It was presentation day at the University of Montana for five students from across the country who completed the Summer Undergraduate Research Program, hosted by the school’s Center for Environmental Health Sciences.
The program started in late May, and Tuesday marked the end – and the day when the five young researchers presented the findings of their summer's work to faculty and graduate students from UM’s Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
The Center for Environmental Health Sciences works to advance the knowledge of environmental impacts on human health.
Each of the five students accepted to the summer program received a stipend for their work, use of the center’s laboratories, access to the department’s staff and free on-campus housing for the duration of the 10-week stay.
The undergraduate research program, in its eighth year, is funded by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Society of Toxicology.
Andrij Holian, a faculty member in the department and adviser for the summer program, said the main way UM benefits by bringing in students from across the country is the national-level exposure it provides for the program.
He said the school needs to do a better job of advertising its graduate programs, and programs like SURP spread the work and facilities of the Missoula campus across the country.
Two of the students in this year’s conference are going on to present their research at the national convention for the Society of Toxicology, Holian said.
“Research is really driven by students – that’s true at universities across the country,” he said. “When they can accomplish this in just 10 weeks, think of what an undergrad can do in one or two years of work.”
Mark Pershouse, the other SURP adviser, said the program is also about finding and helping to train the next generation of researchers in the environmental health science field.
“Andrij and I are really replacing ourselves in the food chain,” he said.
Maggie Honig, from Binghamton University in New York, centered her research project on mesothelioma, a lung cancer with about 3,500 diagnosed cases in the U.S. every year, primarily from asbestos exposure.
Honig said mesothelioma patients have a median survival time of about a year, and chemotherapy has not been shown to be very effective in treatment.
Her study sought to determine if the suppression of a specific gene could improve the effectiveness of drug treatments for the disease.
Honig said SURP was the first time she had worked in a biology lab, and that in the process she learned a lot about sterilization methods and cell culture techniques.
“I'm just so grateful to have been a part of this project,” she said.
While the program usually takes students who are undergraduates at other schools, Shelby Cole, who is studying pharmacy at UM, was an exception. Her research project for the summer concerned potential medical treatments for lung-based inflammatory diseases.
Jessica Ray, a senior from Michigan State University, focused her study on DNA and gene changes that could result from inhaling carbon nanotubes, a material increasingly being used in medical and engineering products.
Samantha Couture, from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, who worked on a project about the conditions that lead to the formation of giant cells, and Montana State University’s Laura Fisch, who discussed the potential degradation of membranes in the body from its absorption of newly created nanomaterials, rounded out the all-female team that made up this year’s program.