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Students Spend Summer Conducting Immunology Research

Posted by Pengxeu Thao '15, Roseville on Wednesday, Jun. 11, 2014


Rachel Gibbons, assistant professor of biology, is one of 11 University of Minnesota, Morris professors working with students in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Summer Research Program. Under Gibbons’s mentorship, Tracie Weber (HHMI) ’15, Aurora, Oregon Charity Miles (HHMI) ’16, Minneapolis and Alex Stangel (Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation) ’16, Cass Lake, are conducting immunology research.

The team is working on two projects. One project addresses cell interactions related to recognizing and attacking tumors. The other involves Human Herpesvirus-6 (HHV-6), a virus that is latent within the majority of the human population. Gibbons, whose areas of expertise include immunology, and her students are looking at how HHV-6 interacts with the immune system as well as the how the virus may reactivate from latency.

“By looking at HHV-6’s interactions with the immune system, we can see its implications on other diseases,” says Gibbons. “We’re in the early stages of the project, growing the virus and going through training procedures. The students are still learning valuable techniques throughout the process.”

Through undergraduate research opportunities like those provided by HHMI and Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), students can gain important lab experience. Furthermore, the hands-on learning environment allows them to engage with experienced professors to foster long-term expertise at an early stage of their careers.

“This research is a good chance to be a part of the lab processes. It’s been a real look at what research in the lab is actually like,” says Weber.

“I’ve been able to get a fantastic head start with this research,” says Stangel. “This career experience will let me get ahead of the competition after graduating.”

“Working closely with professors gives confidence to continue this work in the real world,” adds Miles. “You get to apply what you learn in class into bigger opportunities.”

This summer the team is focusing on learning safety protocols and cultivating supplies of HHV-6 for later use. Later they will manipulate and use the virus with transgenic mice in the campus animal lab.

The Undergraduate Summer Research Program is supported in part by a grant to the University of Minnesota, Morris from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program.

Pictured above: Gibbons, Stangel, Weber, and Miles.