Hi everyone! My name is Elizabeth. I am a rising senior Microbiology major, getting a minor in Chemistry and certificates in Global Health and Conceptual Foundations in Medicine. Something unique about me is I used to compete in synchronized ice skating, and I still ice skate as much as I can in my free time at Pitt! This summer, so far, I have been having fun exploring new Pittsburgh neighborhoods and trails in Schenley Park.
My research mentor is Dr. Gary Yam, and our lab is part of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in the Department of Ophthalmology. We are moving to the new Vision Institute near UPMC Mercy towards the end of this summer. My research focuses on corneal fibrosis, which occurs after an injury or infection. Corneal fibrosis creates corneal scars that block our vision. An estimated 4.2 million people are blind due to corneal opacities, according to the World Health Organization. My lab aims to discover ways to reduce the development of corneal fibrosis, hence inhibiting or reducing corneal scarring.
My project examines how the ratio of TGFbeta1 and TGFbeta3, two important biomolecules modulating fibrosis, can either increase or decrease fibrosis. I am using two different primary human corneal cells to model fibrosis. I will then analyze fibrosis expression by looking at RNA and protein expression changes of fibrosis-related genes. I hypothesize that manipulating the TGFbeta3/beta1 ratios in wounded corneal tissue can control the cell phenotype transition that usually occurs in fibrosis. My current hypothesis is that a higher TGFb3/b1 ratio should suppress fibrogenesis and fibrosis onset in the cornea. This will inform me if the pathway of regulating TGFb3/b1 ratios in the cornea can be used as a potential therapeutic to manipulate fibrosis.
My professional goal is to become a physician-scientist. The Health Sciences Research Fellowship is allowing me to pursue my independent project, which will be very similar to the independent research I may be conducting in my future career. I am excited to immerse myself in research this summer and absorb scientific knowledge from my fellow HSRF peers and lab members. I am very thankful for the opportunity and cannot wait to take full advantage of this summer’s fellowship.