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Student research presented on Capitol Hill

Chemistry student Kelly Curran among 79 undergraduates to participate in “Undergraduate Research Posters on the Hill”

04/29/04

A research study performed by an undergraduate chemistry major was among 79 selected from a field of 160 applicants and presented in April at a special event in Washington, D.C.

The scientific research performed by Kelly Curran analyzed how changes in oxygen concentration affect T-cell behavior. The knowledge gained may help scientists understand T-cell behavior in individuals with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease, and may also explain why some tumors are killed by immune cells and others are not.

Curran’s work was chosen by the event’s sponsor, the Council on Undergraduate Research, to participate in “Undergraduate Research Posters on the Hill” on April 20. Students displayed a poster of their findings at the Rayburn House Office Building to members of Congress, federal agency officials and other guests.

Curran, of St. Louis, has worked the past school year with Jennifer Robbins, professor in Xavier’s biology department, and Laura Conforti, assistant research professor at the University of Cincinnati, at UC’s College of Medicine.

“I'm very proud of all the work Kelly has done this past year, and I'm happy that she earned the chance to showcase it on Capitol Hill," Robbins said. "It was a rare opportunity to make connections between those who create science policy and
those who practice science itself, especially at the oft-overlooked
undergraduate level.”

While juggling medical school applications, senior projects and regular classwork, Curran also spent two days a week in the dark, literally, filming fresh human T-cells through a microscope as they responded to various drugs and compounds. Most of the time, she worked independently on these experiments, Robbins said. The project was hers exclusively, which is unusual for an undergraduate student in a science lab.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The Council on Undergraduate Research is a national professional association representing faculty and administrators at nearly 1,000 academic institutions. The council provides students with opportunities to learn science by doing it and helps faculty integrate research into their teachings.