COLUMBUS, Miss. – In addition to gaining valuable research experience this summer, Mississippi University for Women students were able to present their findings at the Fifth Biennial National IDeA Symposium of Biomedical Research Excellence held in Washington, D.C.


Four students and two faculty members from The W’s Department of Sciences and Mathematics presented their research at the NISBRE, a national research forum for 24 states receiving an Institutional Development Award by the National Institutes of Health.

Nadeema Appukutti of Sri Lanka; Ariel Finch of Pickens County, Ala.; Oluwabukola Omotola of Nigeria; and James Osborne of Lowndes County were accompanied by their instructors Dr. Ghanshyam Heda, associate professor, and Dr. Ross Whitwam, professor of biology. It was the second trip for Finch, a recent graduate who studied biology while at The W.

This summer, Appukutti and Omotola worked in Dr. Heda’s lab, while Osborne worked in Dr. Whitwam’s lab. Osborne also was the recipient of a summer research internship funded by the Mississippi-INBRE.

Students in the Dr. Heda’s lab conducted fundamental research on cystic fibrosis, using human lung cells as their model. Students cultured the cells in the lab and used a variety of biochemical techniques.

Dr. Whitwam’s lab involved basic research into infectious proteins called prions, which in humans cause neurodegenerative diseases similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.  Students in Dr. Whitwam’s lab used simple baker’s yeast to study the properties of the prions in a non-dangerous setting.

Heda said, “Undergraduate research experience is extremely useful to students who like to advance their careers by attending graduate and/or medical schools. For the students who would like to enter the job market directly after graduation, this will give them an edge over other candidates.”

He added that undergraduate research experience is rare, even at larger research universities. 

W Students at IDeA“Thanks to research funds from Mississippi-INBRE, we are able to provide this experience to a select few and the funds are allowing us to train some of the future scientists in the state of Mississippi.” 

Appukutti is working with Dr. Heda’s biochemistry research group for a second summer.

“I am really glad to have this opportunity to get involved in scientific research, and I am grateful to my supervisor for all the guidance given to me during the project,” she said. “In addition to all of the knowledge I gained, I was exposed to practical science experience, and I feel that research is what broadened my horizons and taught me how to be a thinker.”

Editor’s Note:

The Mississippi INBRE program is supported by Award Number P20 GM103476 from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences. The content of this website is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences or the National Institutes of Health.

July 17, 2014
Contact: Anika Mitchell Perkins
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