SUMMER 2021

2020-2021
Melissa Bu
2020-2021
Home University: UCLA
Class: junior
Major: Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Willy Hugo

Melissa is a rising fourth-year Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology major at UCLA and has worked at Dr. Willy Hugo’s lab since her sophomore year. The Hugo lab uses computational and wet lab techniques to study melanoma drug resistance to targeted therapies and cancer immunotherapies. Ultimately, the lab aims to uncover mechanisms of tumor resistance such that strategies to re-sensitize melanoma to therapies may be discovered.

Melissa is currently investigating melanoma metastasis to the liver, specifically the role played by the vitamin D pathway as informed by previous RNA Sequencing (RNASeq) analysis done by the lab. She spatially profiles the liver tumor microenvironment via CODEX multiplex immunofluorescence imaging to identify cell population(s) that respond to and/or secrete vitamin D pathway molecules. She also co-cultures 2D melanoma and 3D melanoma spheroids with hepatocytes and stromal cells to understand their migration, invasion, and fibrosis-forming capabilities in response to vitamin D pathway molecules. Finally, she investigates the effects of vitamin D pathway molecules on T cell killing of 3D melanoma spheroids and targeted therapy sensitivity. Concurrently, Melissa is collaborating with another student to analyze single cell RNASeq data from patients with melanoma treated with immunotherapies. They are using their analyses and literature review to propose a new bispecific antibody immunotherapy.

Melissa thanks the Hugo lab, particularly Drs. Willy Hugo, Qianyu Guo, for their steadfast teaching and guidance. She also thanks the Amgen Foundation for their generous support which has enabled her to focus on research throughout the summer.

Brandon Chew
2020-2021
Home University: University of California, Santa Cruz
Class: senior
Major: Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology; Anthropology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Paivi Pajukanta

Brandon is a senior studying epigenetic inheritance for Dr. Upasna Sharma at the University of California, Santa Cruz. There, his research focuses on the ribonucleases that cleave t-RNAs into t-RNA fragments (tRFs).

As an Amgen Scholar at UCLA, Brandon is conducting research under Dr. Paivi Pajukanta in the department of Human Genetics. His research for the summer leverages preadipocyte single cell data to find novel cell-type traits linked to cardiometabolic disorders. Adipose tissue is important for maintaining homeotic functions in a range of organisms. Once adipose tissue is formed, primarily from preadipocyte cells, the tissue can be modulated by environmental, social, political and commercial determinants of health, among other external factors. Notably, the development and persistence of metabolic disorders like obesity and dyslipidemia depends on the ability of adipose tissue to store fat effectively. While the differentiation of adipocytes from preadipocytes is well established, the perturbations of preadipocytes that lead to metabolic diseases is not well understood. The lab hopes to uncover novel cell-type-trait links to cardiometabolic diseases through single-cell RNA-seq analysis.

Brandon would like to thank the Amgen Scholars Program at UCLA for giving him the opportunity to mature as a scientist. He would also like to thank everyone in the Pajukanta Lab for their guidance.

David Chung
2020-2021
Home University: University of California, Los Angeles
Class: senior
Major: Applied Mathematics
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Carlos Portera-Cailliau

David recently graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), with a major in Applied Mathematics and a minor in Biomedical Research. He has been a part of Dr. Carlos Portera-Cailliau’s lab since April 2019, researching tactile defensiveness behaviors in mice with Fragile X Syndrome.

Fragile X syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder that often presents with atypical sensory processing and tactile defensiveness. Recently, the Portera-Cailliau Lab reported that the Fmr1 knockout (Fmr1-/-) mouse model exhibits similar avoidance responses to repetitive whisker stimulation. This is accompanied with a lack of adaptation of layer (L) 2/3 neurons in the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) to repetitive whisker stimulation and a lower proportion of whisker-responsive neurons from postnatal day 15. Whisker-evoked activity in L2/3 of S1 is shaped by feedforward inhibition from GABAergic parvalbumin (PV) expressing interneurons, and these PV cells are hypofunctional in primary sensory cortices of Fmr1-/- mice. To test if PV cell hypoactivity is associated with tactile defensiveness, David is investigating the potential of a novel allosteric modulator of Kv3.1 channels to increase PV cell activity in Fmr1-/- mice. These represent the first preclinical studies in a mouse model of autism that investigate the pharmacological manipulation of PV cells to rescue avoidance behaviors.

David would like to thank the Portera-Cailliau lab and the Biomedical Research Minor for all the mentorship and guidance in helping him improve as a scientist, and would also like to thank the Amgen Foundation for providing the opportunity to focus on his research.

Myra Dada
2020-2021
Home University: University of Chicago
Class: junior
Major: Molecular Engineering
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Aaron Meyer

Myra is a rising senior at the University of Chicago majoring in Molecular Engineering with a specialization in Bioengineering. She recently joined Dr. Joshua Weinstein’s lab, where she is helping to develop DNA microscopy, an imaging technology that uses DNA rather than light as an imaging medium.

As a UCLA Amgen Scholar, Myra is working under Dr. Aaron Meyer in the Department of Bioengineering to apply machine learning techniques to traditional biological modeling problems. The mathematical modeling of gene regulatory networks is useful for a variety of clinical and research applications, but these network models are rarely formulated for large numbers of genes. The Meyer Lab is using machine learning rather than traditional numerical methods to solve network models at the genome scale. Myra’s goal this summer is to apply this method to data obtained from molecular intervention and profiling experiments, in which thousands of genes were knocked down and their transcriptional effects were measured. She will then quantify how similar the resulting network models are across cell lines to show that the technique produces a consistent map of gene regulatory interactions independent of cellular context.

Myra would like to thank the members of the Meyer Lab for providing her with this opportunity, as well as the Amgen Foundation for funding her research at UCLA this summer.

Audrey Fung
2020-2021
Home University: University of California, Irvine
Class: senior
Major: Microbiology & Immunology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lili Yang

Audrey Fung graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a B.S. in Microbiology & Immunology. During her time as an undergraduate, she worked in the lab of Dr. Weian Zhao studying CAR-T cells and bispecific antibodies.

As an Amgen Scholar at UCLA, she is working in the lab of Dr. Lili Yang in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics researching creatine as an energy source for T cells. Tumor-infiltrating T cells play a key role in anticancer immune responses, but the activation and maintenance of those responses are highly energy demanding. Low glucose availability and hypoxic conditions in the tumor microenvironment (TME) induce additional metabolic stress, limiting the T cell anticancer immune response. She is investigating whether creatine supplementation will enhance T cell antitumor activity via the creatine kinase/phosphocreatine/creatine (CK/PCr/Cr) system which uses creatine to store high energy phosphates from ATP to balance the supply and demand for energy in a cell.  She will be using mice implanted with ovarian cancer engineered to express luciferase to characterize the role of creatine supplementation alone or in combination with PD-1/PD-L1 blockade treatment.

Audrey would like to thank the Amgen Foundation and Amgen Scholars Program for the opportunity and the Yang Lab at UCLA for their mentorship and support.

Melody Gao
2020-2021
Home University: Western Washington University
Class: senior
Major: Biochemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Stephanie Seidlits

Melody Gao graduated from Western Washington University in June of 2021 with a B.S. in Biochemistry. At Western, she worked as an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Jeanine Amacher’s lab investigating the selectivity and promiscuity of Class 1 PDZ domains, leading to a first author publication. Her most current project looks into substrate selectivity of Class A sortases, specifically at the beta 7-8 loop’s role in modulating substrate recognition.

As part of the UCLA’s Amgen Scholars program, Melody works in Dr. Stephanie Seidlits’s lab in the Department of Bioengineering. The Seidlits lab studies glioblastomas (GBM), a highly invasive and lethal brain cancer. Patients diagnosed with GBM survive a median of twelve months even with treatment due to the tumor’s ability to gain therapy resistance. The lab investigates how the tumor’s microenvironment, specifically the extracellular matrix, promotes drug resistance acquisition using bioengineered matrices as their model. These microenvironments are a better approximation of the native brain and provide a better platform for understanding how the environment affects tumor physiology.

Melody would like to thank Dr. Seidlits and her graduate student mentor Jesse Liang for supporting and mentoring her development as a scientist. Additionally, she would also like to thank the Amgen Foundation for providing this summer research opportunity at UCLA.

Madeline Goldfarb
2020-2021
Home University: Pitzer College
Class: senior
Major: Neuroscience
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Alicia Izquierdo

Madeline Goldfarb graduated with a degree in neuroscience from Pitzer College in 2021. While at Pitzer, Madeline conducted research in the Reward, Affect, and Decision-Making Lab and was interested in using EEG to study the neural correlates of reward processing.

As an Amgen Scholar at UCLA, Madeline is working in Dr. Alicia Izquierdo’s lab in the Department of Psychology. The Izquierdo Lab studies the mechanisms and neural substrates of flexible learning and reward-guided decision making, focusing on the aspects of cognitive flexibility that are disrupted in various neurological and psychiatric disorders. Madeline’s project surrounds implementing reinforcement learning models to capture the learning behavior of rodents completing a probabilistic reversal learning paradigm as a measure of cognitive flexibility. The project explores the importance of task modality in reversal learning paradigms by modeling spatial and stimulus-driven learning behavior. The models also support an investigation into the cortical contributions of various brain regions in task-specific reversal learning by expanding upon existing research using chemogenetic manipulations. Overall, understanding the mechanisms and neural substrates of reversal learning offers clinical significance with respect to intervening in disrupted cognitive flexibility.

Madeline would like to thank Dr. Alicia Izquierdo and Claudia Aguirre for their mentorship and support as well as the Amgen Foundation for providing this opportunity.

Sonya Lee
2020-2021
Home University: Williams College
Class: senior
Major: Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Huiying Li

Sonya is a rising senior studying Chemistry at Williams College. At her home institution, Sonya studies the role of beta-lactamase in the development of drug resistance in bacteria under the guidance of Dr. Katie Hart. The Hart lab is interested in how mutations affect the protein’s structure, stability, and function with the hope of gaining new insight into evolution on a molecular level.

During her time at UCLA, Sonya is attempting to characterize the effects of probiotic Nissle E. coli treatment upon the canine gut microbiome. Nissle was one of the first bacterial strains to be used as a probiotic, and it has been observed to have immunomodulatory effects such as the suppression of immune-mediated damage and the upregulation of beneficial responses. Despite the relatively extensive characterization of the Nissle strain compared to other probiotics, greater study is needed to determine the mechanism by which Nissle impacts the microbiome. Sonya will perform 16S rRNA sequencing analysis with QIIME2 to determine the taxonomic composition of the gut microbiome of dogs treated with probiotic Nissle. Changes in the microbiome or species composition before and after probiotic treatment will be documented, and statistical analysis will be performed to measure the relative diversity of species between samples.

Sonya would like to thank the Li lab for their mentorship and would also like to thank the Amgen Foundation in support of her research at UCLA.

Joshua Morales
2020-2021
Home University: Whittier College
Class: senior
Major: Neurobiology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Elaine Hsiao

Joshua Morales is a graduated senior from Whittier College. There he worked in Dr. Valenzuela’s immunology lab where he investigated the effect of resveratrol, a natural plant-based compound found in red wine, when combined with cisplatin to see if the combined treatment had higher potential in killing Jurkat cells compared to cisplatin alone. He also worked in Dr. Christina Bauer’s immunology lab where he synthesized a new metallic organic framework compound made of imidazole and polyethylene, which had potential in replacing platinum as a catalyst in fuel cells.

As a UCLA Amgen Scholar, Joshua is working in Dr. Elaine Hsiao’s lab, which focuses on understanding the role that gut microbacteria Bacteriodes theta and Bacteroides ovatus play in short-chain fatty acid synthesis. Bacteriodes theta and Bacteroides ovatus each digest carbohydrates, levan and inulin, respectively. It is believed that the digestion of these carbohydrates is involved in a pathway responsible for short-chain fatty acid synthesis. In his experiment, Joshua focuses on creating knockout mutants of the rate-limiting enzyme in each pathway of each bacteria in the production of propionate and acetate, two important precursors for short-chain fatty acids. Creating such mutants can have a large impact in revealing if specific gut microbacteria play a role in contributing to obesity, which can lead to treatments preventing these bacteria from producing short-chain fatty acids.

Joshua would like to thank the Amegn Foundation, Dr. Elaine Hsiao as well as his mentor Kristie Yu for their guidance and support in fostering his growth as a scientist.

Claire Park
2020-2021
Home University: Smith College
Class: senior
Major: Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Patrick Harran

Claire graduated with a B.A. in Chemistry from Smith College in 2021. As an undergraduate, she worked in the Shea Lab to develop an intramolecular Nicholas reaction for the synthesis of bioorthogonal click chemistry substrates.

At UCLA this summer, she is working in Dr. Patrick Harran’s lab to investigate molecular properties of cell-permeable macrocyclic compounds. Permeation of small, orally active drugs is traditionally estimated via Lipinski’s rule of 5 (Ro5) which primarily considers physicochemical factors. However, venturing outside the Ro5 chemical space would enhance opportunities to develop therapeutics against “difficult” targets such as proteases, GPCRs, and protein-protein interactions. Currently, a clear guideline to assess the passive permeability of macrocycles does not currently exist. The Harran Lab has recently converted their novel scaffolding methodology into a computational simulation, Composite Peptide Macrocycle Generator (CPMG), to construct a library of over 2 billion macrocycles. In order to selectively screen compounds, Claire will use Principal Component Analysis to identify promising trends based on previously untested, three-dimension features.

Claire would like to thank Dr. Patrick Harran and her student mentor, Ishika Saha, for their invaluable support, as well as the Amgen Foundation for this opportunity to conduct research at UCLA this summer. 

Hikari Tanaka
2020-2021
Home University: Vassar College
Class: senior
Major: Neuroscience and Behavior
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Amy Rowat

Hikari is a graduated senior from Vassar College who majored in Neuroscience and Behavior. There, Hikari was an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Lori Newman’s laboratory, which studies astrocyte metabolism via glutamate synthetase while rats are undergoing sustained attention tasks.

As an Amgen Scholar at UCLA, Hikari is working in the laboratory of Dr. Amy Rowat and under the mentorship of Kathleen Chen. Her project focuses on developing artificial meat, which is particularly salient as traditional meat production is detrimental to the environment and may be insufficient for a growing, global food demand. To construct palatable artificial meat, fat and adipocytes are necessary to mimic the flavor of cooked meat. Adipocytes must be differentiated and proliferated, and these cells depend on physical and mechanical properties of the matrix to direct their development. For the best study of adipocyte development, 3D culture models, such as cultures grown on microbeads, should be used yet little research exists on scalable, adipocyte cell cultures in 3D models. Hikari’s project studies how adipocytes differentiate and proliferate on polyacrylamide microbeads of different stiffnesses and hopes to identify an ideal stiffness for adipocyte growth. This research is invaluable for optimizing scalable adipocyte development to construct palatable artificial meat with fat.

Hikari would like to thank the Amgen Scholars program at UCLA for this opportunity, and Dr. Amy Rowat and Kathleen Chen for their patience and dedication to providing guidance, despite conducting her research remotely.

Julia Zhou
2020-2021
Home University: University of California, San Diego
Class: senior
Major: Chemical Engineering
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrea Hevener

As a chemical engineer in the nanoengineering department at UCSD, Julia participated in research at the interface between nanotechnology and medicine. Especially, the extraordinary power of novel therapeutics to control the outcome of disease immediately captured her interest. At the same time, it is her goal to also obtain a comprehensive understanding of underlying disease pathophysiology on the path to solving modern medicine’s most pressing dilemmas.

Under Dr. Andrea Hevener at UCLA, Julia is contributing to advances on our fundamental understanding of metabolism and metabolic disease. The most common metabolic disorders seen in the U.S. include type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and liver cancers, among others, and are further linked by a common theme of excessive adipose tissue. The literature has shown estrogen receptor α to inversely associate with adiposity and positively correlate with a reduction in metabolic dysfunction. Thus, ESR1/Esr1, the gene that encodes Erα, is likewise positively implicated in counteraction against metabolic dysfunction and obesity. To elucidate the role of Esr1 in this counteraction, Julia is exploring genetically engineered murine models that which selectively knock out or conditionally overexpress Erα in adipose tissues. With Dr. Hevener’s group, she is evaluating the impact of Erα expression in adipose tissue on metabolic health by examining adipocyte size and function assessed through cellular mitochondrial form and oxidative capacity and RNA sequencing performed on adipose tissue samples for gene and protein expression profiles in support of metabolic health.

Julia thanks the Amgen foundation and the Hevener group for this research opportunity.

2019-2020
Luke Elissiry
2019-2020
Home University: UCLA
Class: junior
Major: Chemistry with Computing Specialization
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Chong Liu

Luke Elissiry is a rising junior at UCLA studying Chemistry with a specialization in Computing. He has been working in Professor Chong Liu’s lab since March 2018, developing a replacement for traditional fertilizers utilizing symbiotic, nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

The detrimental effects of traditional fertilizers, such as eutrophication and groundwater contamination, as well as rising global food demand, require environmentally sustainable fertilizer alternatives. A select subset of bacteria is able to fix nitrogen for their host plants, making bacterial inoculation of plants a promising fertilizer replacement. However, the method of inoculant delivery must be compatible with existing agricultural techniques while maintaining viability and providing protection to the bacteria. Luke is investigating the use of a silica matrix to encapsulate a nitrogen-fixing bacterium, Sinorhizobium meliloti. The bacteria and silica precursors are combined in solution before being sprayed onto seeds as microbead droplets, which solidify within several minutes through the sol-gel process. This novel technique of inoculant application aims to maintain long-term viability of the microbes during storage and inoculant delivery. This research will contribute to the advancement of microbe carriers and offers a promising pathway to environmentally friendly agricultural practices.

After completion of his undergraduate degree, Luke plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. Luke would like to thank the Amgen Foundation for the generous opportunity to advance his scientific career, the Undergraduate Research Center – Sciences for supporting his growth as a scientific researcher, and Professor Chong Liu and his lab for their invaluable mentorship.

Sarah Furman
2019-2020
Home University: Rowan University
Class: junior
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jeff Abramson

Sarah is a rising junior majoring in biomedical engineering at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. There she works as an undergraduate researcher in a lab studying mesenchymal stem cell differentiation due to micro-environmental controls.

As an Amgen Scholar, she is working in the laboratory of Dr. Jeff Abramson in the department of physiology. Her project in this lab focuses on creating a biochemical assay to monitor the breakdown of diacetyl during fermentation. To create fermented beverages, such as beers and ales, yeast undergoes fermentation. A key process in this fermentation is the breakdown of glucose, which creates byproducts that are unnecessary for fermentation. One of these such products is diacetyl, or 2,3 butanediol. Not only is this product unnecessary, it creates a butter like flavor that is unwanted in most beverages. To continue fermentation, brewers must wait for the diacetyl to be further broken down by an enzyme called butanediol dehydrogenase. Larger companies can use mass spectrometry to determine when diacetyl levels are low, but many brewers do not have access to this high end machinery. To combat this, Sarah is working to create a colorimetric assay using his-tagged butanediol dehydrogenase to determine when enough diacetyl has been converted to allow continuation of the brewing process.

Sarah would like to thank the Amgen Scholars program at UCLA for this opportunity as well as Dr. Jeff Abramson and her student mentor Kristopher Gonzalez-Dewitt for their support and assistance in broadening her research career.

Jessica Kahng
2019-2020
Home University: Bryn Mawr College
Class: senior
Major: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Samantha Butler

Jessica Kahng is a rising senior, majoring in Biology and minoring in Neuroscience at Bryn Mawr College. There she works in the Greif Lab, researching the role of the calcium-sensor protein, synaptotagmin-1, in terms of axonal branching during development.

As an Amgen Scholar at UCLA, Jessica is working in the laboratory of Dr. Samantha Butler and under the mentorship of Sandy Alvarez. She is researching the guidance factor, netrin1, and its role in commissural axons growth during spinal cord development in chicken and mouse embryos. The Butler Lab’s previous research established a novel model for netrin1 in which netrin1 derived from the ventricular zone is responsible for guiding commissural neurons ventrally to and across the midline during development. In addition, this model proposes that netrin1 works in a local manner through haptotaxis, or growth directed along an adhesive surface, with netrin1 working as an adhesive guidance cue. Netrin1 has continued to be researched in the lab, and recent findings have indicated the possibility of netrin1 existing in various cleaved forms, or isoforms, in the spinal cord during development; an existence that has not been documented previously. Jessica’s project therefore focuses on identifying and characterizing netrin1 isoforms in the developing spinal cord of chicken and mice by dissecting out spinal cords from various embryonic stages and processing them using Western Blot Analysis.

Jessica would like to thank the members of the Butler Laboratory for their guidance and the Amgen Foundation for providing such an invaluable research opportunity.

Daniel Kojis
2019-2020
Home University: University of Wisconsin, Madison
Class: senior
Major: Statistics
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Christina Ramirez

Daniel Kojis is a rising senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison double majoring in Statistics and Political Science. As an Amgen Scholar, he is working in the Department of Biostatistics with Dr. Christina Ramirez as they conduct machine learning research.

Machine learning is widely used in medical settings for both prediction and discovering relevant factors. Their research focuses on extending a current machine learning method, random forests, to better incorporate longitudinal data and handle a high number of correlated variables. They expect to develop a new algorithm that will allow for better variable selection and prediction. Among other practical applications, this method could be used to predict if an individual will develop a disease, to determine the contributing factors of surgery outcomes, or to predict drug responses on medical patients.

Daniel would like to thank the Amgen foundation and his mentor Christina Ramirez for supporting his growth as a researcher.

Christy Luong
2019-2020
Home University: UCLA
Class: senior
Major: Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kathrin Plath

Christy is a rising senior at UCLA majoring in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology with a minor in Biomedical Research. Christy has been an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Kathrin Plath’s lab since fall quarter of freshman year. Christy’s research aims to investigate the mechanism by which Xist RNA transcriptionally silences the X-chromosome through super resolution imaging.

X-chromosome inactivation (XCI) occurs in female mammals to compensate for dosage difference of X-linked genes between sexes. During embryonic development both X-chromosomes are active and XCI is induced upon differentiation. Xist RNA is a long non-coding RNA that spreads in cis as a ‘cloud’ on one of the two X-chromosomes and mediates silencing. Super resolution microscopy (SRM) revealed approximately 100 distinct granules on the inactive X-chromosome (Xi). To elucidate the dynamic behavior of Xist in living cells, Christy utilizes an MS2-MS2 Coat Protein (MCP) phage system to indirect label Xist RNA with a fluorescent protein fusion. The distributions of Xist granules are observed by live-cell SRM imaging and their trajectories are monitored with single particle tracking analysis. Furthermore, to gain a better insight on the mechanism behind Xist stabilization and maintenance, RNA binding proteins (RBPs) known to interact with Xist are fused with fluorescent protein tags in order to observe the kinetics of these proteins in photo-bleaching experiments. By studying Xist RNA, Christy is hoping to better understand the role of long non-coding RNAs in epigenetics.

Christy would like to thank the Plath lab, Amgen Foundation, and the Biomedical Research minor for investing time, effort, and money into her growth as a future researcher.

Heather Romero Mercieca
2019-2020
Home University: University of California, Irvine
Class: senior
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Aaron Meyer

Heather is a rising senior at the University of California, Irvine. Heather spends her extra time involved in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Ballet Folklorico de UCI. She is passionate about bringing STEM opportunities to her community, the latinx community. At UCLA this summer, she is researching cytokines which are a type of cell signaling protein that are secreted from one cell and recognized by another to regulate immune response. The IL-2 cytokine family is of particular importance as engineered variants of IL-2 could help treat immune diseases such as cancer. Our objective is to analyze protein abundance data, specifically of the three IL-2 receptor components present on the cell surface of different immune cell lines, to understand how each protein influences the activity of the cell. At different time points, the activity and receptors were quantified using flow cytometry — the former by looking at pSTAT5 presence in the cell. IL-2 binds to IL-2R and triggers the signaling pathway which leads to the output of pSTAT5. The high-throughput flow cytometry data was taken for visualization and analysis in Python using the package FlowCytometryTools. Data analysis is used to find relations between receptor components across IL-2 variants such as IL-15. Machine learning could be applied to look for patterns such as multivariate predictors of IL-2 response, or how the relationship between IL-2R components and response changes with IL-2 dose or time.

Nicholas Page
2019-2020
Home University: Rutgers-New Brunswick
Class: senior
Major: Cell Biology and Neuroscience with minor in Computer Science
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Michael Gandal (shown) and Dr. Daniel Geschwind

Nick is a rising senior studying Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Rutgers-New Brunswick. At his home institution, Nick studies the role of RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) and post-transcriptional regulation in the development of the neocortex under the guidance of Dr. Mladen-Roko Rasin. His work has uncovered the isoform and cell-type specific effects of the RBP HuD on cell-fate in the neocortex.

During his time at UCLA, Nick is studying gene expression in the brains of mice and monkeys exposed to maternal immune activation (MIA) during in utero development. Large epidemiological studies have shown that an infection during pregnancy can lead to increased risk for schizophrenia and autism, therefore studying the molecular mechanism through which MIA effects brain development is crucial to understanding the cause of these diseases. Nick will analyze two large RNA-seq datasets from both adult mice and monkeys to understand the long-term effects of in utero MIA on brain development and to uncover the gene expression changes that underlie the behavioral changes seen in these model organisms.

Nick would like to the Gandal and Geschwind labs for mentoring him, and would also like to thank the Amgen Foundation and the Autism Science Foundation for funding his research at UCLA this summer.

Arjun Ramachandran
2019-2020
Home University: St. Olaf College
Class: senior
Major: Biology and Neuroscience
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Felix Schweizer

Arjun Ramachandran is a senior Biology major with a Neuroscience concentration at St. Olaf College where he studies head direction cells and neural mechanisms for spatial navigation with Dr. Gary Muir. The Muir lab is interested in developing an affordable, open-source microdrive array for chronic in vivo recordings of head direction cells.

At UCLA, Arjun works in Dr. Felix Schweizer’s lab in the Department of Neurobiology studying environmental factors responsible for increasing the risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease. In particular, the Schweizer lab is studying ziram – an agricultural pesticide – which modulates synaptic transmission by directly inhibiting E1 Ligase, the first enzyme in the ubiquitin signaling system (USS). The USS plays a crucial role in modulating synaptic transmission through post-translational modifications (PTMs) of pre-synaptic proteins. Specifically, vesicle associated membrane protein (VAMP2) – a SNARE protein that mediates vesicle fusion with the plasma membrane – is of interest: two of its lysine-residues are ubiquitinated and the PTMs are disrupted by ziram. We are now testing the role of ziram on synaptic transmission by substituting the wild-type VAMP2 with a mutant version of VAMP2 where the two crucial lysine residues have been replaced with arginine residues. We hypothesize that neurons with the mutant VAMP2 will be less sensitive to the action of ziram than the wild-type VAMP2 will be.

Arjun would like to thank the Amgen Scholars Program for the opportunity and the Schwiezer lab for its guidance.

Hsuan-Te (Miriam) Sun
2019-2020
Home University: California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
Class: senior
Major: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jau-Nian Chen

Miriam is a rising senior at the California Institute of Technology majoring in Biology. At Caltech, she works in the Stathopoulos lab studying the dynamics of cell migration using the Drosophila model system.

As part of the UCLA Amgen Scholars program, Miriam is working in Dr. Jau-Nian Chen’s lab in the department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. The Chen lab uses the zebrafish model to study the genetic, molecular, and cellular bases of the cardiovascular system during normal development and in diseases. Miriam’s project focuses on determining the role of mitochondrial regulation in proper cardiac development. She will be taking super-resolution images of mitochondrial colocalization with the cardiomyocyte network, as well as analyzing the phenotypes of various mitochondrial transport protein mutants. Previous research in the lab revealed the functional defects of cardiac myopathy and arrhythmia in certain mutant lines, and Miriam will be now doing structural immunohistochemical analysis of the adult zebrafish hearts as well as RNA-Seq transcriptomic analysis of day 5 embryo hearts, when the first signs of cardiac dysfunction appear. Following up on all of these angles will hopefully help fill in the gaps of knowledge about the conserved mitochondrial effect on heart development, possibly leading to applications for the prevention and treatment of congenital heart diseases in humans.

Miriam would like to thank the Amgen Foundation for making the Amgen Scholars program at UCLA possible. In addition, she thanks Dr. Chen and Adam Langenbacher for supporting her growth as a researcher.

Abby Thurm
2019-2020
Home University: UCLA
Class: senior
Major: Biochemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. William Gelbart

Abby is a rising fourth-year biochemistry at UCLA and has worked for Dr. William Gelbart since her freshman year. The lab researches primarily physical virology, aiming to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms behind viral self-assembly and disassembly. In recent years, they have begun trying to harness these properties for pharmaceutical applications as well as capitalizing on the use of self-amplifying viral genomes as therapeutics.

Abby’s current project aims to develop an antiviral therapy against yellow fever virus via the use of defective-interfering RNA. She creates defective truncates of the yellow fever genome, replicable by viral proteins synthesized by infected cells, and delivers them to cells so that they will sequester cellular and viral resources. The full-length yellow fever then cannot replicate and package at as high a rate, and infection will die off as the viral proteins cease to be made and only the shorter, harmless truncates are replicated. Previously, Abby has studied the effects of RNA secondary structure on viral assembly and hopes to use this knowledge to package and deliver her successful antiviral candidates.

Abby would like to thank Drs. William Gelbart and Charles Knobler for their constant support of her work, and the Amgen Foundation for allowing her the opportunity to focus on research for the summer.

Annabel Vernon
2019-2020
Home University: Scripps College
Class: senior
Major: Biochemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Steven Clarke

Annabel is a rising senior at Scripps College majoring in biochemistry. At her home institution, she works in Dr. Emily Wiley’s lab studying H3 histone clipping in T. thermophila. Her research includes exploring the purpose of this clipping as well as identifying and characterizing the protease implicated in this process.

As a part of UCLA’s Amgen Scholars Program, Annabel is working in Dr. Steven Clarke’s lab in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The Clarke lab focuses on understanding a group of nine enzymes called protein arginine methyltransferases (PRMT1-9). The enzyme PRMT7 transfers one methyl group from the cofactor S-adenosylmethionine to a target arginine residue to form monomethylarginine. PRMT7 is implicated in processes including transcriptional regulation, stem cell pluripotency, and DNA repair. While PRMT7’s substrates have not been established in vivo, histones H2B and H4 have been identified as such in vitro. Interestingly, PRMT7 is inhibited by salt concentrations typically found in cells. Annabel’s project focuses on testing the inhibition of PRMT7 by a variety of physiologically relevant salts and confirming whether human PRMT7 interacts directly with zinc as mouse PRMT7 is known to do. Gaining a better understanding of how human PRMT7 interacts with its surroundings will help identify the ions PRMT7 may be regulated by in vivo.

Annabel would like to thank the Amgen Foundation for this amazing opportunity as well as the Clarke Lab for guiding her along the way to becoming a better researcher and scientist.

Shelby Vexler
2019-2020
Home University: UCSB
Class: senior
Major: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Douglas Black

Shelby Vexler is a rising fourth year at UC Santa Barbara majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular. Since spring of 2017, she has been working in Dr. Deborah Fygenson’s lab in UCSB’s Physics Department. There, she helps optimize DNA origami devices that can take dynamic measurements of the bend angles induced in double stranded DNA by proteins.

As a UCLA Amgen Scholar, Shelby is working in Dr. Douglas Black’s lab, which focuses on understanding how pre-mRNA splicing is regulated. The U2 snRNP is one of the main small nuclear riboproteins that mediates the assembly of the spliceosome, which catalyzes the splicing of the pre-mRNA. However, it is difficult to purify native U2 from high molecular weight extracts. This summer, she is working on purifying an antibody for the U2 protein SF3A3 that can be used to purify U2 from a variety of native human and mouse tissues. Once purified U2 is obtained, the pre-mRNA bound to the U2 snRNP can be obtained and sequenced, determining where the U2 protein is interacting across the transcriptome.

Shelby would like to thank the Amgen Foundation for providing this opportunity at UCLA. Additionally, she would like to thank her mentors in the Black Lab for their support of her summer research.

Shinya Wai
2019-2020
Home University: University of California, San Diego
Class: senior
Major: NanoEngineering
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrea Kasko

Shinya is a rising senior at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) majoring in NanoEngineering and minoring in Chemistry. At UCSD, he works in Dr. Nisarg Shah’s lab. The lab is interested in synthesizing biomaterials for immunomodulation and cellular engineering. At the Shah lab, Shinya is working on testing the effects of specific proteins on T cells and using the in vitro experimental results to synthesize protein conjugated biopolymers for alleviating and possibly curing autoimmune arthritis.

As a UCLA Amgen Scholar, Shinya is working in Dr. Andrea Kasko’s lab in the Department of Bioengineering where he works on the synthesis of polymeric tobacco tar mimics for testing the role of the innate immune system in tobacco related diseases. Recent findings have shown that receptors in the innate immune system can recognize complexes formed between DNA and cationic molecules. The innate immune response varies based on inter-ligand spacing and the number of repeating ligands. Furthermore, there is extensive correlational evidence that suggest that cigarette smoke can cause the dysregulation of the immune system. Preliminary studies have revealed several alkaloids in cigarette smoke that, if polymerized, can theoretically complex with DNA and interact with receptors in the innate immune system. Shinya’s work is based on the hypothesis that tobacco tar can form pro-inflammatory complexes with DNA to exacerbate certain autoimmune diseases.

Shinya would like to thank the Amgen Foundation, Professor Kasko, Brooke Jackson, and Shouzheng Yue for their guidance and support.

Daniel Yong
2019-2020
Home University: University of Chicago
Class: junior
Major: Biological Sciences
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Thomas Graeber

Daniel is a rising third-year at the University of Chicago majoring in biological sciences. At UChicago, he is an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Erin Adams’ lab, where he investigates molecular immune system interactions from a structural standpoint.

At UCLA, Daniel is conducting research under Dr. Thomas Graeber in the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology. His research this summer intends to identify key genes that promote chromosomal instability. Chromosomal instability, alongside aneuploidy, is a highly common characteristic of cancer that is predictive of poor patient outcomes. These chromosomal abnormalities are believed to be linked to whole genome duplication, a distinct event where the entire genome is duplicated. To achieve this project’s goals, genotoxic small molecule drug treatment will be used to induce polyploidy in a colorectal cancer cell line. Transduction of a CRISPR construct and barcode library and a subsequent knockout screen will be used prior to flow cytometry to sort cells into high chromosomal instability and low chromosomal instability populations. These cell populations will then be sequenced to identify which barcodes are enriched and de-enriched, which will help identify key genes leading to chromosomal instability.

Daniel would like to thank the Amgen Foundation, Dr. Thomas Graeber, his postdoctoral mentor Nikolas Balanis, and the rest of the Graeber Lab for supporting, mentoring, and encouraging his development as a scientist.

2018-2019
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2017-2018
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