Category: Being a Scientist

Award-Winning Safety Training Videos Showcase Inclusivity in the Lab

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Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU’s) Center on Health Disparities and safety and risk management department in Richmond teamed up to develop a series of six lab safety training videos with supplemental funding to their NIGMS-funded Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program. The videos cover topics such as safety culture, biosafety, chemical safety, and emergency response, but what sets them apart is how they showcase diversity and inclusion in the lab.

The first video in the safety training series describes the importance of maintaining positive safety culture, which includes people’s perceptions and attitudes toward safety. This video, along with the other five, is on our NIGMS laboratory safety training and guidelines webpage.

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Making Microprotein Discoveries With Alan Saghatelian

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A headshot of Dr. Alan Saghatelian.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Alan Saghatelian.

“There aren’t many professions that can provide this much opportunity for learning, especially when it comes to understanding how our bodies work. I really love what I do—I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” says Alan Saghatelian, Ph.D., a professor in the Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. From studying new facts and experimental techniques to adopting new ways of thinking, researchers never stop learning, and Dr. Saghatelian credits his love for learning and exploring as reasons why he’s perfectly suited for science. He’s used these passions to build a successful career in biochemistry.

From Chemistry to Biology

Dr. Saghatelian’s love for chemistry began when he was young. He was drawn to how predictable it could be: Mix two chemical compounds in the same way and they’ll always combine to form the same substance, as dictated by the rules of chemistry.

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Curiosity-Driven Science: Q&A With Saad Bhamla

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What do worm blobs and insect pee have to do with human health? We talked to Saad Bhamla, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, to find out.

Q: What did your path to becoming a scientist look like?

A portrait shot of Saad Bhamla.
Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech.

A: I grew up in Dubai and did my undergraduate work in India, which is where I was first introduced to science. The science faculty members seemed to be having so much fun and would say things like “for the love of science,” but I couldn’t figure out what joy they were getting until I got a taste of it myself—then I was hooked. I like the idea that you can create a legacy doing science because someone can come along 100 years later and build on your work.

After undergrad, I went to Stanford University and earned my Ph.D. in the lab of Gerald Fuller, Ph.D., and then stayed at Stanford for postdoctoral work (postdoc) in the lab of Manu Prakash, Ph.D. In 2017, I joined the faculty at Georgia Tech. On paper, I’m a chemical engineer, but I describe myself as more of a biophysicist.

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Quiz: Do You Know Pharmacology Facts?

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This is the final post in our miniseries on pharmacology. Check out the others: “What Is Pharmacology?“, “What Happens to Medicine In Your Body?“, and “How Do Medicines Work?
Various pills spilling out of an orange bottle onto a blue background. A quiz question reads: What is pharmacology? Three blank answer options are below.
Credit: NIGMS.

Pharmacologists research how the body acts on medicines (e.g., absorption, excretion) and how medicines act in the body, as well as how these effects vary from person to person. NIGMS-funded pharmacology researchers are:

  • Conducting research to design medicines with fewer side effects
  • Exploring how genes cause people to respond differently to medicines
  • Developing new methods and molecular targets for drug discovery
  • Discovering medicines based on natural products
  • Understanding how medicines act using computers
  • Monitoring brain function under anesthesia to develop safer anesthetic medicines that reduce side effects
  • Creating artificial tissue to heal muscles after traumatic injuries
  • Investigating how to treat patients with sepsis
  • Measuring tissue damage from burns to help improve treatment options
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Understanding RNA-Modifying Enzymes: Q&A With Jeffrey Mugridge

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A portrait image of Jeffrey Mugridge.
Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Mugridge.

“One of the best aspects of research is the excitement of discovery, being the first person in the world to know a small detail about the system you’re studying,” says Jeffrey Mugridge, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Delaware in Newark. We talked with Dr. Mugridge about how a pet store job sparked his early interest in science, why he decided to change his career trajectory after graduate school, and what he believes is key to being a successful researcher.

Q: How did you first become interested in science?

A: My strong interest in science didn’t develop until I was in high
school—I wasn’t one of those kids who had a chemistry set or a deep love for dinosaurs or anything like that. But in high school, I worked in a pet store, where I learned a lot about aquarium science, including the ins and outs of managing water chemistry to keep fish alive. I also had a fantastic chemistry teacher who really helped me foster a love for the field.

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How Do Medicines Work?

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A person in a white lab coat and blue gloves touching a screen with a holographic human body and data readouts.
Credit: iStock.

What we put into our bodies can affect how they function and what they do. For example, a sugary snack will probably make you feel differently than a high-protein meal. Similarly, different medicines elicit different responses in your body, and pharmacologists try to fine-tune each medicine to balance the desired (on-target) with the undesired (off-target) effects—a branch of pharmacology called pharmacodynamics.

Most medicines work by binding to a molecular target, usually proteins like receptors or enzymes, and either blocking or supporting its activity, which results in their therapeutic effects.

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Claira Sohn Cultivates Neurons and Diversity in the STEM Community

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A headshot of Claira Sohn.
Credit: Courtesy of Claira Sohn.

Claira Sohn credits her grandfather with sparking her interest in science. Although he never studied science at a 4-year university due to financial limitations, he took many community college classes and worked in chemistry labs developing products such as hair dyes and dissolvable stitches. “Every morning, my grandfather would take me to school, and we’d stop to get orange juice and a cookie and talk about science. When I was in elementary school, he bought me a book about quantum mechanics written for kids,” she says. “He inspired me to ask questions and encouraged me to go to college.”

Claira enrolled at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff after graduating high school. She majored in biomedical sciences and planned to become a medical doctor until her microbiology professor talked to her about the possibility of a research career. “That was an epiphany for me, because while I knew that there was research going on in the world, I didn’t realize there could be a place for me there,” Claira says. During her junior year, she joined the lab of Naomi Lee, Ph.D., where she first experienced what it felt like to be a researcher.

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Diversity Supplement Program Paves the Way for Talented Researchers

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“I hope that one day I’m able to increase our understanding of evolution, and I also hope to increase access to research. I want others to know that this space is open to people who look like me, who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and who are underrepresented in the sciences,” says Nkrumah Grant, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate (postdoc) in microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing.

Dr. Grant’s work receives support from the NIGMS Diversity Supplement Program (DSP), which is designed to improve the recruitment and training of promising researchers from diverse backgrounds. Diversifying the scientific workforce can lead to new approaches to research questions, increased recruitment of diverse volunteers for clinical studies, an improved capacity to address health disparities, and many other benefits.

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Quiz: Sepsis Science

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Many oblong bacteria, some with a narrow band near their middle.
Bacteria are the most common triggers of sepsis.
Credit: Mark Ellisman and Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, University of California San Diego.

At least 1.7 million adults in the United States develop a life-threatening condition called sepsis each year. Sepsis is an overwhelming or impaired whole-body immune response that’s most often caused by bacterial infections. However, it can also be caused by viral infections, such as COVID-19 or influenza; fungal infections; or other injuries, including physical trauma.​​ Anyone can get sepsis, but there’s a higher risk for some people, such as those who are ages 65 and older, who have certain medical conditions, or who have recently experienced severe illness or hospitalization.

The early symptoms of sepsis can include fever, chills, rapid breathing or heart rate, disorientation, and clammy or sweaty skin. Because other conditions also have these symptoms, sepsis can be difficult to diagnose. NIGMS-supported researchers are working to increase our understanding of sepsis so that doctors can identify it more quickly and treat it more effectively.

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What Happens to Medicine in Your Body?

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Cutaway diagram of the human body (head, arms, and torso) showing the blood (arteries in red and veins in blue) and internal organs. Drug delivery is shown by intravenous drip with a blue arrow into the arm, medicine tablet with a black arrow into the mouth, and inhaler with a blue arrow through the mouth into both lungs. The life of the drug in the body is shown by black arrows from mouth to stomach, from stomach to liver, from liver to heart, from blood to kidney, and from liver to intestines.
Medicines administered orally, by inhaler, and intravenously enter the stomach, lungs, and veins, respectively. They’re absorbed, then circulate throughout the body in the blood, are processed by the liver, and excreted by the kidneys and intestines. Credit: NIGMS.

Have you ever wondered what happens inside your body when you take a medicine? An area of pharmacology called pharmacokinetics is the study of precisely that. Here, we follow a medicine as it enters the body, finds its therapeutic target (also called the active site), and then eventually leaves the body.

To begin, a person takes or is given a dose of medicine by a particular route of administration, such as by mouth (oral); through the skin (topical), mucous membranes
(nasal), or lungs (inhaled); or through a needle into a muscle (intramuscular) or into a vein (intravenous). Sometimes medicines can be administered right where they’re needed, like a topical antibiotic ointment on a scrape, but most medicines need to enter the blood to reach their therapeutic target and be effective. Those are the ones we’ll continue following, using the common pharmacokinetic acronym ADME:

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