This summer, two William and Mary kinesiology students will be performing laboratory research as undergraduate fellows of the American Physiological Society. Their undergraduate summer research fellowship program supports full-time undergraduate work under the guidance of an established investigative scientist, with the aim of encouraging students to explore future careers in scientific research. Kristen Berberich '09 and Kyle Horst '10, both interested in pursuing medical science careers, will be working in the kinesiology laboratories of Robin Looft-Wilson and Brennan Harris, respectively.
"This is a significant achievement for these students and for the Department of Kinesiology," said Harris, associate professor. Only two other institutions received more than one fellowship award this year, which Harris says speaks well of William and Mary's expanding emphasis on undergraduate research. "That both the College's awards were to students in the Department of Kinesiology particularly reflects the significant impact we are having on undergraduate physiological research."
Berberich will be continuing work she began in Looft-Wilson's vascular physiology laboratory this past semester. Looft-Wilson's lab investigates the effects of different cardiovascular risk factors on the functioning of arteries, and Berberich's research will be exploring the relationship between shear stress, a mechanical force on blood vessel walls, and ENaC, a sodium channel in the membrane of cells within blood vessels. Her work this summer hypothesizes that ENaC is critical to normal functioning of arteries, and will further scientific understanding of blood vessel function and potentially heart disease.
This summer will be Horst's first introduction to laboratory research. She will be working in Harris's molecular and cardiovascular physiology laboratory, studying the interaction between eNOS, an enzyme that controls blood vessel dilation, and cdc37, a protein that interacts with the enzyme. Horst predicts that if changes in the levels of the protein affect the enzyme as hypothesized, her summer work may lead to therapies for vascular diseases such as hypertension. After her undergraduate work, she plans on pursuing an M.D./Ph.D., which will allow her to translate scientific procedures into patient treatments.
"I applied for the fellowship at the suggestion of my research advisor," said Horst. "I understood it to be an extremely competitive and prestigious award, so when I received it I felt amazed and honored."
The American Physiology Society awards a maximum of 24 undergraduate fellowships a year in the U.S. based on previous research projects and academic achievement. The students will be expected to present their work at an APS conference within the next year.