I am currently a junior majoring in biochemistry and molecular & cellular biology. This past summer I had an amazing opportunity to work at the National Institutes of Health in the Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) branch. I had applied for numerous internships that summer with hopes of stepping further into the research world and for some reason the NIH wanted me to work for them!
I was assigned tecular genetics section. Her section involves performing studies to identify gene mutations that lead to greater risk of development of type 2 diabetes within the Pima Indian Community here in Arizona. The group hopes to identify which gene mutations are most prevalent in diabetic patients and to better understand how these mutations lead to diabetes. The first week working there was very nerve-racking because I didn’t have a lot of research experience and I never did any molecular genetics work. But sure enough, within a few weeks time, I had learned all the necessary techniques and procedures to start my individual project. My project involved performing functional studies on the KCNQ1 gene that encodes a potassium voltage-gated channel. A previous genome-wide association study (GWAS) study that Dr. Baier’s group conducted revealed that there was 40 single nucleotide polymorphisms (a single nucleotide change in the protein DNA) in the promoter region that were associated with a greater risk for the development of type 2 diabetes. My job was to tediously clone these nucleotide polymorphisms and perform luciferase assays to see if the gene expression of KCNQ1 was altered. Unfortunately I didn’t quite finish my project but I hope to finish it next summer when I go back!
Overall, it was a fantastic experience to meet so many incredible people that were working towards a common goal of having better understanding of type 2 diabetes and what contributes to the development of the disease! I became friends with many other summer interns and scientists and this experience inspires me to continue with my research here at UofA and beyond.