Two Flinn Scholars engaged in advanced biomedical research, Lara Cardy and Michael Mitchell, have received the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the top national award for undergraduates in science, engineering, and mathematics.
Cardy, a 2005 Scholar and biochemistry major at Arizona State University, and Mitchell, a 2006 Scholar and biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology major at the University of Arizona, are among 321 Goldwater Scholars chosen this year from more than 1,000 sophomores and juniors who were nominated by faculty from colleges and universities nationwide.
Currently, Cardy is working in the cochlear-implant laboratory of Michael Dorman, an ASU speech and hearing science professor. The research she described in her Goldwater application emerged from her work in the Neurogenomics Division at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, where she conducted genomic and proteomic studies of autism.
“My main project involved identifying under- and over-expressed proteins in the brain and blood serum of autistic individuals, in the hope of identifying a consistent protein pattern that would have diagnostic implications, or at least allow for relative-risk assessment,” Cardy said.
“This is important because a biological diagnostic would allow autism to be identified earlier in life than the current behavioral diagnostics allow,” she explained. “Research conclusively shows that beginning behavioral and speech therapies at an early age promotes greater language and social skills among autistic children.”
Mitchell’s application for the Goldwater described his research, in the laboratory of Roy Parker, a UA regents professor of molecular and cellular biology, on exosomes, a type of extra-cellularly secreted vesicle. Exosomes, Mitchell said, have various functions, including intercellular communication via proteins, for such purposes as stimulating immune response, and less well-understood functions, especially in diseased states such as cancer.
“Recently, it has been found that at least some exosomes contain mRNAs—code for proteins—and microRNAs—which regulate the lifetime of mRNAs, affecting the abundance of the protein they code for—which can be transmitted to, and function in, other cells that take up the exosomes,” he said. “This may or may not be a novel form of intercellular communication.”
Mitchell is now working to discern if and how RNA molecules are targeted into exosomes. “This would indicate whether RNAs are intentionally packaged by cells or just taken along for the ride,” he said, “and if they are intentionally packaged, how and for what purpose.”
Established in honor of Arizona Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, the Goldwater Scholarship works to foster and encourage outstanding undergraduate students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. The award provides up to $7,500 per year toward tuition and other costs; as a junior, Cardy is eligible for one year of support, while Mitchell, a sophomore, is eligible for two years of funding.
Altogether, two UA and three ASU students won Goldwater Scholarships this year.
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