The Summer Undergraduate Program in Eye Research (SUPER) at Oakland University held its 20e annual student research symposium on Friday, July 29.
The highly selective 12-week program allows students to research the causes and potential cures for eye diseases – such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration and very rare inherited retinal diseases in infants – with guidance from faculty members at the university’s Eye Research Institute (ERI).
Using the latest scientific methodologies and equipment, students spent 30 hours per week conducting laboratory experiments and attending a weekly seminar on vision science given by ERI and the Beaumont Faculty of Ophthalmology. The students also received a research grant, as well as training in public speaking and professional presentation.
“We typically have five to seven students in the program, and applications from OU undergraduates are accepted through the ERI website each January,” said Dr. Kenneth Mitton, who has served as SUPER’s director since. 2003. “While some of our labs still had a few undergraduate assistants, the pandemic has not allowed us to run the program since 2019.
“This has been a very successful reboot of the full curriculum, which has seen over 100 OU undergraduates gain real-world research training experience and science communication training,” Mitton added. “Students in the program also had access to weekly presentations on ERI summer vision and biomedical sciences by ERI faculty and eye surgeons from the Department of Ophthalmology at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.”
This year’s SUPER students include:
|Gabrielle Abdelmessih, Alexander Seidel, Yasmeen Hassan and Paul Negoita|
• Paul Negoita, a senior who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Biology. He was mentored by Dr. Amany Tawfik, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences.
“In our lab, we do research on the retina and look at the cellular pathology of how high levels of homocysteine in the blood can cause age-related macular degeneration (AMD),” Negoita. “I am very interested in learning laboratory techniques and concepts that will eventually allow me to research other diseases in the future.”
• Gabrielle Abdelmessih, a senior who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science while minoring in journalism. She was mentored by Dr. Kenneth Mitton, Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences.
“We are currently sequencing eight genes implicated in rare pediatric retinal diseases to understand the contribution of rare and common genetic factors in their development,” Abdelmessih said. “As someone who aspires to be a doctor, I really enjoyed learning the clinical applications of next-generation sequencing.”
• Yasmine Hassan, a senior who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) degree in electrical engineering while studying biology. She was mentored by Dr. Dao-Qi Zhang, associate professor of biomedical sciences.
“My research focused on spontaneous wave activity in the developing retina and how various neurotransmitters can affect this activity throughout development in the mouse model,” Hassan said. “I also studied the directional selectivity function of retinal waves and my goal was to determine its origin and mechanism.
“Being interested in working in the medical field while pursuing a major in electrical engineering, it was particularly interesting to see who the two fields can intersect to provide comprehensive results regarding physiological function,” she added. “I was also able to see the results of my experiments in real time, and in the future I hope to further integrate my experiment and use software modeling to quantify these results.”
• Alexander Seidel, a senior who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in pre-medical studies. He was mentored by Dr. Andrew FX Goldberg, Professor of Biomedical Sciences.
• “I worked on a new technique to measure mouse cone photoreceptor populations,” Seidel said. “When light hits these photoreceptors, vision begins. My goal is to further refine the technique so that it can be applied to the study of eye disease.
Acceptance into the SUPER program is limited to OU students and is based on grades, a narrative, career goals, a letter of reference, and an interview with ERI faculty. Students learn the basics of research, including keeping a research notebook, problem solving, critical thinking, researching literature, and preparing a scientific paper. About 75% of SUPER graduates go on to medical school or graduate school.
“An ERI SUPER alumnus, Nahrain Putris, MD, is currently beginning an ophthalmology residency at Beaumont and is the first Oakland University alumnus to match this particular location,” Mitton said. “Several other SUPER alums are emergency physicians, ophthalmologists, neurosurgeons, medicinal chemistry researchers, and genetic counselors to name a few professions.”
To apply for the program, students submit a personal narrative outlining their career goals and interests, a letter of recommendation, transcripts, and a resume. They are also interviewed by ERI faculty members.
Those admitted to the program receive a research grant of $4,250. Students also attend a weekly seminar on vision science given by ERI and the Beaumont Faculty of Ophthalmology and receive training in public speaking and professional presentation.
To learn more about the Eye Research Institute at Oakland University, visit www.oakland.edu/eri.