fluorescence microscopy to observe protein localization and the potential aggregation of the mutation proteins in the cell, an event that leads to accumulation of misfolded non-functional proteins, which can result in disease. The goal of gaining additional experience in exploring KCC2 defects is that it will help us better understand how to treat people with specific mutations in this protein that are linked to schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, and epilepsy. This would help millions of people that suffer from these diseases and provide insight into the complex cellular processes that are causing them to occur.

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