Two HPU students work in medical research over summer break
by Courtney Wilmoth, Howard Payne University junior
Working in a lab, running test after test, keeping up with the latest research, reading scientific articles and writing abstracts over one’s own research – these are not part of a typical summer for most college students. However, for Garrett Boland and Hunter Taylor, this was their first taste of scientific fieldwork.
The two Howard Payne University seniors spent their summer in Galveston working with the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (S.U.R.P.) at The University of Texas Medical Branch.
Boland, a native of Iowa Park, and Taylor, from Florence, were two of only 22 students from across the U.S. selected for the program.
“I was ecstatic to come from a small private school and see some of the major universities represented around the country,” Boland said. “It was a real honor.”
During the fall semester, Boland and Taylor discussed S.U.R.P. with Dr. Harlan Scott, chair of HPU’s Department of Biological Sciences and associate professor of biology.
“Since we don’t have a graduate program in biology at HPU,” said Scott, “summer programs, such as the one in which Garrett and Hunter participated, are very valuable for the students so they are able to experience that type of environment.”
Boland chose to work in microbiology and immunology.
“I loved Dr. Scott's microbiology course here at HPU and was considering research in microbiology, so that is why I chose that as an option,” Boland said.
The main technique Boland used in his research is called Western blotting. In his specific area he worked with human intestinal cells and microorganisms, observing how the body defends against and responds to invading pathogens.
Completing multiple Western blots in one day, he learned a major lesson.
“I have a new respect for people in this field. People are putting their whole lives into research,” Boland said.
Taylor decided to work in pharmacology and toxicology.
“I was interested in pharmaceuticals, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into with neuropharmacology,” he says. “Neuropharmacology is very complicated since it combines pharmacology, neuroscience and toxicology.”
For Taylor’s research, phencyclidine (PCP) was used in rats to induce cell death, mimicking schizophrenia. This is used as a model to understand the mechanism of schizophrenia.
“It was a little different,” Taylor said. “I had never worked with anything like that before. When you’re working with it all day, every day, you get plenty of practice.”
Joining ongoing research, both men had to play catch-up, reading numerous journal articles for the first few weeks. Boland and Taylor, both biology majors and chemistry and health science minors, credit their professors at HPU for adequately preparing them for this daunting task.
Two months into the program, each summer researcher was expected to turn in an abstract focused on his or her area of research. A couple of weeks later, each student was required to give a presentation of his or her findings.
“We printed posters and presented to graduate students and post-docs,” Taylor said.
Of the 30 presentations given, fewer than 10 were awarded cash prizes, including Boland and Taylor. Boland was awarded The Galveston National Lab Award for Research in Excellence and Taylor was given the Award of Excellence in Toxicology Research.
The research and presentations the men completed for the program will count as their senior projects at HPU. Their research experience also gave them more confidence coming into their senior year.
“I think outside the box now and know how to use primary literature such as PubMed,” said Boland, referring to an online scientific database.
“I am much more comfortable working in the lab and have more confidence in myself,” Taylor said. “I was scientifically challenged and now know how to think on a specific scientific level.”
Back at HPU, Garrett Boland and Hunter Taylor employ their new skills and confidence in the lab.
Garrett Boland presents his research findings while participating in S.U.R.P.
Hunter Taylor receives a certificate for participating in S.U.R.P. from Dr. Cary Cooper, dean of UTMB’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.