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Lab work reinforces student's learning, career goals

July 16, 2010

Many students arrive at Colorado State University unsure of what they want to study or, just as often, begin in one major then graduate in something altogether different. But for Courtney Amerin, a research assistant in Jac Nickoloff's laboratory, such uncertainly never existed.

Fascinated by science

Courney Amerin, a recent biology grad, enjoyed working as a research assistant on campus.

From the time she was a child growing up in rural Fort Lupton, she was fascinated by science and knew she wanted to be a doctor. When the time came to go to college, she decided she wanted to go to the “best science school around,” and that was Colorado State University.

When Amerin arrived at CSU, she was accepted into the Honors Undergraduate Research Scholars program and eventually was placed in the laboratories of Marie Legare and Bill Hanneman in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences.

Excels in scientific details

Mentored by Amanda Ashley, a postdoctoral fellow in ERHS, Amerin quickly began to excel in the details of scientific discovery.

“I found that working in a research laboratory really complemented my interest in medical practice,” said Amerin. “I liked to investigate every possibility and look at new ways of approaching challenges.

"With Amanda, I was working to develop a new chemotherapy agent that worked different from current chemotherapy approaches and it was interesting to think how one day this basic laboratory research work might show up as a new clinical approach to cancer therapy.”

Safer human gene therapy protocols

From her laboratory work with Ashley, Amerin moved to Susan Bailey’s laboratory where she did a project with her mentor F. Andrew Ray, and then to Jac Nickoloff ’s laboratory where she currently works on Metnase and DNA repair processes. Metnase is a human fusion protein that promotes random DNA integration and the pathway that repairs double-strand breaks in DNA (nonhomologous end-joining), and it stimulates chromosome decatenation (unlinking) by Topoisomerase IIα.

Amerin investigates DNA repair processes.

Studies in Nickoloff’s laboratory may lead to more efficient and safer human gene therapy protocols. They also are investigating the new pharmaceutical neoamphimedine that will thwart the mechanism of Metnase and may be an important new therapeutic approach for the treatment of cancer.

Working in labs an advantage

“In working in the laboratories, I learned that I like biology in the laboratory more than in the classroom,” said Amerin.

“Just being able to apply what I was learning, and understand it in a much more practical way, I think gave me an advantage over students who weren’t involved in undergraduate research. It really was an important part of my overall experience at CSU.”

Dermatopathology career planned

Amerin graduated this spring with her Bachelor of Science in biology, and is now looking forward to attending Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Parker, Colo., this fall. She would eventually like to study dermatopathology (which will require a three-year residency plus an additional one to two years in dermatopathology training), and begin her own practice, but continue working in biomedical research as well.

Story originally published in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences Emmiter newsletter, Summer 2010.