Biochemistry junior’s work pays off with internship at OMRF - The University of Tulsa
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Biochemistry junior’s work pays off with internship at OMRF

Student using tools in science labAndy Gamez-Rico, a junior biochemistry major at The University of Tulsa, dedicated his summer to an internship with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) in Oklahoma City, where he worked on experiments that could lead to future cancer treatments. His chief responsibilities involved conducting DNA fluorescence in situ hybridization (DNA-FISH) experiments. To ensure the well-being of the cancer cells essential for his research, Gamez-Rico also maintained cell cultures.

“My primary project was to observe variability in genome folding within cancer cells, specifically the HCT116 cell line, colorectal carcinoma cells,” Gamez-Rico explained. This gave rise to two subtasks: first, determining whether cancer cells exhibited more variability than normal cells (IMR90 cell line, or immortalized non-cancer human lung fibroblasts); and second, investigating whether genome organization was heritable in cancer cells.

“By using DNA in situ hybridization, we measured inter-loci distances between three loci to measure specific chromatin loops in individual cells,” he added. “It was fascinating to be able to use this method to understand more about the behavior of tumors and their inherent heterogeneity.”

Finding success in the lab

Throughout his internship, Gamez-Rico developed essential skills and learned complex methodologies. Initially unfamiliar with DNA-FISH, he also learned the ropes of the cell culture room, navigating diverse chemicals and reagents, understanding what they do and how to preserve them.

Analyzing the distances between loci in various cells required Gamez-Rico to employ various statistical programs. His work in the cell cycle and cancer biology department exposed him to different epigenetic modifications and areas of genetics, enriching his learning experience at OMRF.

Gamez-Rico’s internship was not without challenges. In fact, his first two attempts at DNA-FISH yielded no results: “It was frustrating, but I went in knowing I was going to mess up. That’s how experiments go.”

Eventually, Gamez-Rico pinpointed the issue. “Performing DNA-FISH on a sparse number of cells doesn’t work the best, especially under normal parameters,” he said. In trying to create subcolonies of cells, Gamez had to change different parameters and optimize other solutions to allow DNA-FISH to work in sparse cells.

With the loci at last visible under the microscope, Gamez-Rico could proceed. “Now we know how to get DNA-FISH to work and how to study variability through subclones,” he said. “By overcoming these challenges, I was able to discover preliminary data that suggests heritability in the genome organization in HCT116 cells.”

Collaborative support

During his internship, Gamez-Rico partnered with other passionate scholars in biomedical research. Witnessing OMRF’s contribution to the research community underscored the importance of their findings in scientific progress for Gamez-Rico. He spoke highly of the collaborative environment, noting in particular his mentor, Dr. Elizabeth Finn: “She was a great mentor, and working in her lab has inspired me to continue biomedical research in the future.”

Gamez-Rico found incredible support in Finn’s lab, where research technicians Meg Butler and Lexi Edwards helped him through the experimentation portion of his project. Finn guided him through the moving parts. “Trying to understand all the intricacies wouldn’t have been possible without Dr. Finn,” he said.

He also expressed gratitude to Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Angus Lamar for helping him obtain the internship. Gamez-Rico impressed Lamar in the professor’s organic chemistry courses last year.

“He combines a strong work ethic with a genuine enthusiasm for science, and I’m certain he’s headed for great things,” Lamar said. “I’m confident Andy served as an excellent ambassador for our university while at OMRF, and I’m excited to see what his summer experience will lead to.”

Advice for aspiring researchers

Student using tools in labFor students interested in interning in medical research, Gamez-Rico recommended considering the Fleming Scholar program. “It’s a great way to get involved in biomedical research and get hands-on experience,” he said.

Gamez-Rico noted that medical research involves substantial waiting, reading, occasional setbacks, and more waiting. Nevertheless, he emphasized that OMRF provides a supportive environment and an enjoyable experience. “If you’re considering a medical research internship, it’s OK for things to go awry and for confusion to set in. It’s all part of the process.”

Are you interested in pursuing the field of medical research? The University of Tulsa is equipped with the faculty and resources you need to have the best possible experience. To learn more, visit the Oxley College of Health & Natural Sciences and explore all the incredible programs it offers.