Regional
6:11 pm
Tue July 6, 2010

NMSU Program Prepares Students For Biomedical Careers

Las Cruces – Bacteria, electric fish and cancer may not sound like they have a lot in common, but students in the New Mexico State University Minority Access to Research Careers program may one day change the biomedical field through their research in these areas.

The MARC program is in its 34th year of existence at NMSU, making it one of the oldest in the country, as well as the third largest. The program's goal is to increase the number of minorities receiving doctorates in biomedical fields. Faculty members mentor participants during the two-year program. The students work in their mentor's lab, as well as take an honors course on careers in biomedical research and receive training in how to give presentations and manage their time and stress.

During their second summer, they attend a summer internship at a lab at another research university. This summer, NMSU students have internships at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Baylor and the University of California, Berkeley. The MARC program, in conjunction with the hosting program, pays for the trip.

Those participating in the program span departments, colleges and research interests all across campus, including chemistry, biochemistry, biology and physics, as well as animal science and plant and environmental sciences.

Chemistry major Leticia Montoya recently graduated and will attend the University of Oregon this fall to start working toward her doctorate in biochemistry. While in the MARC program, Montoya researched the physiological role for the drug metabolism enzyme Cytochrome P450 2S1 (CYP2S1) in human lung cells. She was mentored by Aaron Rowland, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

Brandi Gutierrez's life, friends and family have been affected by cancer, which greatly influenced her decision to pursue a career in cancer research. She works with Jeffrey

Arterburn, a professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department, to develop new diagnostic imaging agents that would allow medical experts to detect the presence of a specific protein that has been associated with aggressive types of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers.

"Achieving the objectives of this research project would be an important step towards the ultimate goal of providing new clinical tools to help diagnose and treat these types of cancers," Arterburn said.

Natalie AaronsCooke works with electric fish that have the ability to regenerate any tissue that is lost, such as a tail or other body part, and explores how the fishes' stem cells differ from human stem cells. Mentoring with Graciela Unguez, an associate biology professor, she isolates stem cells from electric fish and keeps the cultures alive in Petri dishes to promote the growth of new muscle.

Biology professor Michele Nishiguchi works with three MARC students in her lab. Former MARC student Ferdinand Rivera is currently researching the interactions among strains of bacteria. By isolating strains of the bacteria Vibrio fischeri from squid, he has been able to identify beneficial interactions among the strains.

Another of Nishiguchi's students, Clayton Gorman, is identifying biofilm formations and studying the characteristics they have enabling them to survive. Jonathan Easterling is studying the response rates in bacteria when put in extremes of salinity and temperature. Through a series of growth experiments, he is researching what types of changes occur and their causes.

Although the bacteria the students work with are not pathogenic, they are closely related to ones that are, such as Vibrio cholerae, the bacteria that causes cholera, which means the research explored in Nishiguchi's lab offers a better understanding of how bacteria interact with its host.

Many of the students have won awards while in the NMSU MARC program, and have won awards as graduate students as well. Past graduates of the program have gone on to doctoral programs at Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the University of Arizona, just to name a few.

Numerous career opportunities are available for those with a doctorate in a biomedical field. These include becoming a university professor, a scientist at a national or industrial laboratory, in pharmaceutical development or working for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control.