Thanks to a collaboration between the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith and the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM), UAFS students had the opportunity to conduct hands-on research projects that could also lead to new treatments of neurodegenerative diseases and cancers.
This past semester, UAFS students Priscilla Devora, Christopher Mizell, Natalie Nguyen, Deborah Robertson, Brenda Rosales, and Mark Spradlin had the opportunity to work with ARCOM faculty Brandy Ree and Lance Bridges to analyze proteins that could play a role in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases, as well as how vitamin A derivates can be utilized as treatments for lymphoma.
The research was made possible through a biomedical research course taught by Dr. Jeff Shaver, associate professor of biological science at UAFS. The professor said the course gave students the opportunity to gain real-world research experience.
“One of the main goals is for our students to understand research and see the difference between research in a laboratory course and research with an institution like ARCOM,” Shaver said. “They’re doing much more background reading, research and planning. They’re finding out that in order to do research at this level, there’s a lot more trial and error than what they’ll see in a lab course.”
It also helped students like Rosales discover career paths. The Fort Smith native signed up for the course not knowing what she wanted to do after graduation. But after the eye-opening experiences in Shaver’s course, Rosales wants to go to grad school to continue cancer research and possibly obtain a position in a biomedical laboratory.
“In a classroom setting, you usually have a protocol and you know what the outcome is. But here in the lab, it’s always different,” she said. “There’s no protocol to the research. In a classroom setting, literature suggests a concentration and students use it as a guide, but at the ARCOM lab setting, that is what is unknown.”
Last month, Rosales’ group was recognized for their research when they won an award at the annual Student Research Symposium at UAFS.
In the fall, Shaver will offer an advanced biomedical research course for students from this semester’s course to continue their work, with the goal of eventually having upperclassmen students serve as mentors to students in the introductory research course. Shaver is also looking at opportunities for collaboration with other educational entities locally and statewide.
“This course has shown that our students are definitely interested in research,” he said. “I’m really not having to recruit for the class, because students are already talking to their peers about it and generating interest in the class.”