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NIH Record

Building Blocks of Science Evident at Poster Day

By Josť Alvarado

On the Front Page...
The 400 NIH summer interns who exhibited their research projects on Poster Day, Aug. 1, might not have made medical history (at least not yet) and acquired the stature and fame of an Alexander Flemming or a Jonas Salk, but their work is a testament to the reality of science as building blocks and not just sudden, spectacular breakthroughs.

The interns, along with the help of 356 posters they prepared for display at the Visitor Information Center and lobby of Bldg. 10, explained experiments that took countless hours of work in NIH labs. Their summer projects contribute to ongoing research in each of the ICDs. "The work here is essentially to get the students to realize how involved one can get in research. They get a good idea of what it takes to become a researcher," said Dr. Nadim Majdalani from the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, NCI, and a mentor to interns.

Deborah Cohen, who has organized Poster Day for the past 7 years and is coordinator of student programs for the Office of Education, says the activity helps students build confidence by giving them the chance to work with scientists to help advance the most recent trends in research.

Many of them showed enthusiasm as they gave sprightly demonstrations of highly complex and technical processes in cell biology, molecular biology, neuroscience, cancer, and genetics, among others. Some ably translated their knowledge into images and concepts the layperson could grasp.

Raqeeb Haque, a first year student at Harvard, combined both approaches as he described his experiment, which led to the identification of a new target for anti-cancer drug development. His explanation of the "regulation of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21 by an inhibitor of the mevalonate pathway" had metaphorical references to "hands grabbing tennis balls called phosphates." This imagemaking will come in handy, since he plans to teach this subject. "At first I was completely blown away, but it's so simple. Everything in the cell involves protein; it's such a basic concept. You have DNA, RNA and proteins, which are making you live. You hear complex-sounding words like 'regulation' or 'cyclin-dependent' and you say 'Ah, jeez, what's that!?' But it makes a great amount of sense!"

Raqeeb Haque (l) skillfully transforms his knowledge of cancer research into concepts the layperson can understand.

Raqeeb started coming to NIH as a high school student and worked 4 hours in the lab every day after school. During the summer, he has worked with mentor Jane Trepel from the Medicine Branch, NCI, up until 9 or 10 o'clock at night.

Laurel Courtemanch from St. Mary's College in southern Maryland, who is working on another aspect of cancer in the Laboratory of Pathology, realizes the complexity of dealing with diseases. She dismisses the idea that there can be one quick, miraculous cure for cancer. "There can't be one cure because each cell uses a different mechanism for how it is going to operate. What works with one cancer cell line may not work at all in a related cell line. You have to look at all different aspects of cells to try to get any idea as to how you are going to cure any cancer."

Still searching: After studying the AIDS virus this summer at NIH, Hillary Cohen (r), a medical student at the University of Michigan, says she has more questions than answers.

A University of Michigan medical student who works with the AIDS virus in the Laboratory of Immunoregulation, NIAID, Hillary Cohen is very modest when divulging the findings of her work. "There aren't any definitive results here that I could really comment on. Everything here is so preliminary. The significance is that there are two different results and we don't know what exactly is going on." But she added, "I have learned a tremendous amount of information about working in the laboratory, a lot about HIV, working with people and how science works. On top of it, the work this summer has raised more questions."

Cindy Lutz from St. John's College in Annapolis examined the role of different genes and proteins in the developing eye.

Cindy Lutz has given a humanistic spin to her work on "localization of cell cycle regulatory proteins during lens fiber cell differentiation" at the Laboratory of Molecular and Developmental Biology, NEI. She attends St. John's College in Annapolis, a strong liberal arts school that emphasizes the classics. Her interest in medicine was awakened by history of science courses, particularly her reading of embryologist Hans Driesch's work, The Philosophy of the Organism. Now she is trying to understand the role of different genes and proteins in the development of the eye during the course of embryogenesis. "My high school biology classes consisted of memorizing things out of a textbook. And I think that to get people, especially young people, excited by biology, it's crucial to show them what is amazing about the way organisms develop and grow. The fact is that we all begin as a single cell and yet here we are, with terminally differentiated parts that work in such a magnificent way. That alone should be enough to incite amazement in people and get them wanting to learn more."

She concluded with this quote from Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher from the sixth century B.C., from his work, Nature Loves to Hide Herself: "Behind details lurks the essence of what we are seeking."

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