October 10, 2013 | By Zander Tu, '15
I was chosen to participate in the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). I worked in the lab of Dr. Ramani Ramchandran in the Pediatric Research Department. The research project I contributed to may eventually lead to a treatment for humangeoma tumors in infants.
My project was to determine the structure of protein DUSP5 and S147P, a mutated form of DUSP5. This mutant protein causes several problems in childhood development such as vascular or cardiovascular abnormalities and tumor growth on internal organs. If we can determine the structure of DUSP5 and S147P, this may lead to the creation of drugs that inhibit the formation of the mutant protein.
The most challenging part of my project was actually producing the protein. I needed a 20mg sample, about the size of a small test tube, for the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) test, which is very difficult to obtain. I transformed plasmid DNA into host bacteria, allowed the bacteria to grow, induced the bacteria to express the protein, extracted the protein and then purified it. The process took about five days to complete, and approximately 80% of the time the bacteria didn't reproduce, or the end result wasn't large enough, or pure enough, for the NMR test.
Originally, I wanted to determine the structures of both DUSP5 and S147P, but I found it to be a nearly impossible task to do in just 10 weeks. Still, this research project strengthened my understanding of molecular biology and biochemistry. I've learned important lab techniques and have actually used them in a lab myself. From a broader perspective, my research could lead to drug development that may be able to make sure tumors do not form in children with this modified protein.
This program has confirmed some ideas I have regarding my future career. This research has provided me with a strong background in biochemistry and biology, which will hopefully make me a better physician because I have a better understanding of what is occurring at a molecular level. I plan on working on future research projects to further develop and grow my knowledge and understanding of interesting topics like this one.