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MUSC Medical Links Charleston Links Archives Catalyst Advertisers Seminars and Events Research Studies Public Relations Research Grants MUSC home page Community Happenings Campus News Applause


Students value hands-on research experiences

by Cindy Abole
Public Relations
About 70 college-aged students and potential scientists worked within MUSC labs and facilities conducting research on campus as part of the 2010 Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) sponsored by the College of Graduate Studies.
Selected through a competitive application process, the students received apprenticeship awards to work with a faculty member from June 7 to Aug. 13.  
SURP participants were placed in a variety of research fields at MUSC, including biochemistry and molecular biology, cancer biology, cell and molecular pharmacology, genetics and gene medicine, microbiology and immunology, marine biomedicine, neurosciences and other areas. 
“Each year the program gets better and better thanks to the increased reputation of the program and the quality of students who participate,” said Debbie Shoemaker, SURP coordinator in the College of Graduate Studies.  Shoemaker has managed the program since 2004. “We’re fortunate that the program continues to attract a high caliber of students each year. Students make the program and that’s a testament to its quality and success.”
This year’s SURP students hailed from more than 32 colleges and universities and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The program is funded through training grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense as well as faculty and department funding.
Charleston’s Laila Roudsari is a Clemson University bioengineering student who worked in Xuejen Wen’s bioengineering lab conducting research with neural stem cells. Wen, who is an adjunct assistant professor in the Clemson bioengineering program at MUSC, is working on applications related to Parkinson’s disease. Individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease suffer from a major loss of neurons. Wen’s team is looking at replacing the neuron loss in patients.
Roudsari, who has previous research experience at Rice University in summer 2008, applied to the program because of MUSC’s growing reputation in medicine and research and her own desire to remain in Charleston this summer.
“I learned a lot about translational research combining basic science with the medical field,” Roudsari said. “My projects were really challenging and I got to provide a lot of input and work with the team’s researchers and engineers. It was challenging, yet rewarding.”
The program also proved valuable for Jessie McGinty, a Clemson University junior who worked with postdoctoral researcher and SURP advisor Angie Cason, Ph.D., and other scientists and students in Gary Aston-Jones’ laboratory for neuromodulation and behavior in the Department of Neurosciences. The lab's focus is neuronal circuits and systems in the brain, addiction research and cognitive neuroscience research.
McGinty and other SURP students were able to conduct their own research projects, under the supervision of researchers and lab personnel, giving them valuable hands-on experiences. In addition to their research, students met regularly, attended lectures and participated in other activities. At the program’s conclusion, students completed a paper and conducted research presentations attended by mentors, faculty and fellow students.
“It was a very eye-opening experience for me because I never had a full-time job before,” said McGinty, who worked 40 hours per week in the lab learning about rewards pathways using food. Her research team found that food is a stronger award than drugs. “It’s been really interesting to see the whole scientific process. Ten weeks was really too short a time to learn science.”
“Jessie learned how to use immunohistochemistry to observe changes in protein expression in the brain,” said Cason. “She learned how these neural changes correspond to changes in animal behavior. Overall, Jessie’s been a great help and one thing I learned from having her in our lab is that science still can be fun and exciting. I think as senior researchers, we sometimes get lost in the grind and it was wonderful to be reminded why I like my job.”
The experience was impressive for McGinty’s mom, Jacqueline McGinty, Ph.D., professor of neurosciences. 
“The experience has shaped Jessie’s thinking about whether or not she would like to pursue a career in research science,” said McGinty.  “While she may not work in neuroscience, she is thinking of merging her interest in research with her passion for healthy nutrition. This has led her to search for research opportunities at Clemson in nutraceutical research and she has found a prominent lab in which she will conduct a creative inquiry study this fall.”
Mom also loved the idea of having her daughter work nearby on campus throughout the summer.
“We commuted to campus together—I have the better parking space—and we discussed neuroscience topics with ease during our drive,” McGinty said.  “She dropped in daily and occasionally, we had lunch together. It’s been fun seeing her in the hallway and interacting with the people I work with. She definitely understands and has an augmented appreciation for what I do now and I have a better appreciation for her goals and academic direction. We thank SURP, graduate studies and MUSC for providing a terrific summer research experience for Jessie and her fellow SURP students.”

Friday, Aug. 27, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.