National Toxicology Program

National Toxicology Program

UPDATE NewsletterUPDATE NewsletterMay 2016

Students shine as Scholars Connect wraps fourth year

By Ernie Hood
Reprinted from Environmental Factor

The April 18 NIEHS Scholars Connect Program (NSCP) spring symposium needed no gowns or tasseled caps to convey the look and feel of a joyful graduation ceremony, recognizing the four young scholars who completed their year-long participation in the program. Following research presentations by the students, organizers named the winner of the Outstanding NSCP Scholar Award.

This was the fourth year for the program, which attracts students from area colleges and universities to spend an academic year working on their own research projects with mentors in NIEHS labs. The program aims to increase interest in environmental health science careers in young people from underrepresented groups, although the program is open to any student who applies.

This year’s cohort included scholars from North Carolina Central University (NCCU), North Carolina State University (NCSU), and Saint Augustine’s University (SAU).

Opportunities abound

The program begins each year in early June, with an orientation and multiday science boot camp that gives the students a foundation for lab work. They work full time in their assigned lab through the summer, and part time during the fall and spring terms. The scholars present their research at a poster session in late July and a roundtable talk during the fall.

Along with their own research, participants are offered valuable experiences throughout the year. “Scholars have an opportunity to engage in seminars, including meetings with the top leadership team, to talk with them about their career paths, their educational choices, and how they got to where they are, and to ask questions that will help the scholars make more informed choices as they go along,” explained Office of Scientific Education and Diversity Director Ericka Reid, Ph.D., who directs the NSCP.

Outstanding Scholar Award

This was the second year an outstanding scholar was recognized for excellence by mentors and peers. This year’s winner, Lucas Van Gorder, also received Best Poster and Best Roundtable Talk for presentations earlier in the year.

Thanking his lab colleagues and mentors, he said the program had set him on a firm path to the future. “I’ll be going to the University of Pennsylvania for gene therapy and vaccines. I had an interest in the field, but didn’t think that I had the ability to do it,” he said. “Coming here and working with viruses showed me that I can.”

Passing the torch

Session chair Pierre Bushel, Ph.D., a staff scientist with the Biostatistics and Computational Biology Branch, provided an optimistic note as he closed the ceremony.

“I think we can be sure that the future of science is in good hands,” he said. The next NSCP cohort will start in June.

(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)


Scholars research wide-ranging topics

Alanna Burwell, a senior at NCCU, researched “The Effects of Cadmium on Cell Proliferation and Histone H3 Phosphorylation Events During Mitosis in Human Uterine Leiomyoma Cells.” Burwell was mentored by Darlene Dixon, D.V.M., Ph.D., Yitang Yan, Ph.D., and Linda Yu of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) Molecular Pathogenesis Group. She explored the impact of cadmium exposure on cells from human leiomyomas, or hormonally responsive fibroids tumors. Burwell won a $1500 travel award to present at the 2015 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS).

Maura Schwartz, a junior at NCSU, presented “The Crucial Importance of the RNA Component of Mitochondrial RNA Processing Endoribonuclease (RMRP).” Schwartz was mentored by Shepherd Schurman, M.D., and Cindy Innes from the Clinical Research Branch. She focused on the role of the RMRP gene in a rare disease called cartilage hair hypoplasia, and worked to identify disease characteristics in the North Carolina population and developed a knockout model in a mouse embryonic fibroblast cell line.

Lucas Van Gorder, a senior at NCSU, described “Comparative AAV Delivery of CRISPR/Cas9.” Van Gorder was mentored by Chip Romeo, Ph.D., of the Viral Vector Core Laboratory and Negin Martin, Ph.D., of the Neurobiology Laboratory. His project examined two methods for using adeno-associated viruses (AAV) to deliver the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system to cells.

Porscha Walton, a senior at SAU, performed a “Systematic Review of Progestin Use During Pregnancy and Its Postpartum Health Effects on the Offspring.” Her mentors were Kris Thayer, Ph.D., Kembra Howdeshell, Ph.D., and Abee Boyles, Ph.D., from the NTP Office of Health Assessment and Translation. Walton identified uses of synthetic progesterone drugs and categorized adverse outcomes that result from exposure during development of the fetus. Walton also won a travel award to present her poster at ABRCMS.

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