Hutchins Scholars Report Findings

Posted: January 7, 2013

Lawrenceville's second group of Hutchins Scholars shared highlights of their summer research projects with the School last month. Teamed with local researchers, the young scientists studied everything from cancer research to the prevention of steel corrosion on bridges.

"The Hutchins Scholars went above and beyond my expectations in the work they conducted this summer in their various labs," said Director of Student Research Elizabeth Fox. "They have set the bar very high for those students following in their footsteps. I commend each and every one of them for their commitment to excellence and their outstanding conduct this summer and beyond."

Lawrenceville's Hutchins Scholars Program recognizes and supports some of the School's most outstanding science students. This program provides Scholars with substantive research experiences, prepares them for leading university science programs, and ultimately inspires them to pursue science-related careers. Hutchins Scholars participate in summer research seminars and experiences during the summers before their junior and senior years. As juniors, they enroll in a research science class, which will prepare them to conduct independent research and, if appropriate, to compete in a national science competition. This allows students to deepen their understanding of scientific research based on practical real-world experience while giving them the ability to explore their passion for science outside of the classroom. The Hutchins Program, which also provides need-based financial aid to those Scholars who qualify, is made possible by a $5 million gift to The Bicentennial Campaign by Glenn '73 and Debbie Hutchins.

Shubham Chattopadhyay '13
"This summer I worked in Princeton University's Molecular Biology Department under Professor Thomas Shenk, who specializes in the study of viruses.

Specifically, my project investigated whether the Herpes Simplex Virus Type-1 DNA polymerase interacted with the cellular protein Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase-1, or PARP-1. The HSV-1 viral DNA polymerase is a protein involved with the virus' DNA replication within the infected host cell, while the PARP-1 molecule is an enzyme that repairs DNA damage.

My experiment involved isolating the PARP-1 protein from HSV-infected and non-infected cell samples; from these isolated PARP-1 samples, different types of protein were detected via the addition of antibodies (molecular markers that stain specific proteins), and the detection of different proteins (such as DNA polymerase) within the PARP-1 sample would imply an interaction between the two molecules. The specific methods of this project comprised mainly of co-immunoprecipitation and Western Blot analyses.

While current results remain inconclusive regarding the interaction between the HSV-1 viral DNA polymerase and the cellular PARP-1 (due to an experimental error), I have outlined methods to improve the experimental design for future experiments and have also suggested avenues to pursue for further work in my report."

Deshaé Jenkins '13
"This summer I studied Congenital Hyperinsulinism at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Congenital Hyperinsulinism (CHI) is a genetic disorder that presents as increased blood concentrations of insulin and subsequent low levels of glucose.
While there are various mutations that have been found to cause the condition, mutations in the ABCC8 gene on chromosome 11, are the most common genetic causes of CHI. A mutation in ABCC8 causes a disruption of the ionic current within beta cells of the pancreas, causing a disregulation of insulin secreted by the cell.

Recent studies have shown that certain mutations are present at a higher frequency in specific ethnic communities. Such mutations may be identified as founder mutations. Novel founder mutations have already been identified in ABCC8 in the Ashkenazi Jewish population as well as the Mexican, Finnish and Bedouin populations.

In my specific project, a founder mutation in the Guatemalan community was identified using direct sequencing and fragment analysis. Each child, from three different families with no evidence of consanguinity, was homozygous in inheritance of the c.805delG mutation. Additionally, each parent was homozygous for the deletion. The length of the entire inherited region of homozygosity is unknown.

All of the above information and knowing more about the nature of the mutation, in general, is extremely helpful for purposes of clinical diagnosis."

Won Seok Lee '13
"At Columbia University, I worked as an intern for Dr. George Deodatis, a professor of the Civil Engineering Department. I worked alongside graduate students from all over the world on a well-publicized project that aims to find a way to detect and mitigate corrosion of suspension bridge cables. I was able to experience working in a university lab, witness professional experimenting, and participate in ground-breaking research."

Aashana Mago '13
"I did my Hutchins internship in Dr. Benjamin Garcia's lab in Princeton University's molecular biology department. I worked on an independent project, seeing if a new synthetic enzyme inhibitor called SQ037 could effectively reduce the activity of a histone methyltransferase that plays a major role in tumor formation and the development of many important types of cancer. I found that SQ037 was, in fact, an effective inhibitor, and that it has the potential to be incorporated as a drug into a new type of epigenetic cancer therapy."

Tina Liu '13
"I worked at Princeton University with Dr. Jay Benziger, professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, in the PEM Fuel Cell Research Laboratory. We are investigating the dynamics of water flow through porous conductor material serving as the gas diffusion layer (GDL) in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells. Currently, we are exploring how water flows through the GDL by measuring the water pressure in the GDL as a function of flow rate and time in the pores of carbon cloth and carbon paper with various percentages of Teflon loading. As carbon paper or cloth commonly serves as the gas diffusion layer (GDL) in the polymer electrolyte (PEM) fuel cell, an understanding of the water flow dynamics in these materials, i.e. breakthrough pressure, shutoff pressure, and pore breakthrough distribution, can inform strategies to engineer more efficient PEM fuel cells."

Max Lupin '13
"I worked at Tulane University's Department of Chemistry with Professor Russel Schmehl. I worked on determining a way to find rate constants (a piece of time data) for reactions of singlet oxygen (a form of oxygen that has been put under a certain type of light) with amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Singlet oxygen destroys amino acids, which can be used in either cancer treatment or can occur naturally. In order to understand and control these reactions, we will need the time data I determined."

Logan Main '13
"This summer I worked in the Kim Lab at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Here, I had the opportunity to work on a project that's goal was reevaluating the way prostate cancer is treated.

Traditionally, patients undergo a procedure called chemical castration whose chief goal is to eliminate DHT (a more potent form of testosterone), among other things, from the body. This is done because DHT is primarily responsible for prostate cell growth and differentiation. By eliminating DHT the goal is to stop tumor growth. However, later on the cancer can return as "castration-resistant" and the tumor no longer relies on DHT to grow. At this point there is nothing that can be done to treat the cancer.

Our goal was to hopefully start on the path towards a new treatment that will not cause castration-resistant cancer to form. One way we did this was to establish a relationship between CTLA-4 and DHT. CTLA-4 is a protein that suppresses the immune system. High levels of CTLA-4 indicate an inhibited immune response, and low levels of CTLA-4 signify an increased immune response. After treating macrophages (immune cells involved in cancer response) with varying levels of DHT, we found that increased levels of DHT treatment caused low levels of CTLA-4, which in turn causes an increased response to the tumor by macrophages. This is especially interesting since it is the opposite of what has been traditionally thought.

Further research, including human trials, needs to be done, but this is hopefully the first step towards a completely new, not to mention safer, treatment for the hundreds of thousands affected by prostate cancer."

Prianca Tawde '13
"I worked in the Princeton University Department of Molecular Biology with Dr. Clifford Brangwynne, an assistant professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering.

NrTP1 is a small protein derived of a snake toxin that is attracted to the structures in the nuleolus. The nucleolus is the area within the nucleus that assists in ribosome formation. By attaching a flourescent marker to NrTP1, scientists are able to observe nucleolus development. It can be useful for identifying the Nucleoli in C. Elegans, a nematode that has been used as a model system for humans. Consequentially, my research was to transform the NrTP1 protein to make it useful in C. Elegans, the short protein was transformed and then bioinformatically analyzed against other Nucleolar Localizing proteins. Due to NrTP1’s short oligonucleotide nature, there were variations in the transforming process that needed to be made in order to actually produce a product. The bioinformatic analysis of NrTP1 showed that NrTP1 has a similar charge, amino acid makeup, and isotonic point as other Nucleolar Localizing sequences. Though the transformation was unsuccessful, time was spent troubleshooting different procedures for the insertion of the gene."

Kristin Tsuo '13
"I worked in Harvard's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology with Dr. Kirsten Bomblies and Dr. Ben Hunter. I researched meiotic recombination rates in a plant called Arabidopsis thaliana. We were interested in finding out whether or not pathogen attack changed meiotic recombination rates. To do this, we examined plants suffering from a condition called hybrid necrosis, a genetic incompatibility between two pathogen resistance genes. When these two genes interact in the progeny of two normal parents from two different kinds of A. thaliana, they cause the hyperactivation of the offspring's immune system, and the plant behaves as though it is under pathogen attack. Therefore, we compared the meiotic recombination rates of hybrid plants and healthy plants."

For additional information on all Lawrenceville School news, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of public relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.

Last Updated: January 18, 2013