Mentored high school researcher co-author of two papers
By Rosanne Fohn
Derek Lam has achieved what many high school students interested in science would covet: publication in not one, but two peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Lam, who just graduated from Keystone School, participated in the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Biomedical Research Academy, a three-year, mentored research program at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio. Twenty rising sophomores are accepted into the Voelcker Academy each spring. They begin their immersion into the biosciences the summer following their freshman year, learning the scientific method, laboratory techniques and critical thinking skills. They also work with a UT Health Science Center mentor to gain a hands-on research experience.
Additional mentoring programs
In addition to the Voelcker Academy, the UT Health Science Center also offers other mentoring opportunities for high school students, including the BEAT Academy, July 8-12, a one week program that focuses on medical and biomedical research. Applications for this program are due June 10.
After completing the Voelcker program in September, Lam worked part-time his senior year in the lab of his Voelcker mentor, Zhenyu Qin, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Qin is an assistant professor/research in the Department of Surgery and director of the Vascular Metallomics Research Laboratory in the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery.
“During my time in the Voelcker program, my research focused on the correlation between trace metal concentrations, especially copper, in the vascular system and in Menkes Disease, looking specifically at the cellular copper pump ATP7A,” Lam said. Menkes Disease is caused by a defect in a gene called ATP7A. The defect occurs in male infants and causes the element copper to accumulate abnormally low in some organs and too high in others. It can cause neurodegeneration of the brain including seizures and strokes, as well as osteoporosis. Lam’s research was featured in a paper titled “Zinc, copper and blood pressure: Human population studies” published in the Medical Science Monitor in January.
In his work as a part-time research assistant his senior year, Lam looked at the effect of Menkes Disease in the organs. “I analyzed the concentrations of multiple inflammatory mediators in response to an inflammation in the peritoneum, a critical structure that supports abdominal organs. I am also working on summarizing multiple articles focusing on finding effective model organisms for Mendes Disease, especially in regards to ATP7A function,” he said. As a result, he also was co-author on another paper published in February in Mediators of Inflammation.
“I have really enjoyed working in Dr. Qin’s lab, as I have learned additional things about research than I have through my years of doing science fair,” Lam said. “Dr. Qin has helped me work on my presentation skills by scheduling meetings where I had to present my work. While analyzing the data for the research article, I learned additional statistical analyses that I have not used before, and that my classmates learned in their statistics class months later.”
Protégé credits mentoring with acceptance
to Georgetown University
Another Voelcker scholar, Jacob Carmichael, also worked in Dr. Qin’s lab on similar research involving copper and its importance in the creation of healthy vascular tissue and neurological function. Carmichael studied copper’s role in atherosclerosis and the treatment of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
“I am incredibly grateful for my three-summer experience with Dr. Qin,” said Carmichael, a recent graduate of Central Catholic High School. “He taught me so much, not only about the field of biomedical research, but in many facets of life. I’ve been accepted into Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies. I feel that the experience I’ve had through the Voelcker program and with my mentor, Dr. Qin, definitely helped me to be accepted to Georgetown,” he said.
Dr. Qin added, “Publication is only one factor in judging a student’s performance. Both Jacob and Derek have done an excellent job in our lab.”
Value of mentoring experience
“We have had hundreds of students involved in mentoring programs at the Health Science Center,” said Irene Chapa, Ph.D., director of the Office of Recruitment and Science Outreach, which coordinates the mentorships. “We have found that shadowing and mentoring opportunities help students discover whether a health or research career may be a good career choice for them. Having these types of experiences frequently make them stronger candidates for other programs and scholarships, and potentially helps open the door to other opportunities in higher education,” she said.
For more information about shadowing and mentored research opportunities at the UT Health Science Center, including the summer BEAT Academy, year-round student internships and more, please visit http://www.uthscsa.edu/outreach/summer.asp.
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