The Short Term Educational Experiences of Research in Environmental Science for Undergraduates (STEER) Program is a ten week summer internship awarded to undergraduate students interested in environmental health. Through a collaboration between the CEET, the Center for Public Health Initiatives and multiple schools and faculty at Penn, the STEER program provides didactic experiences in environmental and public health, as well as research mentorship opportunities in a variety of areas of environmental exposures and health effects. The COEC will be highlighting the achievements and experiences of 2015 STEER students below.
I am a rising sophomore at Cornell University, studying biology with plans to go medical school. My interest in environmental health began in middle school. I was a member in the Technology Student Association (TSA) where I competed in the environmental category. My team researched electronic waste and set up our own electronic waste drive where we had over 500 computers recycled. Our efforts lead us to the national TSA conference where we won first place in the entire nation. Since then I have been interested in asthma research, which I have been conducting in the laboratory of Dr. Blair, a faculty member in the Department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania.
What is your summer research project?
This summer I am working in the laboratory of Dr. Ian Blair as a participant in the STEER program. I will be researching the metabolism of inhaled synthetic glucocorticoids (ISG) that are used in the treatment of asthma – a disease with substantial environmental etiology. I will be developing a liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) method that will be sensitive and specific enough to track the therapeutic response to these synthetic glucocorticoids. Furthermore, I will develop a method to observe the levels of endogenous corticoids in order to see how inhaled glucocorticoids affect endogenous ones.
What are the implications of your research?
Current research methods lack the sensitivity and specificity required to adequately track inhaled corticosteroids together with the endogenous ones. Most of the methods focused in measuring the cortisol to cortisone ratio. Cortisol and cortisone could be further metabolized to the dihydro- and tetrahydro- metabolites, so is important to measure all the isomers in order to have a more accurate ratio. If our experiment proves to be successful we will have provided a method for all types of future research dealing will asthma treatment. Therefore, our findings can prove to be instrumental in future asthma research. If we can better understand how synthetic steroids are metabolized in the human body then we will be better equipped to determine their systemic effects.
What new skills have you gained through this experience?
By participating in the STEER program I have gained vast knowledge in a variety of laboratory techniques. I had the opportunity to develop my own individual project, while having the privilege to work with a mentor who is an expert in his field. The vast majority of my time was spent learning how to develop a LC-MS method. This involved testing different columns and solvent systems that gave me the best sensitivity. I also learned that besides just running samples, the instruments need to be maintained in the best shape by cleaning and calibrating them routinely. After the LC-MS method worked beast on standards, I gained more experience in cell culture, as I used two different cell lines to look for the metabolism of the budesonide and flunisolide, two of the major ISGs used in the asthma treatment.