HRP SU23-10: Research Opportunity with Dr. Caroline Dealy

Project Mentor

Dr. Caroline Dealy
Departments of Craniofacial Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Orthopedic Surgery, and Cell Biology

Undergraduate Research Opportunity Description

Project Description Diagnostic tests that accurately reflect cellular physiology are critical for predicting patient response to cancer drugs. Our group has identified a human blood protein whose levels in circulation correlate with aging and cancer. Surprisingly, this circulating protein is produced via alternate splicing of a gene that previously was only known to produce a membrane-bound protein. The membrane-bound protein has multiple roles in development, health, and disease and is the target of several major cancer drugs; however, the efficacy of these drugs is variable and does not correlate with tumor expression of the membrane-bound protein. We propose this is because available diagnostic tests fail to account for the circulating isoform, which we believe regulates the function of the membrane-bound protein. Indeed, we have found that the relative proportions of the two alternatively-spliced transcripts vary across a wide range of normal and developing tissues in mice, suggesting that production of the different protein isoforms is tightly regulated and may relate to specific functions carried out by different tissues. The goal of this summer project is to correlate the relative proportions of the alternately-spliced transcripts to the relative amounts of the two protein isoforms they encode. Approaches will include quantitative PCR, Western Blot, and ELISA. The information obtained will be first-of-its-kind and is critical for foundational understanding of the physiological role of the circulating protein and its potential as a future cancer diagnostic.
Project Direction The overall long-term goal of this project is to develop the utility of an understudied circulating blood protein as a future cancer diagnostic and/or therapeutic. Future studies beyond the summer include characterization of the surprising phenotypes of two transgenic mouse models we have created with gain or loss of function of the alternatively-spliced circulating protein, including phenotypes we have identified that relate to neonatal survival and female reproductive aging (menopause). These approaches include histology and pathology of developing and adult tissues from the mice, and/or functional assessments to test the physiological role of the circulating protein in regulating disease onset or severity.
Mentorship and Supervision All activities of the HRP student researcher will be overseen by Dr. Dealy. She will meet with the student formally at least once per week, and informally more often than that, to discuss the scientific premise of the project and its goals. In addition, the student will participate in formal weekly summer lab group meetings that involve literature discussion and presentation. Technical training will be provided by Dr. Dealy’s skilled staff. Day-to-day mentoring will be provided by Dr. Dealy and by fellow researchers who are graduate students and fellow undergraduate students. The student will be encouraged to attend seminars related to the project that may arise including seminars on research commercialization.
Student Qualifications
Rising sophomores preferred. Prior lab experience is not required.
Requirements: Enthusiasm for research; Willingness to engage deeply and consistently in the project; Strong interest in continuing the project past this summer and ideally until graduation; Excellent written and oral communication skills.
Note also that as the long term goal of this project is a diagnostic test that can be used in the clinic, our research design considers not only basic science but also commercial potential. Accordingly, applications from students with interest in the process of research commercialization, patents, and clinical innovation are encouraged.
Summer Schedule Options Research Dates: May 22 to July 28, 2023
Schedule: Typical schedule is M-F, 9am-5pm
Project Continuation Fall 2023, Spring 2024
Academic Year Time Commitment 9 hours/week
Possible Thesis Project Yes


Submit an online application for this research opportunity at The application deadline is Monday, January 30, 2023.

This application requires a resume or CV, GPA, science GPA, a brief statement of research interests, and a brief statement of career interests. References should be available upon request.