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Sarah Moore: Excelling in the Lab and on the Field

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19 November 2012

Sarah Moore, a third year senior biochemistry major and Schreyer Scholar from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, began investigating the labs in the biochemistry and molecular biology department and decided to join the Wang Lab, led by Yanming Wang, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, during her first semester. The Wang lab, which focuses on epigenetics, studies cancer, autoimmune diseases, and stem cell differentiation, interested Sarah so much that she has remained working in the lab throughout her college career.

In the lab, Sarah researches the p53 protein and analyzes how p53 pathways are triggered or inhibited under certain conditions.  The p53 protein responds to cellular stress, like DNA damage and nutrient depravation, by activating cell-cycle arrest, initiating apoptosis, or triggering autophagy. P53 also regulates a range of physiological functions, such as immune and inflammatory responses, metabolism, and cell motility.

To determine the expression patterns of p53 modifiers and target genes in response to various stresses, Sarah first conducted an extensive literature review to compile a quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) primer library consisting of 350 genes. Using the library, she performed qRT-PCR in cells with inducible p53 over-expression, DNA-damage, cancer drug treatment, serum starvation, and serum stimulation. By analyzing the data, Sarah has been able to predict the mechanism of action of a novel cancer drug, 6e. Additional analysis of the data collected in her experiment will yield further insight into specific mechanisms of each treatment and potentially allow determination of pathway interactions and cell-fate decision-making mechanisms. Through an interactive website being developed from her library, other researchers will have access to the information to predict drug mechanisms, determine which pathways are being affected in particular disease models, and ultimately design compounds targeting these pathways to fight the disease. Additionally, introductory-level biology students will be able to use this website to understand the major p53-dependent pathways and impact that one gene can have on cell function. Sarah hopes to gain a first author publication from her current work on the project.

For Sarah, discovering new things has been the most rewarding part of working in a lab as an undergraduate. “I have always had a passion for learning, and now I have the opportunity to learn things that no one else knows yet. Teaching is my other passion, and sharing what I have discovered with others, such as in a poster session or lab meeting, is extremely rewarding,” she explained.

Working in the lab has not only helped Sarah to better understand the scientific process, it has also given her experience with protocols essential for work in a biochemistry lab and prepared her for her next step, graduate school. “I plan to attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in either biomedical science or cell/molecular biology, with a focus on stem cell research targeted at treatment of neurodegenerative disease. Eventually, I hope to teach at the college level and continue doing research.”

In addition to being successful in her research, Sarah has also been honored with numerous awards throughout her college career, including the Undergraduate Summer Discovery Grant, the Whitfield Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, the Herko Family Scholarship in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Schreyer Honors College Summer Research Grant, the Schreyer Honors College Ambassador Travel Grant, the Academic Excellence Scholarship, the Lenfest Scholarship, the Pre-eminence in Honors Education Scholarship, and the Dean’s List every semester.

While working in a lab was one of her goals as an undergraduate, earning a spot in the Penn State Blue Band was another, equally important, one. As a third year member of the clarinet section, Sarah marches in Beaver Stadium every game day and participates in other functions, such as pep rallies, parades, and charity performances the Blue Band is involved in. A Blue Band tour guide, she also helps recruit the next generation of marchers. Sarah plays in the concert band in the spring. She is also the executive board co-chair of The GLOBE Honors Special Living Option, where she contributes by choosing books for the book club and bringing in speakers to facilitate book discussions. In her free time, Sarah enjoys reading, scrapbooking, assembling jigsaw puzzles, biking, hiking, and kayaking.

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