Name: Awa Bakayoko
Internship, Co-op or Research Site: University of Georgia, College of Engineering
Position Title: Independent Biomedical Researcher
Expected Graduation: May 2017
Briefly describe your internship, co-op, or research opportunity, including your day-to-day tasks, responsibilities, and assignments.
During my research experience, I had the opportunity to conduct groundbreaking biomedical research on breast cancer metastasis at the University of Georgia. I was fortunate to work in two labs, with two different mentors. In Dr. Davis' Genetics lab, I learned about racial disparities within different breast cancer sub-types. African American women affected with Triple Negative Breast Cancer have a higher mortality rate than Caucasian women affected with the same type of breast cancer. We hypothesized that this racial disparity could be due to altered expression of a receptor called Atypical Chemokine Receptor 1 (ACKR1). The ACKR1 receptor normally binds to inflammatory chemokines in the blood stream and sequesters these chemokines. Populations in sub-Saharan Africa have high amounts of a Duffy-null mutation, which means that they do not express the ACKR1 gene on their red blood cells. This means that they have high amounts of inflammatory chemokines within the blood stream which could explain why African American women with triple-negative breast cancer are harder to treat.
I was tasked with researching the effects of pro-inflammatory chemokines on breast cancer metastasis. In this lab, I cultured cells, performed wound healing assay's, and used software to measure breast carcinoma cell invasiveness with and without the pro-inflammatory chemokine CCL2. In Dr. Gomillion's tissue engineering lab, I developed a three-dimensional bio-material scaffold in order to simulate breast cancer metastasis. In this lab, I engineered the scaffold using bio-materials, observed cell motility through the engineered scaffold, and I fixed and stained the cells with a nuclear stain (DAPI). The results from the research I conducted could shed some light on the process of breast cancer metastasis and help us to better understand and characterize the disease.
Describe the process of obtaining your internship, research, or co-op opportunity.
I found out about the research program through Undergraduate Research group at UMBC. I obtained help from Mrs. Janet McGlynn, who gave me tips on how to make my resume stronger and helped me through the process of applying to research programs overall.
What have you enjoyed the most about your position or organization/company?
What I enjoyed most about my summer research experience was working independently on my research project, and working full time. I also learned a great deal of lab techniques during my time in the lab. In my classes at UMBC, I learned many techniques that scientists used to learn more about how our body works, and being able to actually do these tests and techniques myself was very enjoyable.
How do you believe you have made an impact through your work?
I believe I have aided in helping to understand breast cancer.
What advice would you give to another student who is seeking an internship or similar experience?
Some advice would be to start your applications early, to get help especially on personal statements and resumes, and to search the UMBC Undergraduate Research group in order to find great opportunities and sites to conduct research.
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