Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s emphasis on fostering undergraduate research opportunities and its faculty’s commitment to living the teacher-scholar model were on full display during the Illinois Pharmacists Association’s (IPhA) September meeting.
SIUE School of Pharmacy Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences Professor Ronald Worthington, PhD, and two student researchers, Brentsen Wolf, of Belleville, and Gregory Takacs, of Trenton, received statewide acclaim at the IPhA meeting, earning first place for scientific merit for their research entitled, “Association of Synonymous Mutation Codon Frequency Changes with Levels of Protein Expression in Breast Cancer Cells.”
Wolf is a second-year pharmacy student and Takacs is a senior biological sciences major with an emphasis on genetics and cell biology. Takacs is participating in the project through SIUE’s unique Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) program. Wolf was previously an URCA Assistant.
“I am thrilled that my students received such acclaim from a professional organization that is normally focused on important clinical research, but in this case honored a basic science research effort,” Worthington said. “They have been eager participants and have contributed many brilliant insights that were completely original to my thinking on the project.”
Both Wolf and Takacs have been involved in this research for two years or more, gaining insights into scientific practice, literature and application.
“The majority of my involvement in this research entailed collecting data, creating figures and spreadsheets, and most importantly, utilizing bioinformatics as a tool to predict synonymous mutation effects in respect to breast cancer,” Takacs explained. “This research has kindled my desire for science.”
“It is a fantastic feeling to be involved in scientific collaboration,” Wolf added. “I was highly involved in the biological application of the data and, in particular, helping create bridges between the data and pharmacologic applications.”
Worthington underscores the growth students experience when being wholly invested in a research project.
“Our students at SIUE are remarkably talented and driven by their interest in science and larger societal goals of improving medicine and human lives,” Worthington explained. “Through valuable research opportunities, they become challenged to think in creative ways that move them beyond the dogmatic concepts we professors tend to teach.”
It is Worthington’s teaching and mentorship that Wolf and Takacs say has prepared them for successful futures.
“Perhaps the most valuable trait Dr. Worthington brings to the team is that of taking student input seriously and stepping up at all teachable moments,” Wolf said. “He regards our comments, suggestions and questions highly, and never fails to further our understanding in response to each. We are grateful for this, as we have a much deeper understanding of our research thanks to his behavior.”
“Both Brentsen and I strive to be well-rounded scientists like Dr. Worthington,” Takacs added. “The major takeaways from this research project are that hard work pays off, research is important for the understanding and growth of complex issues, and research allows you to grow into a more resilient scientist.”
“I hope the students will want to pursue this line of study to develop their careers, or at least teach this to their colleagues and students going forward, so that others will appreciate the importance of our lessons,” Worthington concluded.
The team was strongly encouraged by IPhA officials to present their research at the annual meeting of the American Pharmacists Association in March 2019 in Seattle, and they have submitted an abstract for presentation.
Photo: (L-R) SIUE student researchers Brentsen Wolf and Gregory Takacs earned first place for scientific merit at the Illinois Pharmacists Association September meeting.