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Bio Majors ‘Write Music’ with Independent Research Projects

Published: November 30, 2016
UT juniors Ciara Myer and Emily Warner are conducting independent research projects with Christine Theodore, an assistant professor of chemistry, and Jeffry Fasick, an assistant professor of biology.
UT juniors Ciara Myer and Emily Warner are conducting independent research projects with Christine Theodore, an assistant professor of chemistry, and Jeffry Fasick, an assistant professor of biology.
Warner is searching for new ways to fight various types of cancer.
Warner is searching for new ways to fight various types of cancer.
One of Myer’s projects involves researching better methods for health assessments of dolphins.
One of Myer’s projects involves researching better methods for health assessments of dolphins.

UT juniors Ciara Myer and Emily Warner spend much of their time looking through a microscope. There are lots of steps prepping their experiments, coddling them along through various tests, before they get to the point of analyzing them on the glass slide.

But whether their search is to find drugs to treat cancer or figure out better methods for health assessments of dolphins, they both share the same drive: a desire to make an impact.

“Doing research surely is a big time commitment. It often involves coming into the lab seven days a week to count and feed cells and set up experiments. Additionally, the work does not end when you leave the lab, as it also involves analyzing data, researching and writing papers to present (and hopefully publish) in the future,” said Warner, of Toledo, OH. “Despite the time commitment, however, I was compelled to do research, because it is a fantastic way to apply what I am learning inside the classroom to the real world.

“Additionally, doing cancer-related research is gratifying in the sense that it has the potential to save the lives of millions,” said Warner, a biology major with a pre-medicine concentration. “The fact that I have the opportunity to dedicate my time towards such a relevant cause that affects every single person — whether we experience cancer ourselves or have a loved one with cancer — is both gratifying and inspiring.”

Warner started her independent research study with Christine Theodore, an assistant professor of chemistry, who put Warner in touch with Jeffry Fasick, an assistant professor of biology, to learn more about cell culture. Once Warner was up to speed, Fasick suggested she conduct an experiment using pancreatic and colon cancer cells.

The experiment is based off a research project Fasick conducted at his previous institution where he screened a chemical compound library of 1,250 FDA-approved non-chemotherapeutic drugs to assess the potential of repurposing those drugs that also act as a chemotherapeutic agent.

“In my research, I am searching for new ways to fight various types of cancer. One of these ways is by using FDA-approved drugs that have not yet been tested for their effectiveness in inhibiting the growth of tumors,” Warner said. “Being able to use an already-approved drug would be helpful in that FDA-approved drugs have already been verified as being safe and would therefore be extremely cost efficient, as they have already passed the initial clinical trials.”

Warner is also experimenting with extracts from sea sponges to inhibit the growth of tumors and cancers.

“In the past year and a half of doing research, not only have I learned an incredible amount of information relating to natural products, cell culture and lab techniques, but I have learned to trust my intelligence and abilities,” said Warner, who wants to be a physician. “Knowing that my professors can hold me accountable and depend on me to meet deadlines, effectively communicate and conduct research is one of the most gratifying parts of doing research.”

Myer, a biology major with a molecular concentration, is working on two projects with Fasick with a third scheduled for the spring.

“My research entails understanding how fish see on a molecular level,” said Myer, of West Baldwin, ME. “Specifically my research focuses on the molecule Rhodopsin in the eye that allows fish to see in the dark. I aim to evaluate how evolution and the environment affects the gene that directs the formation of this molecule.”

In addition to the visual adaptation study, Myer is analyzing fecal samples from a dolphin facility in the Florida Keys. By analyzing the biomes in the dolphins’ guts, they are better able to treat or assess the health of the animals.

“The information is important for them to do health assessments,” Fasick said. “It’s a cheap thing to do. If one of their animals stops eating, we can collect a poop sample and within a matter of days we can tell you what’s changed in that organism’s gut.”

Myer, who wants to be a senior research scientist at a biotechnology company, said her research has impacted her other coursework in a positive way by preparing her for her upper level classes with a strong background she could build upon.

“Participating in independent research permits me to gain hands-on experience in the laboratory. It also allows me to make discoveries that impact the scientific world as a whole,” Myer said. “My molecular coursework sparked my interest and inspired me to partake in laboratory work outside of the classroom. The more knowledge I gained on the subject, the more I became interested. Additionally, it allowed me to develop a clear idea of what I want my future career to be.”

Fasick said he has mentored many students over the years in independent research studies. He likened it to playing the guitar.

“You start with the notes and position on the strings,” he said. “By junior year they are playing songs and by senior year they are writing music.”

 
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