W&J Announces Recipients of Merck Internships for Excellence in Science

Created: August 1, 2014
Last Updated: December 17, 2019

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WASHINGTON, Pa. (Aug. 1, 2014)—Six Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) students are spending time this summer conducting cutting-edge research in world-renowned facilities as recipients of Merck Internships for Excellence in Science at W&J awards.

Initiated in 2008 through funding from the Merck Institute for Science Education, the program is designed to support W&J students in their efforts to land prestigious research internships in the sciences.

Elliott LaParne, junior cell and molecular biology major; Jared Baird, senior cell and molecular biology major; Zach Drennen, senior biochemistry major; Mattie Follen, senior biochemistry major; Abigail Palmer, junior cell and molecular biology major; and Joseph Williams, a junior majoring in biochemistry, are this year’s recipients.

“We could not be more proud of this group of students,” said Candy DeBerry, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at W&J. “Thanks to Merck, these very talented students have the opportunity to gain invaluable experience that will open many doors for them.”

LaParne is interning at the University of Pittsburgh in the laboratory of alumna Dr. Diane Carlisle, W&J Class of 1996, studying the effect of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors on N-myc expression and its regulation of differentiating human lung fibroblasts.

“Basically, I am determining how nicotine affects human lung development through the use of human embryonic stem cells,” said LaParne, who is from Clearfield, Pa. “Specifically I am looking at how protein expression of human lungs is affected in the presence and absence of nicotine.”

After graduation, LaParne plans to attend medical school.

“This internship has given me insight into the world of research and how science taught in the classroom can be used to solve real-life issues,” LaParne added. “I also am learning an immense amount about lab techniques that I will use for the entirety of my science career. It is one thing learning science in the classroom, but testing your hypothesis and performing problem solving in the lab gives me a deeper understanding of what science is all about.”

Baird is studying the effects of cancer-related mutations on the interaction of proteins of the Shu complex, which mediates repair of DNA double-strand breaks, at the University of Pittsburgh. Drennen, from Johnstown, Pa., and also working at the University of Pittsburgh, is studying the methods of inhibiting the SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complex as a potential treatment for androgen-sensitive prostate cancer. Drennen also hopes to attend medical school following graduation. Follen is interning at Northeast Ohio Medical University, Rootstown, Ohio, studying the role of type IV collagen in post-myocardial infarction remodeling of heart tissue.

Palmer said the overall goal of her research at the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research, University of Pittsburgh, is to test the effects of anti-TNF-alpha treatment to reduce neuroinflammation and brain injury resulting from cardiac arrest, adding that there are no drugs currently available that improve outcome from cardiac arrest.

“After characterizing the neuro inflammatory profile after asphyxial or ventricular fibrillation cardiac arrest, we will identify the best targets for testing novel drugs to augment outcome from cardiac arrest. An abstract summarizing these results will be submitted to the upcoming Resuscitation Science Symposium of the American Heart Association,” Palmer said.

Palmer said her goal when entering W&J as a freshman was to become a practicing physician in 15 years.

“Through actually participating in a research project here at the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research under the direction of Dr. Tomas Drabek, I am learning real life skills that Washington & Jefferson ”

Williams interned at the Pain Diagnostics and Interventional Care in Sewickley, Pa.,
researching the evaluation of a new Stryker Venom electrode and cannula device for radiofrequency ablation treatment of chronic pain.

Internship fellowships are awarded on a competitive basis, giving science faculty the flexibility to match the most exciting research opportunities with the most qualified students, DeBerry said.

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