The Scoop on Grants

The following students were recipients of the Vanice, Glen W. and Keith G. Reid Endowment for Scientific Research in Biomedical Fields at Brigham Young University. Their selection for this grant came about through their ORCA (Office of Research & Creative Activities) grant application.

By Estée Crenshaw

Vera Mayhew

Can you give us a summary of your project?

My project will investigate the influence that lupus status has on cancer susceptibility by observing whether lupus-prone mice are more resistant to carcinogenesis than control mice. I will also analyze electronic medical records to find correlations between disease onset, drug treatment, and cancer development in lupus patients. Studies have found lupus patients to have increased incidence of certain cancers. However, it has been difficult thus far to distinguish whether this increased cancer risk is due to endogenous lupus factors, or due to the effects of the immunosuppressive drugs administered to patients.

If our hypothesis is correct and the presence of lupus symptoms can be correlated with higher tumor susceptibility, this will identify the need for further research into the mechanisms of cancer development and its interplay with the immune system. If we see no significant difference between the reaction of lupus-prone and non-lupusprone groups, these findings would emphasize the need to reevaluate the side effects of drugs used in lupus treatment, as it suggests that the higher rates of cancer observed in lupus patients may be due to immunosuppressant use.

What was the application process like?

The application process was identical to the ORCA grant process, which requires a thorough project proposal indicating the significance of the project, what contributions this project will make to your field, a detailed explanation of what experiments you will conduct in the study, and your qualifications for conducting this study. This requires working closely with a research mentor, as they have far more expertise in the field. I know that I would not have been able to produce a satisfactory proposal without consulting with my mentor about what possible methods we could use, and if my ideas made sense.

How will receiving a grant enable you to extend your educational opportunities?

This grant allows me to pursue a research project that I am deeply interested in, and gain a better understanding of what it means to be a researcher. My goal after graduating from BYU is to continue with my education and earn a Ph.D. so that I can become a cancer researcher. Thus, having the experience of planning experiments, adjusting protocols as needed, and submitting grant proposals will be an extremely valuable experience.

What would you say to encourage other students to pursue grants?

The idea of planning and conducting your own research project is intimidating—or at least it was for me. When I first became involved in research, I felt like I had no idea what was going on. However, as I have had the opportunity to plan my own project, I have gained a greater understanding of the scientific process and experimental methods. This understanding has enriched my education more than I can express. You can learn so much more from actively being involved in research than you ever can in a classroom. So don’t be afraid to pursue grants and research—it is challenging, but you will grow as a result of it.

Chris Tuttle

What was the application process like?

I originally applied for an ORCA grant and therefore automatically qualified and was considered for other awards through the College of Life Sciences. The application process was somewhat rigorous: coming up with a research project, developing that project, writing up the application, reviewing the write-up with my mentor— Dr. James Johnston—fine tuning all of the details, and submitting it for consideration. Even though it was somewhat lengthy, it was worth it to get a head start on the project and qualify for multiple forms of funding. It definitely paid off.

Any other thoughts on this experience?

Doing mentored research has been one of the greatest experiences I have had at BYU, and it helped make my undergraduate education complete. I have learned a great deal from both the research and from the example of my mentor. I will forever be blessed by it and would encourage anybody within the College of Life Sciences to highly consider doing mentored research. You will not regret it.

Can you give us a summary of your project?

My project is specifically looking at the amount of dust children ages seven to eleven are exposed to due to their physical activity within the home. Dust generally sits in reservoirs such as carpet and upholstered furniture, but this dust can be resuspended in the air due to physical activity. This is something called the personal dust cloud theory. Because children are lower to the ground than adults, they are likely to inhale more dust. There are several things we hope to accomplish in this study. We hope to find and prove a better way of measuring children’s physical activity in the home. We hope to correlate forms of physical activity directly with increased exposure to suspended dust in the air.

We also hope to achieve academic ambitions, such as publishing our findings in a respected peer-reviewed journal and presenting them in different conferences within the United States. We also have long-term goals of contributing to the overall understanding of indoor dust exposure and how this affects the development of asthma and other respiratory diseases in children. We feel this is very significant, because asthma is currently the leading chronic disease of children in the United States. We also hope that this research will open up pathways for future research ideas and discoveries.

How will receiving a grant enable you to extend your educational opportunities?

Doing research with Dr. James Johnston of the Health Science department has been a great blessing to me, because I have been able to learn a lot about the scientific process, environmental health, and conducting research studies. Even more so, this research has blessed me with great friendships and counseling concerning my educational and other future endeavors. I currently have a year left of school and twins on the way. This grant helps me have some peace of mind concerning finances and gives me the ability to continue putting forth great effort towards research and qualifying myself for future schooling.

Benjin Facer

What was the application process like?

The application process was simple. It actually came about as a result of my applying for an ORCA grant. All I needed was a twopage summary of my project, including a rough timeline. The first thing my mentor, Dr. Jonathan Alder, and I did was sit down and write out a simple project outline. It wasn’t anything fancy, just the basics. From that outline, we created a short grant proposal and added a few details. Dr. Alder and I each contributed, sent a few drafts back and forth, and then turned it in! The hardest part was deciding what exactly the goals would be for the project, but Dr. Alder helped a lot with that.

Can you give us a summary of your project?

One of the dangerous things about cancer cells is that they are immortal. The majority of human cells have a lifespan that is limited by the shortening of telomeres. Telomeres are like little caps that protect the DNA. Over time, these caps wear away, and eventually normal cells will die. Cancer cells find a way to extend their lifespan by elongating their telomeres. Our aim is to explore these pathways and uncover a little more about how this process works.

My goal is to identify new variants, or mutations, in the cancer’s DNA that allows it to extend the telomeres. We are looking specifically at mutations in a protein called POT1, which is part of a complex protein called shelterin that normally binds to the telomere. Some cancer cells have shown mutations in this region, so we will test to see if there is a causal relationship between the mutation and telomere lengthening. By learning more about how cancer cells extend their life, we come one step closer to learning how to turn this function off.

What would you say to encourage other students to pursue grants?

You can’t get a grant if you don’t apply for it! There is no harm in applying for grants or scholarships, it doesn’t cost you anything but time. I have gotten a very small percentage of the scholarships I have applied for, but with each application you learn something new that will help you the next time.