Health Research Program

Stephen Abini-Agbomson
Stephen Abini-Agbomson ’17 (CLAS) conducted research on bacterial spores in Dr. Peter Setlow’s laboratory in summer 2016.

Program Overview
Eligibility
Application Deadline
How to Apply
Financial Support
Summer 2017 Research Opportunities
Academic Year 2017-18 Research Opportunities
FAQ


Program Overview

The Health Research Program offers a new pathway into undergraduate research for students with interests in health and the biomedical sciences. By facilitating connections between UConn Health researchers and UConn undergraduates, this program will involve more students in the cutting-edge research at the Farmington campus. The Health Research Program includes a combination of academic year and summer research opportunities, offering undergraduates and their faculty mentors a structure for sustained engagement in research projects, maximizing student learning and preparation for graduate study and/or careers in the health professions.

Eligibility

To be eligible for the Summer 2017 and Academic Year 2017-18 phases of the Health Research Program, a student applicant must:

  • Currently be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at UConn, and plan to graduate with that bachelor’s degree no earlier than May 2018. This includes students pursuing Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of General Studies, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Science in Engineering degrees.
  • Be a full-time student in good standing at a UConn campus during the Spring 2017 semester.

Some Summer 2017 opportunities may be “standalone” opportunities, requiring the student to commit only to summer research. However, for all other Summer 2017 opportunities, and for all Academic Year 2017-18 opportunities, a student applicant must:

  • Be willing to continue their research involvement for Fall 2017 and Spring 2018.

Beyond these general eligibility criteria, each individual opportunity description specifies the desired qualifications for that position.
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Application Deadline

The deadline to apply for Summer 2017 and Academic Year 2017-18 Health Research Program opportunities is Friday, February 24, 2017.

We expect that faculty will interview their leading candidates between February 27 and March 10, and offers will be made on or around March 11, 2017.
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How to Apply

Research opportunity descriptions and application links are accessible in the Summer 2017 Research Opportunities section and the Academic Year 2017-18 Research Opportunities section of this page. Each opportunity has its own description and application link. If you wish to apply for more than one opportunity, you must tailor your application materials to each opportunity’s requirements and submit an application to each opportunity that interests you. Please note that if you apply to more than one opportunity, OUR will send you a follow-up form in which you will rank those opportunities in order of preference.
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Financial Support

Stipend Support to Students

  • Students participating in the summer 2017 program will receive a $4,000 stipend for a commitment of 360 hours of summer research (9 or 10 full-time weeks).
  • Students who begin their participation in the Health Research Program in academic year 2017-18 and continue into summer 2018 will receive a $4,000 stipend for a commitment of 360 hours of summer 2018 research (9 or 10 full-time weeks).
  • Students may receive a maximum of one summer stipend over the course of their participation in the Health Research Program.
  • Academic year student researchers will be eligible for a $1,000 winter research stipend if they commit to completing 90 hours of winter break research.

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Summer 2017 Research Opportunities

A time commitment of 360 hours (typically 9-10 full-time weeks) is expected for student researchers during the summer. Summer researchers will receive a stipend of $4,000 to cover the expenses associated with participating in this program (e.g., summer rent, meals, parking, etc.).

The names of participating faculty and a brief description of the research opportunities they are sponsoring appear in the table below. Click on the relevant link in the right column to view more detail about the opportunity and access its application.

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Andrew Arnold & Dr. Jessica Costa
Center for Molecular Medicine
We are currently pursuing a number of approaches, including the use of transgenic mouse models and cell lines, to learn more about the precise mechanisms of human tumorigenesis. In addition, we are continuing a major initiative seeking additional genes that contribute to human neoplasia. SU17-1
Dr. Michael Blinov
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
Our Center is developing software for modeling and simulation of biological models. We maintain Virtual Cell (http://vcell.org) – a general web-based framework (written in Java), and interested in providing interfacing with other tools. The student is expected to modify code of SloppyCell (Python/C, http://sloppycell.sourceforge.net/) to provide seamless integration of I/O structure with VCell. Students proficient in Perl can do the same for BioNetFit (http://bionetfit.nau.edu), while C++ developers can work with NFSim (http://nfsim.org). SU17-2
Dr. Caroline Dealy
Reconstructive Sciences/Orthopedic Surgery/Regenerative Medicine/Cell Biology
The long term goal of the project is to understand and identify growth factor signals that control stem cell responses that mediate limb regeneration. The overarching health care need is to one day develop biological replacements for human limbs lost due to accident or military conflict. Dr Dealy is a developmental biologist/molecular biologist (and UConn alumnus) and her laboratory is using growth factors and stem cells to approach the problem of limb regeneration incompetence in mammals, using a mouse model of digit loss. SU17-3
Dr. Mallika Ghosh
Center for Vascular Biology
CD13 is a multifunctional cell surface peptidase that is expressed on a variety of cells where we have shown that it modulates receptor-mediated endocytosis and ligand internalization to control downstream signaling pathways. We will explore how CD13 regulates receptor endocytosis and recycling of two major receptors S1P1 receptor and beta1 Integrin receptor which are involved in fundamental cellular function. We will track the receptor by immunostaining followed by fluorescence microscopy. The two main projects are as follows:
1. CD13 mediated regulation of endocytosis and recycling of G-protein coupled receptor, S1P1 receptor induced by its ligand S1P/FTY-P to regulate cytoskeletal remodeling in vitro and in vivo.
2. Regulation of beta1 Integrin recycling, cell migration and focal adhesion turnover by CD13 in cancer epithelial cells.
SU17-4
Dr. Arthur Gunzl
Genetics and Genome Sciences
We work on trypanosomes which cause neglected tropical diseases (our strain is not pathogenic to humans). We are interested in how gene expression in these single cell eukaryotes is different from human cells. We have identified a number of proteins that seem to be parasite-specific gene expression factors. Project options will be to silence a gene of such a factor and analyze its effect on trypanosome viability and gene expression, or to express the factor with a tag in the parasite and determine whether it functions in a protein complex. SU17-5
Dr. Sivapriya Kailasan Vanaja
Immunology
The project will focus on identifying enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) virulence factors that modify innate immune responses. It will involve screening mutants of EHEC deficient in virulence factors for their ability to induce toll like receptor (TLR)- and inflammasome-mediated responses. Once a mutant is identified, the project will focus on determining the mechanism of immune modulation. SU17-6
SUMMER ONLY
Dr. Insoo Kim
Medicine
In this project the student will participate in development of a wearable sensor for blood pressure monitoring. The nature of this project will require the student to learn several engineering expertise such as biomedical instrumentation, 3D printing work for human phantom development, digital signal processing. The student will be asked to do a human phantom development using a 3D printer, electronic circuit board building, and lab experiments with the sensor. SU17-7
Dr. Min Jung Kim
Calhoun Cardiology Center
Cardiovascular Disease IOS App Development
We want to develop an IOS app based on the HealthKit, ResearchKit, and CareKit frameworks that Apple provides. The app is focused on the patients with cardiovascular disease. The use of our app enables patients to better understand the value of health monitoring and to facilitate communicating with the doctor.
SU17-8
SUMMER ONLY
Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The Center for Quantitative Medicine at UConn Health is developing a software platform for computational algorithms related to medicine and healthcare. The platform is based on the relatively new technology of Docker software containers, which can be used to share environment-independent computational, mathematical, and statistical tools. The site algorun.org contains more information. Qualified undergraduate students will participate in the further development of this platform, learn novel software engineering techniques, become proficient in Docker applications, and participate in providing software solutions to problems in the health field. SU17-9
Dr. Leslie Loew
R. D. Berlin Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
We are developing modules, called Model Bricks, that will quantitatively specify fundamental molecular mechanisms controlling cell physiology. These will be combined to develop complex models of cell behavior. SU17-10
Dr. Xin-Ming Ma
Neuroscience
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness. The mechanisms underlying schizophrenia are poorly understood. Current understanding of schizophrenia has been generated from neuroimaging analysis, genetic studies, postmortem tissue analysis, and animal models, which all have their limitations. Patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) provide an excellent platform for exploring disease mechanisms in a way animal models cannot. Our lab is using iPSC-derived neurons from schizophrenic patients and healthy controls to study the mechanisms underlying schizophrenia. The specific aim is to compare the dendritic spines and synapses in iPSC-derived neurons between schizophrenic patients and healthy controls. SU17-11
Dr. David Martinelli
Neuroscience
The undergraduate research project will involve the study of the C1q-like family of proteins, which are secreted from neurons of the brain and contribute to the formation and maintenance of synapses. A variety of techniques will be taught, ranging from biochemistry to in vitro cell culture to rodent behavior assays. There are multiple possibilities for which neuronal circuit to focus on, including the auditory system with disease relevance for sound-induced hearing loss, and prefrontal cortex circuitry, with disease relevance for addiction and ADHD. In addition to gaining experience in laboratory techniques, the student will learn the critical thinking skills required of a modern laboratory scientist. SU17-12
Dr. Nilanjana Maulik
Surgery
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) remain among the deadliest diseases in the world, standing next to cancer and stroke. Among the major CVDs, acute myocardial infarction (AMI) is a key life threatening disorder that occurs due to permanent damage of the left ventricular cardiac tissue. The major coronary arteries that supply blood to the functional left ventricle get blocked due to thrombotic plaque occlusion. Therefore, the long-term objective of my laboratory is to design strategies to prevent heart failure with modified stem cells, growth factors, scaffolds, and exosomal nano vesicles to induce therapeutic angiogenesis and arteriogenesis to increase blood flow, prevent ischemic injury, and preserve ventricular function. SU17-13
Dr. Pedro Mendes
Center for Quantitative Medicine
Selection of software architecture for creating multi-scale models of iron biochemistry. In our research group we have available models of iron biochemistry at different levels of representation: a) whole body and b) specific cell types. We now wish to combine these into a multi-scale model that includes both scales. There are already existing software applications that can do this in principle and we are interested in testing how these applications work. SU17-14
SUMMER ONLY
Dr. Ion Moraru
Cell Biology and Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
This project combines experimental and computational approaches to determine the changes that occur when cell lose DNA mismatch repair function and how it relates to carcinogenesis. Single-cell RNASeq profiling data of stem cell-derived organoids will be analyzed to identify ab initio all the cell subpopulations that develop. Dynamic models and simulations of intracellular signaling pathways will be created to characterize the behavior of wild-type and mutant samples. SU17-15
Dr. Julie Robison
Center on Aging
The student will be trained to conduct telephone and in-person interviews of participants in the CT Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration (MFP) who have transitioned from nursing homes or other institutions to community settings. The student will also be trained to conduct interviews with unpaid family caregivers of the MFP participants. Tasks include tracking of difficult to find research participants, data collection and entry, data cleaning and analysis, and general collaboration with research team members, community organizations, and research participants to facilitate all aspects of the research effort. SU17-16
Dr. Blanka Rogina
Genetics and Genome Sciences
Indy (I’m not dead yet) encodes the fly homologue of a mammalian SLC13A5 plasma membrane citrate transporter. Decreased INDY expression in flies and its homologue in worms extend longevity. Reduced Indy gene activity has beneficial effects on energy balance in mice, worms, and flies. The goal of the research is to study the mechanism underlying beneficial effects of reduced INDY levels on intestinal stem cell (ISC) homeostasis. SU17-17
Dr. James Schaff
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
Our Center is developing and maintaining a distributed multi-user modeling and simulation environment for cell biology (http://vcell.org). We are interested in exposing VCell’s simulation and data analysis capabilities through a Python API communicating with our local VCell client (java) and our remote RESTful VCell API. We will use this capability to provide a IPython/Jupyter notebook for the interactive scripting of VCell for running simulations and performing data analysis with VCell. SU17-18
Dr. Stephen Schensul
Community Medicine and Health Care
This NIH-funded project (2016-2018) focuses on Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology (CKDu), not generated by diabetes or hypertension, that is characteristic of standard CKD. CKDu is prevalent in many parts of the world and is endemic among farmers (30-60 years of age) in rural areas of Sri Lanka. CKDu is progressive, with limited treatment options, and leads to End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant, both a limited resource in low and middle income countries. The project is concerned with identifying the environmental, behavioral, medical and genetic factors that may contribute to slowing the progression of CKDu. SU17-19
Dr. Henry Smilowitz
Cell Biology
Our lab collaborates with a small biotech company to study heavy atom nanoparticles as both blood pool contrast agents and as enhancers of radiation therapy for tumor therapy. Our lab also studies the combination of radiation therapy and immunotherapy for tumor therapy with and emphasis on brain tumor therapy. We are currently studying a novel heavy atom nanoparticle for its translation potential to patients for applications related to the above utilities. Any student interested in these types of studies should get in touch with Dr. Smilowitz to discuss specific, timely projects. SU17-20
Dr. Ephraim Trakhtenberg
Neuroscience
We study how the brain develops and utilize gained knowledge to reverse-engineer regeneration of the brain tissue damaged by an injury or stroke. We employ a multidisciplinary approach spanning cutting edge genetics, epigenetics, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and gene therapy, which will provide a student with an opportunity to explore different approaches and select a project that aligns best with the individual’s career goals and interests. SU17-21
Dr. Kurutihalli Vishwanatha
Neuroscience
The project is aimed at understanding the role of the proton pump (V-ATPase) in the development and maintenance of secretory pathways in neurons and neuroendocrine cells. The proton pump is responsible for the luminal acidification of the vesicles and also other organelles of the secretory and endocytic pathways like Golgi, endosomes and lysosomes. The activity of the proton pump is spatially and temporally regulated to support the biochemical actions of the enzymes of these pathways. The project will include investigating the macromolecular interactions of V-ATPase with other regulatory accessory proteins of the secretory and endocytic pathways of neuroendocrine cells. SU17-22
Dr. George Wu
Medicine

We have recently discovered a method by which functional mitochondria can be internalized by a specific cell type through receptor-mediated endocytosis, and replace damaged or absent mitochondria. Our previous studies were dependent on co-localization of complexed mitochondria and a targeted endosomolytic agent into the same endosomes in order to achieve endosomal escape of targeted mitochondria. We wondered whether covalent linkage of an endosomolytic agent directly to the targeting conjugate could increase the efficiency of mitochondrial internalization and escape.

The proposed project would include chemical linkage of a targetable carrier protein to a bacterial peptide, and preparation of an affinity chromatography system to purify the ternary conjugates. Using mitochondria from mouse cells as donors, and human hepatoma cells as recipients, uptake assays will be performed to test the new conjugates by confocal microscopy using fluorescent anti-mouse mitochondrial aby, and qPCR using primers specific for mouse mitochondrial DNA relative to human, LDHA chromosomal gene levels.

SU17-23
Dr. Liping Xiao
Medicine and Psychiatry
This summer project is designed to conduct additional experiments for publication of a manuscript entitled “FOXO3 regulates bone formation of BMSC in vitro from sickle cell disease mice.” Under the supervision of the PI, the student will design primers for quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR), perform qPCR analysis for gene expression, and draft the manuscript. The student could be listed as first author or co-author of the manuscript contingent on satisfactory progress. SU17-24

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Academic Year 2017-18 Research Opportunities

The names of participating faculty and a brief description of the research opportunities they are sponsoring appear in the table below. Click on the relevant link in the right column to view more detail about the opportunity and access its application.

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Andrew Arnold & Dr. Jessica Costa
Center for Molecular Medicine
We are currently pursuing a number of approaches, including the use of transgenic mouse models and cell lines, to learn more about the precise mechanisms of human tumorigenesis. In addition, we are continuing a major initiative seeking additional genes that contribute to human neoplasia. AY1718-1
Dr. Mayu Inaba
Cell Biology
Drosophila genetic crosses.
Perform basic immuno-histochemical experiments (preparation of melanogaster tissues for imaging and confocal microscope imaging).
Live imaging of stem cell division, behavior of cellular organelle and cell-cell communications.
Molecular cloning and mutagenesis in E coli and preparation of vectors for transgenesis in D. melanogaster.
AY1718-5
Dr. Carol Pilbeam
Medicine and Orthopaedics; Director of MD/PhD Program
Our lab has found a new pro-inflammatory factor, serum amyloid A (SAA), that can regulate bone turnover. SAA is only produced when prostaglandins (PGs) are also expressed. We generated an SAA knockout mouse and found that SAA is responsible for a significant amount of bone loss with aging in mice. Our projects are focused on determining the mechanisms by which SAA causes bone loss, how SAA is regulated by PGS, and the general role of SAA in inflammatory responses by bone marrow macrophages. AY1718-2
Dr. Ephraim Trakhtenberg
Neuroscience
We study how the brain develops and utilize gained knowledge to reverse-engineer regeneration of the brain tissue damaged by an injury or stroke. We employ a multidisciplinary approach spanning cutting edge genetics, epigenetics, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and gene therapy, which will provide a student with an opportunity to explore different approaches and select a project that aligns best with the individual’s career goals and interests. AY1718-3
Dr. Beiyan Zhou
Immunology
We are accepting highly motivated undergraduate students to join the lab to enrich their research experience in the area of immunology/hematopoiesis/ obesity/stem cells. Our research projects incorporate epigenetic and genomic approaches to understand the crosswalks between immune compartment and host tissue cells under chronic stress conditions, such as obesity. AY1718-4

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FAQ


What time commitment is expected of a summer researcher in this program?

A time commitment of 360 hours (typically 9-10 full-time weeks) is expected for student researchers during the summer. The possible timing of those weeks varies across research opportunities and is a key factor to consider as you are reviewing the different opportunities and considering which might be a good fit for you. All weeks of summer research must be completed between May 8 and August 25, 2017.


What time commitment is expected of an academic year researcher in this program?

A time commitment of 3-9 hours/week is expected for student researchers during the academic year; this varies across research opportunities and is a key factor to consider as you are reviewing the different opportunities and considering which might be a good fit for you. The standard formula for academic credit is 1 credit for each 3 hours of weekly research, and you will register for the appropriate number of credits given the time commitment you are making to research.


How do I earn academic credit for my participation in this program during the academic year?

You will likely earn Undergraduate Research, Independent Study, or a similar kind of course credit in the department associated with your major. The most common arrangement is for a Storrs faculty member to be the instructor of record for the course and to coordinate with the UConn Health faculty member supervising your research in order to approve a learning agreement and enter the appropriate grade at the end of the semester. OUR staff will work with you individually to provide guidance on how to proceed in your specific situation. If earning academic credit is not appropriate for your individual circumstances, the OUR will work with you and your faculty advisor to make alternate arrangements.


What transportation options are available for students?

Shuttle service between Storrs and Farmington is available at no cost to students Monday through Friday. We expect that the summer shuttle schedule would allow you to work in Farmington 9am-4pm (taking the 8am shuttle from Storrs and returning on the 4pm shuttle from Farmington). We expect that the spring semester schedule will be replicated for fall; transportation via the shuttle during the semester allows Storrs students to work 9am-12pm, 12pm-4pm, or 9am-4pm. Please note that those time windows do not include the time you will spend on the shuttle. With travel time included, the time commitment is 8am-1pm, 11am-5pm, or 8am-5pm, respectively. We encourage you to take your class schedule and the shuttle schedule into consideration when reviewing the possible work schedule associated with each opportunity. You may also elect to use another form of transportation. Please be aware that this program does not offer support for mileage or parking costs as the free shuttle option is available.


Do I need to be pre-med to participate in this program? Do I need to be in Honors?

You do not need to be pre-med or be a member of the Honors Program in order to participate in this program. The program is open to all undergraduate students interested in health research. However, bear in mind that this is a demanding program that requires you to coordinate weekly travel to UConn Health. We encourage you to take a realistic look at your schedule, the demands of your other courses, and your past academic achievement in order to assess whether this program is a good fit for you.

OUR advisors would be happy to discuss your specific situation and the most appropriate research opportunities with you at any time. Review our Meet with an OUR Advisor page for more information on how to make an appointment.


How do these opportunities continue into the academic year or summer?

Sustained engagement in a research project maximizes learning, so we want to make it possible for students to stay engaged in undergraduate research at UConn Health over longer periods of time. Students selected for summer 2017 opportunities will complete a mid-summer assessment process along with their faculty mentors, which will gauge whether adequate research progress is being made and will ask both student and faculty to indicate their interest in continuing the research placement beyond the summer. Continuing placements will be contingent upon satisfactory student research progress and continued interest by both student and faculty (in addition to the student’s full-time enrollment and good standing at the university). If a student continues his/her research in academic year 2017-18, s/he will be eligible for a $1,000 winter research stipend if s/he commits to completing 90 hours of winter break research (and graduates no earlier than May 2018). Note that this does not apply to the three summer opportunities that are for the summer only. (SU17-6, SU17-8, SU17-14).

If a student who begins his/her Health Research Program participation in the academic year continues his/her research in the summer, s/he will receive a $4,000 stipend for a commitment of 360 hours of summer research (9 or 10 full-time weeks). Progress assessments will occur mid-spring, mid-summer, and mid-fall; at each assessment point, progress must be satisfactory and all parties must agree to continue the placement.

While you may continue your research in this program across multiple academic years and/or summers, students are eligible for a maximum of one HRP summer stipend.


This application asks for a Science GPA. What is that? How do I figure out my Science GPA?

Unlike your cumulative GPA, your Science GPA is not automatically calculated and reported on your transcript. You will need to calculate this by entering the number of credits and your earned grade from each of your science classes into a GPA calculator (like this GPA calculator from UConn ACES). We recommend that you move through your transcript methodically, using your best judgment to decide whether a given course is a “science course,” and entering the relevant information into the calculator for each science course. Once all information is entered, click the Calculate button, and report the GPA output in your Health Research Program application.

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