The BEST program is soliciting applications from faculty to support undergraduate research projects. Please e-mail Loren Launen for more information and an application form. In the summer of 2017, a total of 29 undergraduate research students are supported by BEST funding. These students will be working with 8 faculty on projects in Mathematics, Computer Science, Biology, and Chemistry.
Opening Doors for Students
A two-centimeter long planarian, a type of flatworm, may hold clues to the causes of skin cancer – and Keene State biology students are playing a key role in researching that possibility. In fact, students in Assistant Professor Jason Pellettieri’s Integrative Studies class for non-science majors made the initial discovery, a few years back, that exposing planarians to light eliminates their pigmentation, apparently by destroying pigment-producing cells in their skin that are similar to human melanocytes.
Since then, Pellettieri has been working with biology majors, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health NH-INBRE program, to understand how visible light damages planarian pigment cells and to take a close look at how that damage occurs.
“The opportunity here has been really great for me,” says J. P. Dustin, one of several biology students funded through the grant to spend the summer doing research on the project. “We’ve gone up to Dartmouth to present some of our work, and the people up there have been really surprised at the level of research we’re doing at this lab. It’s not typical undergraduate research we’re doing; it’s more on par with a graduate program.”
“Research is such a big part of the sciences today, and it really does open a lot of doors,” says Pellettieri, who has one former student working in a prominent lab at MIT, one working for a Boston biotech firm, and one attending medical school at Boston University, among others. “That’s in significant part because they can put on their resumes that they’ve been doing NIH-funded high-level research.”
Creating Chemical Compounds in Search of a Cure
“I know what it’s like to go through the pain of losing somebody to a disease that we still have no concrete answers to,” says James Shannon, who lost his mother to cancer when he was young, “and if I can make a difference in arriving at that answer more quickly, then I’ll have given my life some purpose.”
Shannon, one of three students who received a 2014 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship from Keene State, is working under the mentorship of Professor Paul Baures of the Chemistry Department to create amino acid compounds that have the potential to kill breast cancer cells. Shannon’s job is to mix a variety of such compounds and test them for purity – a multi-step process that involves painstaking measurements, boiling, filtering, and freezing various solutions, and using instruments to determine the compounds’ chemical structures. The finished compounds will be sent on to Dr. William B. Kinlaw, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth College who is collaborating on the project.
Dartmouth researchers will test the compounds on cancer cells and then on mice. The hope, says Shannon, is that the one or more will prove effective in eradicating cancer cells. If that’s the case, the researchers will write up their findings and publish them.
“We’re hoping this research will lead to something great in the long term,” says Shannon, who is considering three post-graduation possibilities. He may apply to graduate schools or seek work in a Boston-area pharmaceutical lab. But he’s also mulling signing on with the Navy, which has a program in nuclear energy – another field that he loves.
– Whichever choice he makes, Shannon will be well served by his research experience at Keene State. “For an undergraduate to have a publication under his belt is extremely unheard of,” he says, “and I’m fortunate that Keene State is the type of school where undergraduate research is really, really important.”