The IDT and Smith-Gehring Graduate Fellowships are awarded to three of the most meritorious second year Biochemistry graduate students based on academic and research achievements.
The 2016 IDT Graduate Fellows are Colleen Caldwell and Timothy Collingsworth:
Ms. Colleen Caldwell performed extremely well in classes during her first year in the graduate program. Work she did during her rotations is likely to earn her a contribution to research papers from two labs. Ms. Caldwell graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a minor in Neuroscience from the Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN in spring 2015. She had a brilliant undergraduate career and her application to our graduate program definitely stood out. In the laboratory of Dr. Maria Spies, she is working on a project focused on deciphering the molecular mechanism of human DNA helicase RTEL1 (regulator of telomere length). Defects in the RTEL1 helicase are associated with a broad spectrum of human diseases ranging from cancer to Crohn’s. Ms. Caldwell plans to take a full advantage of Dr. Spies’ lab expertise in DNA repair helicases and custom built single-molecule equipment to decipher the RTEL1 mechanism and to gain insights into its physiological roles outside of the telomeres. In collaboration with the X-ray crystallography core and Dr. M. Todd Washington’s lab, Ms. Caldwell will also add a structural biology component to her work on RTEL1 in definition of the association between RTEL1 helicase and the PCNA processivity clamp that integrates RTEL1 activity into cellular processes that ensure accurate replication.
Mr. Timothy Collingsworth also had an exemplary first year in the graduate program. In addition, Mr. Collingsworth’s overall positive attitude and enthusiasm stood out to us. Mr. Collingsworth, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and minors in Computer Science and Spanish from the University of Iowa in spring 2015. Mr. Collingsworth is training in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Schnieders and is working on a project in collaboration with Dr. Michael Welsh aimed to develop computational tools to combat cystic fibrosis (CF). CF is caused by mutations in the gene that encodes the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) anion channel. In humans and pigs lacking CFTR, unchecked H+ secretion by the nongastric H+/K+ adenosine triphosphatase (ATP12A) acidifies airway surface liquid, while mice that lack CFTR express little ATP12A and secrete minimal H+. Thus, airway surface liquid in CF and non-CF mice have similar pH, suggesting that inhibiting ATP12A can reverse host defense abnormalities and treat CF in humans. The goal of Mr. Collingsworth’s project is to use computer aided molecular design to create specific inhibitors of ATP12A function.
The 2016 Smith-Gehring Graduate Fellow is Hannah Miller:
Ms. Hannah Miller performed extremely well in classes during her first year in the graduate program. Ms. Miller is the department’s first Fast Track PhD student. The Fast Track program allows for high achieving University of Iowa undergraduate students to take PhD course work during their final undergraduate year. To qualify for this program Ms. Miller participated in an extensive amount of formal research in Dr. Todd Washington’s lab and maintained an exemplary academic record. Ms. Miller stated, “I was interested in the Fast Track PhD program in Biochemistry because it is a unique opportunity to dive deeper into research at a young age. The program gives me the opportunity to join a lab with my first year, giving me a great start on my thesis project. I’m very excited to see how the program will challenge me and allow me to progress as a scientist.” Ms. Miller has joined the laboratory of Dr. Kris DeMali. She is currently working on a project aimed at understanding how cells sense and transmit externally applied forces and dissecting how this process becomes dysregulated during tumorigenesis.
Congratulations to the 2016 IDT & Smith-Gehring Graduate Fellows!