Faculty Name:
Owen Chan

Internal Medicine

Faculty College:


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is the most serious acute complication in insulin-treated diabetes and it remains the limiting factor in maintaining proper glycemic control. The brain, and especially the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH), plays a crucial role in sensing hypoglycemia and initiating the physiological hormone responses to correct it. However, both recurring exposure to hypoglycemia and longstanding diabetes can impair the mechanisms that normally correct the fall in blood glucose levels. Our laboratory utilizes a combination of neuroscience (microdialysis, microinjection, optogenetics), metabolic (glucose clamps), genetic (targeted knockdown or overexpression), molecular biology (qRT-PCR, westerns, immunohistochemistry) and cell culture techniques to identify the neural mechanisms that are involved in the detection of hypoglycemia and understand how these central sensing mechanisms are impaired by recurring exposure to hypoglycemia and in diabetes.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

Students will have the opportunity to work alongside one of our research staff to learn techniques in rodent survival surgery and post-operative animal care. They will work closely with members of our research team to perform glucose clamp and microdialysis studies. In addition, they will also have the opportunity to learn various biochemical assays and molecular biology techniques and perform some data analysis. Remote Contingency Plan: COVID-19 has presented a tremendous challenge to students, educators and researchers alike. The research environment has had to adapt to the fluidity of the situation, and be able to move from basic bench work to remote research and data analysis in a short period. To accommodate these changes, our laboratory is working to acquire and bank both preclinical and some clinical data, so that data analysis can be performed if the need to work remotely arises. Students who participate in these undergraduate research programs can analyze data remotely as part of their training if they have to work remotely. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to watch surgeries and procedures remotely through interactive video streaming to gain a better understanding of the laboratory procedures that generated the data. In addition, the students will continue to participate in remote lab meetings and journal clubs where the will gain a better understanding of how to prepare and present a scientific presentation. As we will continue with the basic animal research, the project as described above will remain the same. Alternatively, we are also conducting a study looking at the impact of COVID-19 in diabetic patients. For this particular project, acquired plasma samples from COVID-19 patients are analyzed for the expression of specific genes that may increase the susceptibility of poorly-controlled diabetic patients to complications from SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Student Benefits:

Students will gain a basic understanding of diabetes pathology and about the complications that arise from insulin treatment. In addition, they will gain a better understanding of the complex brain circuits that are involved in regulating the hormone responses to hypoglycemia and how they are affected by diabetes and exposure to low glucose. In the lab, the students will have an opportunity to learn basic surgical techniques (implanting vascular catheters and some stereotaxic surgeries) as well as how to conduct metabolic clamp studies. Additionally, the students will gain experience in critical thinking and in preparing a scientific presentation.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.