Tag Archives: undergraduate physiology

Summer Study: A Journey from Heart to Kidney
Yuliia Kashyrina
Pre-allied health major
Howard Community College, (Columbia, MD), class of 2020

My Research Project

When asked about the most vital organ in the body, most people would point out the heart without hesitation. It is indeed an essential pump that helps deliver oxygen and other nutrients from food to the body’s cells. The heart also helps fight infection and creates blood clots after injury. The principal function of the heart is maintaining solute circulation. When it comes to removing these solutes, the kidney kicks in. Without the kidney, the blood would accumulate metabolic waste made by the body as a result of your activities, drastically increasing the pressure in your blood vessels due to a large amount of solutes being added.

On a large scale, my project investigated a possible mechanism by which the body can function to lower your blood pressure. On a smaller scale, I investigated the effect that a hormone released by your heart can have on certain types of kidney cells.

Realities of Research

Working in a research lab was fun. Fresh out of school, I rejoiced in this great feeling of assuming responsibility (finally) for every part of the project from the experimental design and hypothesis, to implementation, statistical analysis and drawing conclusions. I learned how to passage cells into various flasks, petri dishes and transwell inserts, how and when to feed them andhow to freeze them. I also learned different techniques of fluorescent imaging which uses fluorescent dyes to label molecules of interest, protein concentration measuring techniques, measuring current/resistance of cells in transwells and measuring cellular oxygen consumption rate, which was essentially how certain cells “breathe.”

Even with a very insightful mentorship from senior personnel in the lab, it took some time to tailor every protocol so that my experiments would produce clear results. In some cases, an experiment was great in theory but challenging to reproduce. For example, when we attempted to track changes in the mitochondrial calcium in response to acute application of the drug using a fluorescent dye, the drug delivery technique would greatly affect the results. It is no doubt that this particular experiment required a little bit more work, but within the 10-week time frame of my fellowship that experiment did not make the priority list.

Life as a Scientist

The best—and probably the worst— part about doing research was sometimes having to come to the lab at 7 a.m. on a Sunday. At the same time, I was able to have proper time off work so I could start a new week fresh and well-rested. Sometimes, however, my curiosity led me back to the lab again and again. In the end, there were two main things that I got most out of this summer:

  1. I cannot expect immediate results in science; and
  2. no science would be possible without collaboration within and outside of lab.

I did a lot this summer, from reading articles so that I stayed on track with discoveries, watching others do procedures, attending meetings and journal clubs, making presentations—you name it! Working in basic research is definitely a lot more than making hypotheses and carrying out experiments.

Yuliia Kashyrina is a sophomore majoring in pre-allied health at Howard Community College in Columbia, Md. She completed the Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship (UGSRF) through the American Physiological Society during summer 2019 and worked under Dr. Daria Ilatovskaya at the Medical University of South Carolina, Division of Nephrology, in Charleston, SC. The UGSRF program was funded by the American Physiological Society. Yuliia is planning to transfer into biology/biological sciences to a four-year university in the fall of 2020 and seek an advanced degree in physiology upon completion of her bachelor’s degree.

Why are frogs able to survive in low oxygen conditions?
Bianca Okhaifor
2020, senior, biology major/chemistry minor
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

My Research Project

Credit: Drew R. Davis, Amphibians and Reptiles of South Dakota

Most living organisms rely heavily on oxygen (O2), a major component in an organism’s biochemical and metabolic functions. This isespecially important for the brain. When the brain is deprived of O2), injury and life-threatening situations can occur. We can learn a great deal from a neural system that has evolved to combat hypoxia (low oxygen levels) and anoxia (no oxygen) in the brain. During my summer research project, I focused on the Lithobates catesbeianus, most commonly known as the American bullfrog.

Though respiratory network activity ceases during severe hypoxia, the network is able to generate again upon reintroduction of O2 and return to its normal functions (Winmill RE, et al). How is this possible? By building upon background information, we hypothesized that inhibition of ATP synthesis through different routes in the presence of oxygen would resemble the anoxic response if metabolic failure contributes to the network shutdown. To test this hypothesis, I focused on the bullfrog’s cranial nerves and used them to record electrical brain activity. Depending on which part of the experiment I completed each day, a certain drug was administered to the brainstem to analyze its effects. Our findings showed that neurons in the frog brain can survive without ATP synthesis for extended periods of time with no impact on function after reoxygenation, suggesting that metabolism is an important contributor to allowing bullfrogs to survive anoxia.

Realities of Research

Artificial brain fluid on magnetic stirrer, Dr. Joseph Santin lab, UNC Greensboro

Research is one of the most important aspects of human advancement and development. Unsurprisingly, scientists have great responsibilities that pose many challenges. One of the biggest challenges of a scientist is the reality that research is unpredictable. Although my lab’s results generally supported my hypothesis, there were days when experiments did not work and I had to backtrack, figure out my mistakes and start over. Unpredictable results can also mean that your day is too unpredictable. I had to take initiative for what needed to be done and be responsible enough to make it happen. It surprised me that I wasn’t told what I needed to do every day, minute by minute. I had to take charge of my project. This is especially true for scientists who may be doing novel research or research not found in the available literature. While this aspect of research is challenging, it is also fun to brainstorm the best way to go about your research. For instance, I had to categorize and analyze the data collected of neuronal motor output of the bullfrogs.; This had not been done before and Ihad to learn analysis techniques as well as use my creativity and knowledge to create a system of categorization. Being able to highlight my passion for problem solving and creativity was what kept me so interested in research.

Life as a Scientist

White coats, colorful chemicals and a crazy, wild lab. This “Hollywood stereotype” may be what comes to mind for some people when they think about a scientist. As a first-generation minority, that’s what came to my mind as well. I had not been exposed to research as a career and only knew what I saw in the media. It was not until I received the 2019 Short-Term Research Education Program to Increase Diversity in Health-Related Research (STRIDE) fellowship that I was able to understand the life of a scientist—and it was drastically different from what I expected.

In my experience, there is no “day-to-day life” of a scientist. Every day was different. One day I may have dissected a brain from a frog, while the next, I analyzed data and the day after, I was expanding my knowledge further by reading scientific literature. Some days, I had lots of hands-on work and was really busy and other days, I had plenty of downtime. While this dynamic work environment was fun and exciting, it was also very challenging for me. I was fortunate enough, and will be forever grateful, for being placed within a lab team that helped me work through my hesitations this summer. My team consisted of another undergraduate student, a masters student and my principal investigator. Having these three people in my circle allowed me to transcend the expectations I had for myself. I hope that I can one day use this experience to expose young, first-generation minorities to what it means to be a scientist early in their careers. This is a tool I wish I had when I was younger.


Winmill RE, et al. “Development of the Respiratory Response to Hypoxia in the Isolated Brainstem of the Bullfrog Rana Catesbeiana.” The Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 208, 2005, pp. 213–22

Bianca Okhaifor is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is a 2019 Short-Term Research Education Program to Increase Diversity in Health-Related Research (STRIDE) Fellow working in Dr. Joseph Santin’s lab at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Bianca’s fellowship is funded by the APS and a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (Grant #1 R25 HL115473-01). After graduation, Bianca plans to pursue a career as a physician and clinical researcher to focusing on her passion of working specifically with minority children with little to no access to healthcare.

Some Serious Monkey Business
Lucas Barrett
Senior, biology major
University of Kentucky

My Research Project

My research project was focused on using the African green monkey as a translational animal model for human disease. I was particularly interested in the gene that encodes for a protein known to be a component of cholesterol transport. The protein also has a natural ability to protect against certain parasites. In humans, two different versions of this gene have been associated with early-onset kidney disease. Our lab found a version of this gene in the African green monkey that is associated with high blood pressure, and I continued this discovery by looking for additional monkey species that have a similar version of the gene.

In order to find more monkeys with the insertion, I took tissue samples from animals at our vivarium, from which I then extracted DNA.  I also followed the kidney function of monkeys with different variations of the gene to discover whether it was associated with kidney disease in the African green monkey. I assessed kidney function by measuring chemical levels from blood and urine samples which helped determine whether this gene was a marker for kidney disease in this animal model. The main goal of this summer’s project was to identify the African green monkey as a model to study this specific type of kidney disease in humans through the investigation of alternate versions of this gene.

Realities of Research

Doing research has been both the most rewarding and most frustrating endeavor that I have ever undertaken. Being engaged in new scientific discovery is exciting, but the time and effort that go into research can be exhausting. A particularly difficult part of research this summer was troubleshooting why an experiment or laboratory technique did not work as expected.

I was most surprised at how acceptable and common it is to be wrong. Amazingly, in the scientific community, there is nothing inherently bad about being wrong as long as you learn from and adapt to the information you uncover. Working as part of a team in the lab was one of the best parts of this experience. Being able to discuss different projects and rely on others for help as they rely on you was enjoyable, and pushed me to be an expert on my assigned tasks. At the same time, I learned to be competent and well-versed in the other tasks going on in the lab.

Life as a Scientist

Working and living as a scientist for the summer was an experience full of joy and fun, but I also learned a lot that I didn’t know about the day-to-day life conducting research. I was fortunate to go for three weeks to the island of Saint Kitts in the Caribbean islands to do field work that involved collecting data and samples for the lab.

Most people I told about this trip assumed that a stay in the Caribbean would be laid back and more akin to a vacation than a work trip, but nothing could have been further from reality. Out of the 20 days we were on the island, we only took one day completely off from work and I did not anticipate how tiring it would be to work outside in a tropical climate. Despite falling into bed most days from exhaustion, I learned more every day and was fascinated by working with our live animal model; instead of simply working with blood, urine and tissue in the lab.

Lucas Barrett is a senior majoring in biology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. He is a 2019 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow (UGSRF) working in the laboratory of Dr. Jeffrey Osborn at the University of Kentucky.  Lucas’ fellowship is funded by the American Physiological Society. After graduation, Lucas plans to pursue a career as a physician-scientist studying human disease. He plans to enroll in a medical scientist program after finishing his degree at the University of Kentucky.