Undergraduates tackle research on
renewable energy, immunology, cancer protein
ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — Many college students dream of spending their summers at their respective colleges and universities — places that represent future careers, friendship, fun and, of course, some freedom away from parents. For three St. Bonaventure University science majors, they are living that dream by spending a summer at Bona’s and developing their own biomedical research projects.
These students, Thomas Zaikos, ’10, Devin Patel, ’10, and Aashish Kumar, ’11, have been awarded scholarships under The Dr. Arnold T. Borer Summer Fellowship Program to spend this summer conducting research on a topic of their choice.
Zaikos, a biochemistry major from Unionville, Ontario, Canada, is no stranger to Bonaventure summers or research. This is his second year in the fellowship program.
“To receive this award is truly amazing. To receive it a second year in a row is just unbelievable,” Zaikos said. “I am more proficient and comfortable in the laboratory and research setting now. This summer I hope to diversify my knowledge by tackling a subject that is relatively foreign to me. Hopefully, with this summer’s work and future work, I will be able to discover an area that interests me enough to dedicate my time to and focus on in professional school.”
That’s why Zaikos is busy going green, hoping to discover a new source of renewable energy in a species of green algae called Neochloris Oleoabundans.
“With much discussion and debate about global oil consumption and its ever-depleting availability, renewable energy sources have become of great interest to many who are trying to discover an alternative and renewable energy source,” Zaikos said.
He is focusing on the algae’s ability to produce sugars and fats under different environmental conditions. His goal is to find the optimal condition for this organism to produce biodiesel by extracting a number of different products, such as fats, starch and simple sugars.
ZAIKOS SAID he is grateful for his experiences as a fellow and couldn’t do any of this without the support from the St. Bonaventure faculty, especially his research adviser Fredrick Harrington, visiting professor of biology.
“Professor Harrington is basically what this project is about,” Zaikos said. “From the day he came to Bona’s last year you could tell he knew a great deal about the topic of renewable energy and is passionate about it. This research is all his and I am simply continuing his research this summer and trying to build upon the progress he has made up until this point.”
Harrington hasn’t minded spending his summer in the lab either, working toward a common goal with his advisee.
“Tommy is hard working and it is enjoyable spending time in the lab with him,” Harrington said. “The long-term goal (of this project) is to culture the algae as an agricultural crop, which would use waste products like manure and carbon dioxide for growth and would produce biofuel components in a way that is much more efficient and does not compete with food crops like corn and soy.”
DEVIN PATEL, a biology major from Harleysville, Pa., has been enjoying this summer for the whole package — living off campus, getting to know his research adviser, Dr. John Kupinski, associate professor of biology, and shooting hoops with the Bonnies women’s basketball team, he said.
“I think the most exciting thing about receiving this fellowship is being able to work with Dr. Kupinski, a professor I haven’t had a chance to take a class with previously or really interact with,” Patel said. “I look forward to delving into his field of interest, immunology, and learning something new.”
Patel is spending his summer researching a specific subject within immunology, a branch of biomedical science that covers the study of all aspects of the immune system in all organisms: the correlation between immune response and estrogen levels in females.
“Epidemiological evidence has shown that there may be a link between female sex hormones, of which estrogen is the most prominent, and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis,” Patel said.
Patel is investigating this hypothesis using mice. He hopes his research will culminate in the publication of a research paper on behalf of the university.
Much like Zaikos and Patel, Kumar, a biology major from Matthews, N.C., has been enjoying the company of the biology faculty outside the classroom. Kumar has been studying and researching Cadherin-11, a protein that has been implicated in metastatic cancer and may also play a role in the development of the mammary gland, under the advisement of Dr. Julie Hens, assistant professor of biology.
“Dr. Hens is very knowledgeable in her field, and thus it is quite a delight to work with someone who has so much experience with different laboratory techniques,” Kumar said. “She is extremely passionate about her research as it can potentially serve a dramatic purpose to the advancement of cancer research.”
Together, Hens and Kumar hope their research may lead to cancer cures.
“WE ARE HOPING that these studies will increase our understanding of metastatic cancer both in the mammary gland and also in the lung,” Hens said. “Working and teaching (Aashish) in the laboratory has been a pleasure. He is quick to learn, and works well in the laboratory setting. I believe he will go far in whatever career path he takes in medicine.”
Kumar said he is honored for being chosen for the fellowship.
“By participating in the fellowship I will be able to gain a better understanding of what actually goes on behind the scenes of what research actually entails, and how it is the basis of creating what may eventually be a cure for cancer,” he said.
After graduation, all three students plans to attend medical school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. This summer has prepared them for that next step, they said, which is what the Borer Summer Fellowship Program is all about: preparing students for their future in medicine and the future of medicine.
The Dr. Arnold T. Borer Summer Fellowship Program was made possible in 1992 through a major gift to the University by Gertrude Borer and her son, Francis “Frank” E. Borer, ’69. The fund was established in honor of her late husband, Arnold. Borer Fellows are chosen because they have achieved the highest science and math GPAs and have a potential interest in biomedical research.
About the University: St. Bonaventure is in the top 25 percent of institutions in U.S. News & World Report’s 2009 ranking of Northern universities that offer master’s degrees. It has a history of accomplishment and service that extends back 150 years. At the heart of St. Bonaventure University is the Franciscan affirmation of the dignity and worth of the entire created order. Fundamental to this vision is an awareness that it is within relationships and community that individuals discover and develop their potential.