Three California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) science majors are among 12 statewide recipients of 2013 Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholar Awards presented by the CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB).
Joshua Feng of Cypress, Jessica Kyees of Yorba Linda and Ashley Moran, a Long Beach resident originally from Palmdale, were honored at during the 25th CSU Biotechnology Symposium that brought together science faculty and students from across the Cal State system this month in Anaheim.
CSUPERB and the Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research collaborate to fund promising undergraduate student research projects related to women’s health. This year, each CSUPERB honoree received $3,500 to conduct mentored studies this spring and summer.
Feng, a senior, is working with Roger Acey, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, on “The Effect of Phthalate Esters on Neuron Development.”
“My research project will investigate the potential effects of phthalate esters, well known environmental contaminants, on brain development,” Feng said. Phthalate esters are responsible for the flexibility of plastic bottles.
“Specifically, we are looking at the subtle changes in the biochemistry of developing stem cells exposed to chronic, sub-lethal doses of di-butyl phthalate (DBP), a commonly used plasticizer. A potential consequence of our research is the identification of a novel biomarker that will allow clinicians to determine whether an individual has been exposed to unfavorable levels of phthalate.
After graduation, Feng said he plans to apply to Ph.D. programs in organic or bioorganic chemistry. With a Ph.D., he hopes to become a professor or a full-time lecturer.
“Working in the Acey lab has helped me develop a more realistic picture of science. I think that the lessons I learn in this lab are invaluable for my future as a researcher and educator,” Feng pointed out. “The scholarship will help me concentrate on my research project without having to worry too much about how I’m going to pay for next month’s rent.”
Moran, also a senior, plans to become an orthodontist, but in the meantime she’s studying hamster reproduction in her project with Professor Kelly Young titled “Ovarian angiogenic factor mRNA and protein are altered by the estrous cycle, photoperiod, and inhibition of matrix metalloproteinases in Siberian hamsters.”
“Siberian hamsters are seasonal breeders, which means that they are reproductively active only at certain times of the year,” Moran explained. “The ovary shuts down its function in the short days of winter months and resumes activity when the day length is longer in the spring and summer.
“My project is to better understand how the non-functional ovary can become functional again when the only change that happens is an increase in the number of hours of light per day—or photoperiod,” she added. “This return to function is called ovarian recrudescence and it is not fully understood how it happens within the ovary itself.”
Moran is looking at angiogenesis, or how new blood vessels begin growing from existing ones, and at possible proteins that aid this process. The new vessels are necessary for tissues to regenerate, so her work will contribute to understanding how ovaries function, which could benefit knowledge of women’s reproductive health.
“Since angiogenesis plays an important role in both folliculogenesis and corpus luteum formation as it creates a microcirculation system to carry blood, oxygen, and other nutrients to the follicle [where eggs grow], we hypothesized that angiogenic proteins, particularly vascular endothelial growth factor, angiopoietin-2, neuropilin-1, and endothelial nitric oxide synthase, play a key role in the photostimulated return of ovarian function in Siberian hamsters,” Moran said.
Kyees, a junior, is studying with Professor Vasanthy Narayanaswami on “Proteomic analysis of oxidative modification of apolipoprotein E, an anti-atherogenic protein.” Narayanaswami is an expert on apolipoprotein E (apoE), which plays a role in cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s diseases.
“We aim to gain a better understanding of how tobacco smoke affects apolipoprotein E. Tobacco smoke is the most abundant source of human exposure to acrolein, which produces toxic and oxidative effects on many proteins including apoE,” said Kyees, who plans eventually to earn a Ph.D. and work in industry and perhaps in academia.
“ApoE is largely responsible for cholesterol transport and homeostasis in the plasma and central nervous system,” she continued. “Our aims are to modify recombinant rat apoE with acrolein and determine its biochemical and biophysical characteristics. In doing so, we expect to understand the molecular basis of the effects of oxidative stress on cholesterol transport."
Kyees said she has gained so much by being a part of Dr. Vas’ lab. “The work that I do in the research lab is preparing me for my upcoming upper-division courses and giving me perspective of how the science learned in the classroom applies to real-world research,” she said. “My involvement in the lab has motivated me to pursue a doctorate degree and I am looking forward to having a leading role in this project.”
Science students spend long hours working on lab projects that often limit their availability for outside employment, so scholarships are beneficial.
“I have been so lucky at this university as Dr. Young has provided me with a unique experience to work on my own project as an undergraduate student,” Moran said. “I never thought I would be involved in research, let alone running a project myself. Because of this, I am so honored to receive this scholarship.”
Because of the opportunities that Cal State Long Beach offers undergraduate and graduate students to collaborate with faculty on research projects, the National Science Foundation recognized CSULB as one of the nation’s top master’s level universities in the number of graduates who go on to earn doctoral degrees in science and engineering, often at top research universities including Stanford, Harvard, Yale and others.
CSUPERB is the California State University system’s statewide program to prepare students for careers in biotechnology and advance faculty research to meet the needs of the life sciences industry.