Published Thursday, June 19, 2014

Washburn already benefiting from major NIH grant renewal

Washburn University students and faculty already are benefiting from the major grant renewal received by the state’s Institutional Development Award Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, or K-INBRE, announced earlier this month.

Washburn is one of 10 universities involved in K-INBRE, which is administered by the University of Kansas Medical Center. The Medical Center recently received a renewal grant to continue K-INBRE from the National Institutes of Health.

Washburn’s share of the $19 million grant already is funding five summer-long student research projects and will soon allow for a one-time $114,000 renovation on campus. An office in Stoffer Science Hall will be converted into a biology and chemistry shared instrumentation and research laboratory.

“It will help both departments,” Sam Leung said of the new space. “It is in the very beginning stages now.”

Leung is a professor of chemistry at Washburn and K-INBRE campus coordinator. He said Washburn students are encouraged to apply for the K-INBRE research support because it allows them to focus on research, rather than to juggle it alongside a job.

“This is a student-focused program,” Leung said of the K-INBRE grant. “They get to have this research experience and have the financial support during the summer. If they don’t get this, maybe they have an afternoon a week to research.”

Washburn has been a partner in K-INBRE since 2001.

Jalen DicksonWashburn senior Jalen Dickson, who expects to graduate in May 2015 with an American Chemical Society certified chemistry degree, said he’s working at least 40 hours a week on his research. And it’s something he absolutely couldn’t do without the K-INBRE stipend.

“Last summer, I studied solvent-free reactions in general, trying to optimize the conditions,” he explained. This summer, he’s applying that research to try to create compounds through a process that minimizes chemical waste that could be used in pharmaceuticals.

“I’m in the world I want to be in as my career,” said Dickson, who is from Topeka. “It’s pretty nice that they have this available.”

Each student has a faculty mentor who guides their research, but the students work independently in the laboratory. Each also will present a research poster at the annual K-INBRE conference, giving them a taste of professional conferences in their chosen field.

Rachel HarveyRachel Harvey, a senior in biochemistry from Carbondale, Kan., is researching E. coli ribosome assembly factors, DbpA and RrmJ to help better understand the ribosome.  She is mutating the DbpA sequence to find the effect it has on the protein's activity as well as purifying these proteins for analysis.

“This might not actually work,” she said of the research. “If it does, we go forward, if not we start over.”

Harvey said it’s great to get the hands-on experience of actual scientific research, where things don’t always work. And, she said: “It’s neat, just having a lab to yourself.”

Both Dickson and Harvey plan to go on to graduate school and pursue careers in research. A past K-INBRE research awardee, Bonnie McKee, begins medical school at the University of Kansas Medical Center in the fall.

Leung said that’s the ultimate goal of K-INBRE: increasing the numbers of biomedical professionals in Kansas and other INBRE states.

Another five years of support means Washburn students continuing to achieve great things, he said. “That’s why we all got so excited.”