The Undergraduate Research program at Oklahoma Christian University of Science and Arts has introduced students like Mangum's Misty (Young) Hsieh to research techniques in laboratories at Oklahoma Health Science Center.
"It's really neat. I have my own desk, there are boxes in the freezer that are my boxes.." Hsieh, from Mangum sounds like a new college student enjoying finally being on her own. But she isn't thinking about her new dorm room or apartment.
Hsieh's desk contains files with specific articles, photocopies and manuals about the research in which she is currently involved: an operation manual for the biolistic machine, notes on different techniques she's learned, a miscellaneous file for the research grant application.
In the freezer, which is kept at minus 20 degree Celsius, sits her box of carefully labeled microfuge tubes and reagents.
Last summer, Hsieh was the first student to work in the Undergraduate Research Program, which introduces OC students to biomedical research for 10 weeks at the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center (OUHSC) or the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) in Oklahoma City.
Hsieh, a graduate of the Oklahoma School of Sciences and Math in Oklahoma City, is currently a junior biochemistry major at Oklahoma Christian.
"I kept putting off the application process because I was thinking, 'well, someone else will get it, anyway,'" said Hsieh when she recalls her professors urging her to apply for the position last spring.
"Before I never thought about doing research seriously. There, you're around expensive equipment, which, if you break it, you can't fix it. And you're thinking that you've only had two years of college and now you're working with PhDs. It's intimidating."
Hsieh worked with Molly Hill, associate professor of biology at Oklahoma Christian, researching the relationship between vitamin D and osteoporosis, the "brittle bones" disease, which strikes older women more frequently than men. It is believed to be the results of imbalance in the bone formation and bone resorption.
Two types of cells in the bone are responsible for bone remodeling. Osteoblasts are responsible for new bone formation and producing factors that regulate activation of osteoclasts, which are responsible for bone resorption.
Hill studies the effects and interactions of steroid hormones, such as estrogen and vitamin D, in the regulation of bone formation by osteoblasts in the bone marrow.In older men and women, the deterioration of bone density occurs more rapidly than the body's ability to self-repair, which ultimately lead to greater risk of bone fracture.
Hill and her team, including Hsieh, focus their research on complement C3, which may be a key protein involved in maintaining the normal balance between bone formation and resorption. Complements C3 is produced by osteoblasts in response to vitamin D, and it is required to activate osteoclasts to resorb bone.
Hill's project description proposes that the regulation of osteoblasts as they produce C3 is perturbed by steroid hormones during the development of osteoporosis.
Hsieh's role in the research included everything from "washing dishes to "blasting cells"-inserting DNA into host cells via the biolistic machine, an instrument which uses pressure to "blast" purified gold-coated DNA particles into a prepared sample of cells for further study.
"When I first go there I thought that I'd be doing menial work," Hsieh said. "And I did run errands and put up orders, but so did Molly (Hill) and Kathy (Her laboratory technician)."
Hsieh continues to work with Hill, who also is an associate professor in radiation technology at the Health Sciences Center. Thanks to the program, Hsieh says she has learned to perform tasks that she never thought she could do before.
"Molly is very patient." Hsieh said. "She starts wherever you are and with what you know, and she knows what she's doing. I've never had her in a class; I imagine she'd be tough, but fair. Her philosophy is, 'You do these things to learn, not just for a grade.'"
Nine other students at the University are enrolled in Introduction to Research, a class started last fall, which is now a prerequisite for students applying for a summer position in the program.
Hsieh plans to take the MCAT for medical students this April, but says her experiences have been invaluable, building her self-confidence and strengthening her technical skills. She continues to work at OUHSC with Hill part-time during the school year.
Hsieh is the daughter of Lloyd and Pam Young of Mangum. In addition to her academic schedule, she is a member of Alpha Chi, a national honor society, Philiatros, the pre-med club on campus, and is the secretary for Beta Beta Sigma, a social service club on campus.
She also is the public relations director for Outreach, the missions outreach group on campus, and a residential assistant. Hsieh studied for a semester in South America on the 1993 Latin American Studies program and plans to return there this summer for Let's Start Talking, a study that teaches English using the Bible.