Valerie Huang, University of Southern California
Editor’s Note: Valerie Huang participated in the university’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program during summer of 2015. Robert Doerksen, program participant and associate professor of medicinal chemistry, mentored multiple students in the program. Valerie writes of her experience in this blog post.
My name is Valerie Huang; I hail from Beaverton, Oregon and I am a sophomore at the University of Southern California. I came to the University of Mississippi at the end of May and stayed on until the beginning of August to participate in a Physical Chemistry Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. I wanted to come to Ole Miss for a summer research program because I had never been to the South, and never really had an excuse to travel there. I didn’t have any relatives in the South, didn’t know anyone who lived there and didn’t know what I would do even if I traveled there. So when the opportunity to do research in the South for the entire summer opened up, I thought that it would be a wonderful way for me to experience more of the United States! In addition, I wanted to participate in something that would keep my mind stimulated during the summer, because I hate sitting around and not doing anything productive during summer or during any given period of time.
When I first arrived at Ole Miss and started meeting professors and graduate students within the School of Pharmacy, I was struck by how nice and helpful they all were; I honestly felt as if I could ask any one of them questions if I was confused about any part of my research or about how to get around the campus, the buildings, or about any professor’s research. When I was first led to the offices/rooms in which I worked for the summer, I found the Thad Cochran Research Center to be beautiful. I didn’t really have the opportunity back at USC to get familiar with the pharmacy buildings, but I thought that the buildings here were absolutely beautiful; it made going to work every day a lot more enjoyable.
This summer, I worked with molecular modeling software in order to visualize ligands that are essential in inhibiting the action of a specific protein kinase called VEGFR2. I took a bunch of pharmaceutical products (also called ligands) that are already on the market to inhibit VEGFR2; I took the online PDB file that contained all the atoms in the ligands and the atoms’ x/y/z coordinates and compared their structures before and after these ligands were redocked into the VEGFR2 protein kinase to see whether or not the experimental version of the way the ligand fits into VEGFR2 matches up with the theoretical way, provided via the docking algorithms. The purpose of this was to determine whether or not there are important conserved water molecules, which are water molecules that are found across all of the VEGFR2 protein structures online.
In layman’s terms, I tried to find similarities in the ways that the current FDA drugs (ligands) inhibit the protein kinase VEGFR2. The study of the inhibition of this kinase is particularly important because this protein kinase is involved in initiating angiogenesis, which is the formation of new blood vessels from preexisting capillary networks and is crucial to the metastasis and increased growth of cancerous tumors.
From this experience, I have learned so much about what research pharmacists do; I never thought that I would be interested in pharmacy, but after doing this research work over the summer, I might consider pursuing research in the pharmaceutical field! In addition to all of the knowledge that I’ve gained, I have also gained so many valuable connections and people that I can call friends. I definitely encourage other students to participate in research at Ole Miss, especially in the School of Pharmacy; the people that I’ve met have been nothing but supportive and helpful, and the information that I’ve learned this summer – not just in terms of molecular modeling, but also about my personal research interests – have provided me with an experience that I will never forget. I never thought that I would enjoy my time in the South so much, but I am so grateful to experience life in this part of the country through my time at Ole Miss!