2021-2022
Alexis Anica
2021-2022
Home University: UC Irvine
Class: senior
Major: Public Health
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Michael Teitell

Alexis is a senior at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) majoring in Public Health Sciences. While at UCI, she conducted research in the Lee-Jang lab working on understanding the basics of kidney metabolism under different experimental conditions that emulate those of human diet patterns.

As a visiting Amgen Scholar at UCLA, Alexis is working in Dr. Michael Teitell’s lab in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Her project in the Teitell lab consists of understanding the effect that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has on extracellular vesicle activity, specifically exosomes, in cancer. The lab has generated preliminary data showing a connection between mtDNA and exosome expression. However, there is no indication of how mtDNA defects may impact the progression of cancer downstream. The Teitell lab seeks to define this relationship by engineering cells with mtDNA mutations using a technique, MitoPunch, that was established internally. Once cells are engineered with the desired mutations, they can be selected for and metabolically characterized. The exosomes produced from these engineered cell lines can be isolated and their contents identified. The results obtained from the experiments conducted could allow for the development of new therapeutic agents that target exosome expression in cancer.

Alexis thanks the Amgen Foundation, the UCLA Amgen Scholars Program, and the members of the Teitell lab at UCLA for their mentorship and support.

Daria Azizad
2021-2022
Home University: UCLA
Class: senior
Major: Neuroscience
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Aparna Bhaduri

Daria Azizad is an undergraduate Neuroscience student at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is particularly interested in studying molecular mechanisms and biological pathways in relation to human disease. In the Bhaduri Lab in the Department of Biological Chemistry, Daria primarily studies cortical organoid metabolism, glioblastoma invasion in the organoid system, and does bioinformatics projects to investigate cell type through RNA-seq and ATAC-seq data. 

As an Amgen Scholar, Daria is studying the influence of hormones on cortical cell fate specification and metabolism in the organoid system. The cortical organoid model system is an effective tool for the study of cortical development and related pathologies; it lacks many connections that the endogenous brain has, including interactions with the endocrine system. Therefore, the organoid model acts as a “blank slate” in which many factors found in vivo are not present. Thus, through selectively introducing factors to study their role, their function may be further elucidated. Daria’s project aims to better characterize the role of the hormones estradiol, progesterone, and T4 in early cortical development, with the overall goal of investigating the effects of the stated hormones on the metabolic profile, gene expression, morphology, and cell survival in the cortical organoid.

Daria would like to thank the Amgen Foundation and the Bhaduri Lab for the incredible opportunity to develop and execute her independent project and enhance her skills as a researcher.

Álvaro Chumpitaz Lavalle
2021-2022
Home University: UCLA
Class: junior
Major: Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. David Nathanson

Alvaro is a rising fourth-year Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology Major at the University of California, Los Angeles. As an undergraduate, he worked in Dr. Julia Mack’s laboratory developing machine learning models for image segmentation and imaging calcium signaling activity in zebrafish embryos. The Mack Lab is interested in elucidating mechanisms of endothelial mechanotransduction in the context of vascular health and disease.

For the UCLA Amgen Scholars Program, Alvaro will be conducting research in the laboratory of Dr. David Nathanson in the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology. The Nathanson Laboratory focuses on understanding the functional biology of brain cancer and the development of novel therapeutics to target glioblastoma, an aggressive and lethal malignant tumor. Aberrations in the signaling cascades of ErbB/HER family of tyrosine kinase receptors are a hallmark of several types of cancer; specifically, mutations in the EGFR/HER1 receptor can lead to uncontrolled cellular proliferation and migration. Therefore, this pathway presents itself as a target for therapeutics aiming to combat cancer growth. For his project, Alvaro will be investigating the selectivity and potency of a novel small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitor against metastatic EGFR-driven non-small-cell lung cancer. This research could provide invaluable information for further inquires into the novel drug’s ability to target other EGFR-driven cancer types.

Alvaro would like to thank Dr. Nathanson and his graduate student mentor, Quincy Okobi, for all the support and an unforgettable summer. Alvaro would also like to thank the Amgen Foundation for this opportunity to conduct research during the summer.

Mai Dang
2021-2022
Home University: Pomona College
Class: sophomore
Major: Molecular Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Daniel Kamei

Mai Dang is a rising junior at Pomona College. As an undergraduate, she conducts research in the Negritto lab, where she investigates factors Rad 4, Rad 3, and Rad 30 in budding yeast to elucidate their role in Non-Homologous End Joining, a major pathway for the repair of double-strand breaks.

At UCLA, Mai is working with Dr Daniel Kamei in the department of Bioengineering. The Kamei Lab works on improving Lateral-Flow Immunoassays, a point-of-care diagnostic device. They have previously pioneered a technique called ACE-LFA, in which Aqueous Two Phase Systems are exploited to pre-concentrate biomarkers by minimizing the volume of the phase into which the target partitions, increasing the LFA’s limit-of-detection. The Kamei Lab also uses the system to introduce colorimetric substrates that increase test & control line intensity. While exciting results have been obtained, the Kamei Lab would like to be able to theoretically predict the optimal signal enhancement reagent for a range of ATPS combinations. The Lab has therefore developed a thermodynamic model to predict signal enhancement reagent partitioning. The goal of Mai’s project is to evaluate the model by measuring the partition coefficients of two colorimetric substrates in two different ATPSs and comparing them with predicted values. Subsequently, she will investigate any correlation between enhancement reagent partitioning and ACE-LFA performance by running ACE-LFA trials with the four conditions.

Mai would like to thank the Amgen foundation, Dr Daniel Kamei, and all the members of the Kamei Lab for investing time and resources towards her growth as a researcher.

Cynthia Dharmawan
2021-2022
Home University: UCSB
Class: junior
Major: Pharmacology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Rachelle Crosbie

Cynthia is a rising third year at UC Santa Barbara majoring in Pharmacology. At UCSB, she works in Dr. Weimbs’ lab, where she studies the mechanism of polycystic kidney disease.

As a UCLA Amgen Scholar, Cynthia works in Dr. Crosbie’s lab in the Integrative Biology and Physiology department studying muscular dystrophy. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is an X-linked childhood onset degenerative disease caused by loss of function mutations in the DMD gene that encodes for dystrophin, affecting 1 in 5700 males. Patients with DMD have muscle weakness, leading to loss of ambulation as well as respiratory and cardiac dysfunction, ultimately leading to death. Dr. Crosbie has identified a transmembrane protein, sarcospan (SSPN), that associates with major adhesion complexes that provide stability to the cell during muscle contraction. Overexpression of SSPN in dystrophin-deficient mdx mice (murine model of DMD), improved skeletal muscle pathology and cardiac physiology. Previous studies have taken a targeted approach to determine which proteins are important for SSPN to ameliorate dystrophic pathology in mdx mice. To identify the global molecular mechanisms underlying SSPN’s cardioprotective effect, the Crosbie lab performed proteomics analysis on 1-year old wild-type, mdx, and mdxTG (transgenically overexpressing SSPN) hearts. Cynthia’s project will involve identifying the pathways of interest that could be contributing to the rescue of DMD by SSPN in cardiac tissue and to confirm the proteomics data by immunofluorescence analysis and western blots.

Cynthia would like to thank the Amgen Foundation, Dr. Crosbie, and mentor Hafsa Mamsa for supporting her interest in research.

Kate Enquist
2021-2022
Home University: Vassar College
Class: junior
Major: Biochemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Varghese John

Kate is a rising junior studying Biochemistry at Vassar College. There Kate studies the structure and character of plasmid protein orf-90 under the mentorship of Dr. Krystle McLaughlin. The McLaughlin lab investigates the role of plasmid proteins in conferring antibiotic resistance. As an AMGEN Scholar at UCLA, Kate is working in Dr. Varghese John’s lab. Her project examines compounds that inhibit PLpro, a main protease integral to SARS-CoV-2 replication. Protease inhibitors could be a crucial protective agent against SARS-CoV-2, as they could be administered to infected individuals. By diminishing viral replication, the protease inhibitors diminish the prevalence of severe SARS-CoV-2 symptoms, long term SARS-CoV-2 symptoms, and hospitalizations.

The John lab has identified two PLPro inhibitors: DDL-701 and DDL-715. Kate will measure the PLpro IC50 of these compounds to elucidate the proper dose. Subsequently, Kate will determine whether new chemical entities inhibit PLpro in a PLpro activity assay. These compounds will be derived from successful SARS-CoV-2 protease inhibitors, such as Paxlovid TM, DDL-701, and DDL-715. Employing Paxlovid TM with the most potent PLpro inhibitors may amplify the inhibition of viral replication. Kate will then examine the Phase 1 metabolism of DDL-701, DDL-715, and any other identified inhibitors. The results will help elucidate how the protease inhibitors are metabolized and the rate of this metabolism. Kate would like to thank Dr. Varghese John and Jesus Campagna for their invaluable support, as well as the Amgen Foundation for this opportunity.

Karl Ensberg
2021-2022
Home University: UC Davis
Class: junior
Major: Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Guillaume Chanfreau

Karl is a rising senior at UC Davis, majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Since his sophomore year he has performed research in Dr. Wolf Heyer’s lab studying BRCA2, which is a tumor suppressor protein involved in homologous recombination.

As an Amgen Scholar at UCLA, he is working in the lab of Dr. Guillaume Chanfreau in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry studying a recently discovered hybrid mRNA-snoRNA (hmsnoRNA). SnoRNA on their own can be transcribed from DNA in 3 different ways: independent transcriptional units, polycistronic clusters, or within the introns of pre-mRNAs. When snoRNAs are transcribed via introns, splicing is an important step in the formation of mature snoRNAs. The Chanfreau lab discovered that when splicing is interrupted, it can lead to the development of hmsnoRNAs. HmsnoRNAs consists of the processed 5’ end of an unspliced mRNA with a mature snoRNA on the 3’ end. As a result of their 5’ mRNA-like structure, hmsnoRNAs are exported into the cytoplasm and degraded via the mRNA decay pathway. Karl’s project focuses on examining whether or not hmsnoRNA can be translated into proteins. His project will utilize Western blot to detect for a FLAG tag which is coded in the theoretical coding region of the hmsnoRNA transcript being used.

Karl would like to thank the UCLA Amgen Scholars program for this opportunity, and Dr. Guillaume Chanfreau, Dr. Michelle Gibbs, and his graduate student mentor Sam DeMario for their assistance and encouragement in fostering his growth as a scientist.

Noah (Bibo) Feng
2021-2022
Home University: Brown University
Class: junior
Major: Chemical Physics
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kendall Houk

Noah is a rising senior at Brown University majoring in chemical physics. At Brown, Noah works in Professor Brenda Rubenstein’s research group, where he employs replica exchange molecular dynamics simulations to investigate the mechanism behind the gout-preventing properties of Proteoglycan 4.

As a UCLA Amgen Scholar, Noah works under Professor Kendall Houk in the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. This summer, Noah and the Houk group are working in collaboration with Professor David Baker’s group at the University of Washington to design the first ever enzyme catalyst for tetrazine cycloaddition reactions, a class of bioorthogonal reactions whose utility in molecular imaging and other biomedical applications can benefit from an effective enzyme catalyst. Recently, the Baker group used their newly developed deep-learning based methods to design many protein scaffolds with cavities that could have the potential to become catalytic binding sites. Utilizing their designs as a starting point, Noah will employ rotamer interaction field docking to modify the cavities of these designs so that it can bind and stabilize the tetrazine cycloaddition reaction’s transition state, the structure of which he will obtain via density functional theory calculations. Then, he will use a Monte-Carlo-based sequence design protocol to modify the amino acid sequences around the catalytic cavities in order to ensure that the designs are not only enzymatically active, but also possess high folding stability.

Noah would like to thank Dr. Kendall Houk and Declan Evans for their extensive mentorship, as well as the Amgen Foundation for supporting this research project.

Sofia Guerrero
2021-2022
Home University: Duke University
Class: junior
Major: Neuroscience
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lindsay De Biase

Sofia is a rising junior majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Computer Science at Duke University. At Duke, she works in Dr. Gustavo Silva’s lab to study the mechanisms by which cells regulate their mitochondria in the face of oxidative stress, a harmful process which damages cellular biomolecules, fostering cell death, and contributes to neurodegeneration.

As a UCLA Amgen Scholar, Sofia is working in Dr. Lindsay De Biase’s lab, which focuses on understanding why and how microglial regional specialization affects basal ganglia neuronal function as well as the viability of these neurons in the face of aging and pathology. Microglia are involved in almost every important brain process, spanning from early development to aging and neurodegeneration, and are most well-known for their phagocytic role as the brain’s immune cells, clearing the brain of dying neurons, synapses, debris, protein aggregates, and pathogens. In the De Biase Lab, Sofia is working on an assay to accurately visualize and quantify the phagocytic abilities of microglia in acute brain sections of mice. Development of this assay will enable more robust analysis of microglial phagocytosis in a variety of contexts such as developmental circuit maturation and circuit breakdown during neurodegeneration.

Mina Kim
2021-2022
Home University: University of Pennsylvania
Class: junior
Major: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. April Pyle

Mina is a rising senior studying biology at the University of Pennsylvania. During her sophomore year, she worked remotely with Dr. Knoepfler from UC Davis and researched about stem cells and cell therapies. Throughout her junior year, she worked with cancer cells and proteins at Dr. Yang’s lab at UPenn.

As part of the Amgen Scholars Program at UCLA this summer, Mina is conducting research at Dr. April Pyle’s lab, which involves studying the differentiation process of human pluripotent stem cells into muscle stem cells as well as the regenerative nature of muscle stem cells, which can potentially serve as a treatment for diseases involving muscular dystrophy, such as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Mina’s research question focuses on the maturation of skeletal muscle progenitor cells (SMPCs) into muscle stem cells within this differentiation process. Specifically, she is working to see if the addition of ligands, including androgen, estrogen, and glucocorticoids, to SMPCs will promote maturation towards the muscle stem cell stage.

Mina would like to thank the Amgen Scholars Program, the Pyle Lab, and her mentor Peggie for an amazing opportunity to further her research interests this summer.

Stephanie Martinez-Beltran
2021-2022
Home University: UCR
Class: senior
Major: Microbiology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Peter Bradley

Stephanie is a senior studying microbiology at the University of California – Riverside. At her home institution, Stephanie conducts research in Dr. Adler Dillman’s nematology lab. The Dillman lab investigates how insect hosts recognize/initiate an immune response to parasitic nematode invasion and how parasites evade/suppress host immunity. Stephanie studies bacterial-induced immune responses of Drosophila melanogaster CRISPR mutants to examine the potential immune functions of various enzymatic homologs of the lipid and eicosanoid synthesis pathways.

As a UCLA Amgen Scholar, Stephanie works in Dr. Peter Bradley’s parasitology lab in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, & Molecular Genetics. The Bradley lab studies the molecular biology of the obligate intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii, focusing on the roles that secretory organelles play during host-cell invasion. T.gondii causes Toxoplasmosis, a severe infection that develops in immunocompromised or pregnant individuals via contaminated food and feline feces. Stephanie’s project investigates the roles of T.gondii aurora kinases, TgArk2 and TgArk3, in parasite cell division and centrosome function. She explored whether the localization of TgArk2 is altered in a TgArk3 knockout background and how the loss of both TgArk2 and TgArk3 affects parasite fitness. By utilizing CRISPR/Cas9, cloning, and immunofluorescence assays, the lab aims to better understand these kinases and the clues they may provide for developing new drugs targeting parasite-specific functions in T. gondii and other apicomplexan parasites.

Stephanie would like to thank the entire Bradley Lab, especially Dr. Bradley and Rebecca Pasquarelli, for their mentorship and the Amgen Foundation and UCLA Amgen Scholars Program for their generous support.

Elaine Nagahara
2021-2022
Home University: John Hopkins University
Class: junior
Major: Materials Science & Engineering
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Dino Di Carlo

Elaine Nagahara is a rising senior at Johns Hopkins University majoring in materials science and engineering with a concentration in biomaterials. In Dr. Luo Gu’s Lab at Johns Hopkins, she tunes material properties such as stiffness and viscoelasticity in alginate hydrogels to study their effects on cell behavior.

At UCLA, Elaine is translating her research background to investigating how changes in biomaterial properties affect the response of immune cells. While biomaterials have a large variety of healthcare applications, their success depends on how the immune system reacts to them. Once biomaterials enter the body, they interact with a myriad of molecular signals and different immune cell types via their material properties that modify the local microenvironment. This summer, Elaine is specifically studying how the presence of cell-adhesion peptides and the type of crosslinker used in hydrogel microporous annealed particle (MAP) scaffolds affect the response of antigen-presenting immune cells. MAP scaffolds are a novel class of injectable biomaterials that support the
regeneration of damaged tissue by facilitating host cells to infiltrate and form healthy complex tissue networks. She will create the MAP scaffolds with different conditions via microfluidics before seeding them with macrophages and dendritic cells. She will quantify their response by measuring the amount of scaffold uptake with fluorescence microscopy. These findings are important in creating an immunomodulatory platform that can target specific immune responses to advance tissue regeneration and other future applications such as vaccine development.

Elaine would like to thank the Di Carlo Lab for enriching and supporting her research interests, and the Amgen Foundation for funding this opportunity

Angie Santos
2021-2022
Home University: UC San Diego
Class: junior
Major: Biochemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Albert Lai

Angie Santos is a rising junior at UCSD majoring in biochemistry. There, she has worked at the Olivier George Lab, an addiction research laboratory, investigating behavioral and neurological components of addiction via single-cell whole-brain imaging (iDisco+).

At the UCLA Amgen Scholars program, Angie is in the Dr. Albert Lai lab in the neuro-oncology department. Her research focuses on the use of gene therapy to improve the effectiveness of temozolomide (TMZ) chemotherapy against glioblastomas, an aggressive form of primary brain cancer. Though no known cure for glioblastomas, there are ways to improve patient outcomes such as through epigenetic modifications. Epigenetic modifications create a local and temporary change in the DNA to manipulate gene expression. Specifically, the lab targets the MGMT gene which encodes for DNA repair and actually reverses the therapeutic benefits of TMZ. The Lai Lab implements Crisper/Cas9 technology to epigenetically edit the MGMT gene by artificially methylating the promoter region to turn off DNA repair. Angie’s project focuses on the use of various functional assays such as clonogenic and MTT assays to quantify cell growth in various conditions and validate the Crisper/Cas9 system. So far, the Lai Lab has seen success in increased response to TMZ with cells that have been epigenetically modified to turn off MGMT DNA repair.

Angie would like to thank Dr. Albert Lai and Blaine Eldred for their incredible support and mentorship throughout the program. She would also like to thank the Amgen Foundation for making her research at UCLA possible.

Sahana Shah
2021-2022
Home University: Oregon State University
Class: sophomore
Major: Biochemistry & Biophysics
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joe Loo

Sahana is a rising junior studying the structure and function of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) using biophysical methods under Dr. Elisar Barbar at Oregon State University. There, her research project has focused on studying RNA interactions with the SARS-CoV-2 N protein linker region.

As an Amgen Scholar at UCLA, Sahana is conducting research under Dr. Joe Loo in the Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Her research for the summer leverages top-down mass spectrometry to study the protein cytochrome c and its interaction with ATP. Cytochrome c, or cytc, is a soluble heme protein that plays an important role in the electron transport chain of the mitochondria. Cytc has an ATP-binding site of high affinity and specificity, which is highly conserved across different species. Previous biochemical and molecular dynamics simulations demonstrated that ATP can effectively stabilize protein structure and inhibit aggregation. Preliminary work in the Loo Lab has shown that bovine cytc was stabilized by nonspecific ATP binding but also promoted the formation of a cytc dimer at a certain concentration threshold, a novel discovery. The lab hopes to better characterize the binding between cytc and ATP and investigate if cytc dimerization is relevant in nature.

Sahana would like to thank Dr. Joe Loo, her graduate student mentor Jessie Le, and the rest of the Loo Lab for all of their guidance and support. She would also like to thank the Amgen Scholars Program at UCLA for this invaluable opportunity to grow as a scientist.

Priyanka Shrestha
2021-2022
Home University: Stanford University
Class: junior
Major: Computer Science
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Aaron Meyer

Priyanka is a rising third year student at Stanford University majoring in computer science. At UCLA, Priyanka is with the Meyer lab in the Department of Bioengineering. The Meyer lab applies experimental and computational strategies to measure, model, and therapeutically manipulate cell to cell interactions.

Priyanka’s project focuses on computational methods to improve system serology research, research that broadens our understanding of antibody-mediated protection by quantifying both the antigen-binding and Fc biophysical properties of antibodies. Previously, the lab has created a general model for predicting the interaction of Fc receptors with effector cells, incorporating multivalent, multi-receptor binding. The lab has also shown how coupled matrix-tensor factorization is promising in reducing the dimensionality of system serology data while still retaining the most important aspects of the data. A limitation of tensor factorization, however, is that it can only show linear relationships, whereas immune system complex coupling with receptors exhibits nonlinear behavior due to the varying biophysical properties of receptors, antibodies, and individual patient homeostasis. Therefore, there is a need to represent nonlinearity in reduction techniques to make more biologically relevant analyses and conclusions.

This summer, Priyanka is developing a novel tensor-based dimensionality reduction that incorporates a mechanistic binding model and reflects the biological properties of immune system complexes. By constructing decompositions from known antibody properties, she hopes to be able to reduce the scale of future studies by highlighting both redundant and novel measurements or properties that cannot be deciphered from current methods. Priyanka would like to thank the Meyer lab for their mentorship and support, and the Amgen foundation for giving her this opportunity.

Margot Whitmore
2021-2022
Home University: Mount Holyoke College
Class: junior
Major: Biochemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Gal Bitan

Margot is a rising senior, majoring in Biochemistry and minoring in Mathematics, at Mount Holyoke College. There, they have worked in the lab of Dr. Kathryn McMenimen since September 2020, where they are performing a holistic screening of heat shock protein induction in response to tau aggregation in D. melanogaster in order to study how tauopathies disrupt the chaperone response.

As an Amgen Scholar at UCLA, Margot is working in the Bitan lab in the department of Neurology. This lab studies the abnormal self-association of proteins and their role in human diseases. Margot’s project focuses specifically on the role of brain-derived exosomes in the tau seeding process. Indeed, tauopathies are a major class of neurodegenerative diseases caused by the misfolding of tau protein. Interestingly, they do not progress randomly through the brain but rather via specific disease-dependent neural networks. It is believed that exosomes, a type of extracellular vesicle that play an integral role in cell-cell communication, can act as vehicles for the disease-associated proteins between cells in the central nervous system. As a result, Margot is using fluorescent microscopy and flow cytometry to investigate whether exosomes from different brain regions and cell types possess discrete tau seeding capabilities in order to gain a better understanding of the progression of these diseases.

Margot would like to thank the Bitan lab for their guidance and support, as well as the Amgen Foundation for providing them with this opportunity.

Cole Woulbroun
2021-2022
Home University: UCLA
Class: senior
Major: Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Volker Hartenstein

Cole is a rising senior at UCLA majoring in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology.  He has worked in Dr. Volker Hartenstein’s lab since his junior year.  The Hartenstein Lab is primarily interested in central nervous system development in Drosophila melanogaster, but Cole’s project investigates the aging Drosophila blood-brain barrier (BBB).

The BBB of humans declines with age and is correlated with age-related onset of neurological diseases.  Furthermore, mammalian models have shown loss of BBB function as a contributing cause of such diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.  Age-related changes to the Drosophila BBB are not understood, but if a decrease in function is observed, the plethora of genetic tools in Drosophila could identify causes of the decline, which may have homology to causes in mammals.  To determine whether a decrease in Drosophila BBB function occurs with age, Cole is investigating the permeability of the young adult and aged BBB using nanoinjected, intrahemolymph dextran.  A functional BBB is impermeable to dextran, but dysfunctional BBBs are not, allowing dextran permeability to indicate BBB function.  To better understand potential causes of any age-related loss of BBB function observed, Cole is performing immunofluorescence for septate junction proteins, which are responsible for the BBB’s impermeability, to gauge their expression levels. 

Cole would like to thank Dr. Volker Hartenstein, Amelia Hartenstein, and Dr. Ceazar Nave for the development of this project and their instruction on the protocols.  Cole also thanks the Amgen Foundation and Amgen Scholars Program at UCLA for this resourceful and engaging summer research opportunity.

Eva Zhao
2021-2022
Home University: UCLA
Class: junior
Major: Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics
Faculty Mentor: Dr. David Nathanson

Eva is a rising senior at the University of California, Los Angeles with a major in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics and a minor in Biomedical Research. She has been a part of Dr. David Nathanson’s lab since October 2019. During her time there, she assisted in the development of a patient-derived glioma xenograft library and transitioned to developing novel potent, brain-penetrant drugs against glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most aggressive of primary tumors of the brain with a median survival time of less than fifteen months and no available cure, in part due to its extensive molecular heterogeneity. This heterogeneity makes it difficult to classify GBM into clinically relevant subtypes. However, recent studies have outlined a cell lineage-based stratification for GBM, in which a subtype of GBM may be dependent on human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Currently available HER2 inhibitors are unable to efficiently cross the blood brain barrier to inhibit brain tumors. Thus, the goal of Nathanson Lab is to produce a potent HER2 inhibitor that is also highly brain penetrant. To work towards this goal, Eva is characterizing drug potency and selectivity through IC50 assays and western blots in HER2-dependent cell lines, as well as brain penetrance through pharmacokinetics.

Eva would like to thank the members of the Nathanson Lab for their mentorship and supporting her growth as a scientist. She would also like to thank the Amgen Foundation and Biomedical Research Minor for their guidance and providing an opportunity to focus on her research.

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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