CURF Post #1: Introduction

Hello and welcome! My name is Sara Zdancewicz, a current fifth-year Biology and Statistics double major set to graduate this December. Outside of classes and research, I enjoy playing sports like soccer and volleyball, fencing sabre on the club fencing team, and even getting into a little bit of whitewater kayaking. I also love listening to and playing music (I play trumpet!) and my current favorite song is Churches by flipturn.

My research project this semester is a smaller offshoot of the project I’ve been working on since October 2020 in the VanDemark Lab, under the guidance of my PI, Dr. Andy VanDemark. What my project focuses on is the protein profilin 1, which is a regulator of cytoskeletal dynamics and is a current therapeutic target for compounds being developed to block pathologic angiogenesis (excessive blood vessel growth) and even tumor growth by limiting vasculature growth and stopping the funnel of blood and nutrients to aberrant cells. This semester specifically, I am going to be attempting to co-crystallize profilin 1 with one of its binding partners, phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2). This interaction is important because it helps regulate other pathways in the body by disallowing phospholipase C (PLC) to cleave PIP2. PIP2 cleavage is important for various signal transduction cascades leading to a variety of neural signals, transcription factor activation, and metabolic activities. By co-crystallizing PIP2 and profilin 1, I can determine how profilin 1 binds to PIP2. I will be able to see what amino acids of profilin 1 interact with the various parts of PIP2, which is requisite knowledge to being able to modulate this interaction (through peptide or drug synthesis, as well as protein mutation), and also helps provide some insight into a key part of PIP2 biochemical function, which has not been fully characterized up until this point.

My main future goal right now is to go to grad school and pursue a PhD in either structural biology or biophysics in order to continue being able to do research like this. I haven’t fully decided whether my ultimate goal will be to move into industry, perhaps working for a pharmaceutical company, or stay in academia and become a professor. I think participating in the CURF is going to aid me in my impending goal however, because it allows me to pursue a fully independent research project that is an offshoot of the research I’ve been performing as part of a group of collaborators for the past few years. Having a sense of ownership of not just the work I’m performing, but also the idea and design of the experiments, to a greater degree than previously, gives me a lot to talk and think about when applying to grad schools and going through the interview process, and is something that will hopefully make me stand out among groups of very qualified, competent potential graduate students.

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