from Sharon Parker, the Senior Seminar/Mentorship Program Coordinator
Erica Cousins is undertaking a mentorship with Sarah H. Elsea, Ph.D., F.A.C.M.G. at the VCU Human & Molecular Genetics Lab. A few of the goals Dr. Elsea had for Erica included an understanding of the research process, learning cell culture and molecular biology techniques, and research record-keeping. The following snippet from Dr. Elsea’s webpage will explain the work being undertaken:
“The work in Sarah Elsea’s lab focuses on the molecular genetic basis of genomic disorders. The work primarily focuses on the molecular and biochemical analyses of a disorder called Smith-Magenis syndrome (SMS). SMS is a multiple congenital anomalies/mental retardation syndrome associated with a deletion involving chromosome 17p11.2. Features include mental retardation, speech delay, obesity, craniofacial and skeletal anomalies, sleep disturbance (including an inversion of the circadian rhythm of melatonin), significant self-abusive and aggressive behaviors, and a variety of visceral anomalies. The lab identified a single gene from within 17p11.2, called RAI1 (retinoic acid induced 1), that when mutated or deleted causes SMS. Studies in the lab are currently focused toward understanding the function of RAI1 and its role in development and behavior using a variety of approaches, including mouse and zebrafish model systems, bioinformatics, genotype:phenotype correlation, and identification of new loci for disorders with phenotypic overlap to SMS.”From Erica’s journal, it is obvious she is learning a great deal about the research process in a lab setting. She is also making connections between her studies here at Maggie Walker and her mentorship experience. Recently Erica wrote this in her mentorship research journal:
“At this point, I thought it pertinent to point out how much my mentorship has helped me have a deeper understanding of my classes and vice versa. In biopsychology, a topic of study was animal experiments and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). During the summer [in her mentorship], one requirement of training to work with the mice was taking a lesson and a quiz about IACUC regulations. Animal models have also been discussed in my genetics class. I could contribute much to the lesson after having worked with mice, but also came to a greater understanding of the other projects in Dr. Elsea’s lab working with zebra fish.”Erica later mentions that another important relation between class and mentorship took the form of a field trip to a clinical genetics lab.
“One of the techniques that the class observed was called FISH. In articles Dr. Elsea gave me during the summer, it is stated the FISH is one of the main tools for diagnosing SMS; however, I was always somewhat unsure about the process. The field trip gave me a clear view of the steps involved and the exact science behind the procedure.”Erica is learning far more than I can share with you in this posting and, while she is having doubts about whether this type of research is what she wants as a career, she now has a point of reference to help her make that decision. She has expressed that she is very grateful to have had such a unique opportunity.