Mentor Name:
Gregory Ducker

Mentor Position:
Assistant Professor




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 2022 begins on May 25 and ends on August 4. 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 2022 application.**

The transformation of a normal cell into a cancerous one necessitates a profound remodeling of cellular metabolism to support the proliferative phenotype. In perhaps no other tumor type is this change as all-encompassing as in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), wherein a very metabolically complex hepatocyte must transition its function away from supporting whole-body metabolism and towards tumorigenic growth. Changes in lipid metabolism are well documented in the development of steatohepatitis that precedes HCC, but whether and how altered lipid metabolism directly contributes to HCC remains unknown. In this project we are working in a zebrafish model to study changes in lipid metabolism that occur upon the transition from a normal cell to a cancerous one. Studying lipid metabolism in cancer is difficult and to address the important questions of not just what is different but how and why they are different, new tools and methods are needed. To address this challenge, our lab is developing new analytical methods to quantify not just steady-state levels of lipids, but also integrate isotope tracing to understand lipid metabolic fluxes. This project will utilize state-of-the-art mass spectrometry tools and is ideal for a student with a strong chemical and analytical background with a deep interest in cancer biology.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

The Ducker lab is a biomedical research laboratory conducting laboratory-based experiments in cancer research. The lab consists of graduate students, technicians and postdoctoral fellows. As an undergraduate student researcher, you will be asked to fully participate in the functioning of the research group. You will be assigned to work with a permanent lab member who will guide you day-to-day in your laboratory work. Examples of experiments that you may perform include genetic engineering of mammalian cells using CRISPR/ Cas9, the culture of human cancer cells in vitro, developing analytic methods for mass spectrometry and working with high complexity mass spectrometry data through simple coding in R. The student will read background papers and perform their own literature searches for information relating to their specific experiments and summarize that research in a presentation. The exact experiments that the student will perform will depend upon their specific skills/ interests and the current experiments in the lab over the summer experience. The lab has weekly group meetings in which lab members share their progress and the student will present his/her summer research at the end of the experience.

Student Benefits:

A summer research experience in my laboratory will help prepare the student for future laboratory work in academic or industry as well as expose them to medical research questions and techniques that may be helpful in applying to professional school in the health sciences. A summer in my laboratory may lead to the opportunity for additional work experience with me or another research PI and eventual publications which would be helpful for applying to a PhD program in the sciences. Prior undergraduate researchers in my group have gone on to PhD programs in pharmaceutical chemistry and technician jobs in research laboratories.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 25, 2022, and ends August 4, 2022

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 2022 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2022 and not graduating before December 2022; 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. U Dreamers with DACA will be hired and paid through U payroll. U Dreamers without DACA who graduated from a Utah high school will be compensated via a different mechanism. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate and will be hired and paid though U payroll. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but we do not currently have a mechanism that allows us to compensate you. 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 the University of Utah, 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 25-August 4, 2022). 4) at least 18 years old by May 23, 2022 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing).