Author Archives: Kailyn Valido

SURE-REU Program Cover Letter

Kailyn Janelle Valido
Kvalido@live.unc.edu
411 Skipper Bowles Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

March 9, 2016
SURE-REU Program
University of North Carolina
CB #7108
Chapel Hill, NC  27599-7100

Dear SURE-REU Selection Committee at UNC Chapel Hill:

My name is Kailyn Valido and I am a first year undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After reviewing the information regarding this molecular biosciences summer experience offered at UNC for undergraduate students, I believe that I would be a great fit for this ten-week laboratory research program.

I am a well-organized and meticulous student that is highly motivated. I am great at collaborating with others as well as problem solving, skills that are essential to thrive in this research experience.

The following achievements highlight my qualifications for this program:

  • A background in working with individuals in the medical field as I have participated in an internship with an immunologist, a Georgetown medical institute program, and a Congress of Future Medical Leaders convention
  • Leadership skills as I have been the captain on my competitive dance team for two consecutive years as well as a student ambassador in my high school
  • An admiration for new, unique experiences, exemplified by my high school intensive study abroad experience in Spain as well as my commitment to volunteering as a dance teacher and a retirement home assistant
  • Academic success, demonstrated by my position on the Dean’s List at UNC, as well as my past achievements as a National AP Scholar, RPI Medal Award Winner, and membership in several prestigious honor societies.

Along with these strengths, I am also extremely intrigued by the subject material being researched, which all fall under the umbrella of biology and chemistry. I am seeking a biology (B.S.) major and chemistry minor at UNC, and I am deeply intrigued by the multifaceted issues in the STEM field. I hope to go to medical school and ultimately become a physician, and I believe that this experience will further prepare me for the long and exciting journey ahead.

I hope you consider me as an addition to this program. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Kailyn Valido

SURE-REU Program at UNC Chapel Hill

This internship is a summer research experience for undergraduate students, which will take place at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In this program, students will participate in a ten-week laboratory research project in molecular biosciences, which include intriguing subjects such as biochemistry, genetics, and cell biology. If accepted into this program, I would be working in the lab for ten weeks alongside outstanding mentors, which include UNC faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows.

In addition to working extensively in the lab, I would also be attending informative workshops on applying to graduate school, a GRE prep course, presentations by invited speakers, workshops on research ethics, and other engaging, yet educational activities. At the end of the program, I will present the results of my research at the annual Summer Research Symposium and Poster Session.

This program starts on May 22nd at 5 p.m. and ends July 29th at 10 a.m. In this program, I would house in a dorm at UNC with students in similar research programs. This is not a paid program; I would, however, receive a stipend of $5000 that includes an allowance toward travel expenses. I will have to pay for housing and a meal plan, which is pre-paid through the program.

There is an online application for this program, which is due Monday, February 29th, 2016. This application requires information such as a personal statement, letters of recommendation, cumulative GPA, and an unofficial transcript. Preference will be given to undergraduates with little prior research experience. Additionally, students from underrepresented groups are strongly encouraged to apply.

This program evidently attains many strengths. It undoubtedly allows one to gain huge research experience in collaboration with other well-rounded, driven undergraduates along with intelligent mentors. There are many activities offered, such as the informative workshops, discussions, and presentations. It also helps that the location is at UNC, a place that is now very familiar and comfortable for me—a second home. Furthermore, the subjects being researched are conducive to my biology major and chemistry minor, which are subjects that really intrigue me. A weakness of this program would be that I am far away from home during the summer, a time when I am usually with my family. It will also be more expensive than a program in my hometown, since I have to pay for housing, meals, and the like.

Telomeres: Fountain of Youth or Grim Reaper?

Kailyn Valido

The majority of people dread the inevitability of aging, a genetically programmed process. It is evident that many wish that they could somehow rewind time to relive their 20’s and 30’s—a range of years where most people do not have wrinkles, graying hair, and frequent thoughts about the enigmatic nature of “The Great Unknown.”

What if one can extend this period of youthfulness and vivacity? What if one can delay this seemingly undesirable process of aging?

This is where the notion of telomeres comes into play.

Telomeres are essentially repeated sequences of DNA at the end of eukaryotic chromosomes. These sequences are in the form of repeated TTAGGG bases on one strand of DNA and AATCCC bases on the complementary DNA strand. Analogous to the plastic tips on shoelaces, telomeres ultimately provide the chromosome with protection—up to a certain point.

Synthesized by the enzyme telomerase, telomeres get shorter every time a cell undergoes division. Because there is not enough telomerase for somatic—or body—cells, the gene for telomerase is inactive and telomeres consequently shorten. The shorter the telomere length, the lesser amount of times a cell can divide. Once the telomeres become too short, the cell can no longer divide, and so it ages and inevitably dies.

For this reason, telomere shortening has been linked to the aging process. Through his research, geneticist Richard Cawthon at the University of Utah discovered that shorter telomeres correlate with shorter lives. Working with a group of people older than 60 years old, he and his colleagues found that those who had significantly shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease.

The main issue with this finding, however, relates to the correlation versus causation argument, in which it is commonly believed that correlation does not equal causation. Scientists are currently unsure of whether telomere shortening is merely a sign of aging, such as wrinkles, or an actual contributing factor.

If telomere shortening is proven to be a definite cause of aging, this information would be an immense breakthrough in the medical field. Scientists may be able to extend human lifespan greatly by somehow devising a mechanism to restore or preserve telomere length, allowing cells to divide more and not become senescent.

In a small-scale scientific study at the University of California at San Francisco, scientists wanted to research if telomere length can be affected by certain lifestyle changes. In this study, which began in 2008, 35 men who had early-stage prostate cancer were closely monitored. Ten men altered their lifestyle habits by having a plant-based diet, moderate exercise six days a week, and stress reduction exercises. Additionally, they attended a weekly support group. The 25 other men who had early prostate cancer were not asked to make any major lifestyle alterations.

After five years of surveillance, the 10 men with the lifestyle changes had an increase in telomere length by about 10 percent. In contrast, those 25 men who did not change any lifestyle habits had significantly shorter telomeres, about 3 percent shorter when the study was concluded.

This pilot study has major implications. Because of the small size of the study, however, the legitimacy of this research finding needs to be confirmed by more large-scale studies to assess the sample size and find repeatability in results. The scientists at UCSF hope to inspire larger research studies for confirmation.

The lead scientist in this study, Dean Ornish, MD, powerfully states, “Our genes, and our telomeres, are not necessarily our fate…[The] findings indicate that telomeres may lengthen to the degree that people change how they live.”

If scientists can preserve telomere length, one might be wondering then, will humans be able to attain that much desired Fountain of Youth and ultimately become immortal like many science fiction movies portray? Very unlikely.

Although the concept of telomere lengthening and preservation can potentially postpone aging, unnaturally active telomerase and incessant division of cells may be problematic. Cancer cells, for instance, escape their death by having a consistently active telomerase, preventing telomeres from shortening. This, in turn, allows these cells to grow an abnormal amount of times and form tumors. Scientists are aware that replicative aging of cells occurs to combat against these malignancies.

This complex part of telomerase and its product, telomeres, is what is still confounding experts today. If telomerase can be systematically lengthened to extend one’s lifespan, would that increase that person’s risk of cancer? Questions similar to these and their respective multifaceted issues are currently being explored. Perhaps one cannot delay the aging process without certain repercussions, such as a higher chance of having cancer.

Scientists, however, are still hopeful. Many are attempting to utilize the notion of telomeres as a target for cancer treatment. If they can find a way to shorten cancer cell telomeres and allow these cells to age and die, it can be revolutionary.

Some researchers have already started testing this in the lab with prostate cancer cells, but results had unfortunate consequences, such as significant impairment of both fertility and production of immune cells. Knowledge is still being gathered about how differentiation in normal cells and cancer cells can be related to telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.

Despite scientists’ extraordinary efforts in fighting against the aging process by manipulating and observing telomeres, the only seemingly possible result is to delay aging rather than terminating the process altogether. In addition to the preservation of life, research on telomeres could be a key to unlocking the cure to cancer— a colossal discovery that would prevent a lot of emotional, physical, and mental suffering in the world.

Query Letter: Telomeres and Their Association with Aging and Cancer

Kailyn Valido
Horton #333
411 Skipper Bowles Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
kvalido@live.unc.edu
February 4, 2016

Dear Ms. Boyd,

It has delightfully come to my attention that you are in need of an interesting, informative article for your Nature Genetics journal. I am a first-year student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill currently taking a class in genetics, and my recently written article on the revolutionary implications of telomeres in human DNA might just interest you.

The majority of people dread the inevitability of aging, a genetically programmed process. It is evident that many wish that they could somehow rewind time to relive their 20’s and 30’s—a range of years where most people do not have wrinkles, graying hair, and frequent thoughts about “The Great Unknown.” What if one can extend this period of youthfulness and vivacity? What if one can delay this seemingly undesirable process of aging?

This is where the notion of telomeres comes into play. Telomeres are essentially repeated sequences of DNA at the end of eukaryotic chromosomes. These sequences are in the form of repeated TTAGGG bases on one strand of DNA and AATCCC bases on the complementary DNA strand. Analogous to the plastic tips on shoelaces, telomeres ultimately provide the chromosome with protection—up to a certain point.

Synthesized by the enzyme telomerase, telomeres get shorter every time a cell undergoes division. Because there is not enough telomerase for somatic—or body—cells, the gene for them is inactive and telomeres consequently shorten. The shorter the telomere length, the less amount of times a cell can divide. Once the telomeres become too short, the cell cannot divide, and so it ages and inevitably dies.

For this reason, telomere shortening has been linked to the aging process. Scientists, however, are still unsure of whether telomere shortening is merely a sign of aging, such as wrinkles, or an actual contributing factor. If telomere shortening is proven to be a definite cause of aging, this information would be an immense breakthrough in the medical field. Scientists may be able to extend human lifespan greatly by somehow devising a mechanism to restore or preserve telomere length.

In my article, I will discuss small-scale scientific studies exploring the implications of telomere length and aging in the context of lifestyle habits, such as a healthy diet, exercise, and meditation. I will, however, explore the more troubling connection between telomeres and cancer. Cancer cells escape their death by having a consistently active telomerase, preventing telomeres from shortening. This in turn allows these cells to grow an abnormal amount of times to form tumors. If telomeres can be lengthened to extend one’s lifespan, would that increase a person’s risk of cancer? Perhaps, but scientists remain hopeful and are even trying to utilize telomeres as a target for curing cancer.

I hope you consider my article as an addition to your journal. It would be a great fit due to its intriguing relevancy and informational nature.

Sincerely,
Kailyn Valido

Telomeres: Aging and Cancer- Annotated Bibliography

“Are Telomeres the Key to Aging and Cancer?” Genetic Science Learning Center.  University of Utah Health Sciences. Web.

Published by the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Utah, this article is primarily about the notion of telomeres, which are ultimately repeated sequences of DNA on the end of chromosomes. Telomeres exist to provide the chromosomes with protection, much like the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces provide protection to the laces. Every time a cell undergoes division, telomeres get shorter. When a telomere gets too short, the cell can no longer divide, which results in cell death. Because of this, telomere shortening is associated with the process of aging, cancer, and death. This article essentially explains how telomere shortening is related to aging and cancer, and then proceeds to give scientific studies on how the length of one’s telomeres can affect one’s lifespan and susceptibility to illnesses like cancer.

 

Fernandez, Elizabeth. “Diet, Meditation, Exercise Can Improve Key Element of

Immune Cell Aging, UCSF Scientists Report.” Lifestyle Changes May Lengthen

Telomeres, a Measure of Cell Aging. University of California San Francisco,

  1. Web.

This article, published by scientists at University of California at San Francisco and supported by the National Institute of Health and National Cancer Institute, describes a small scientific study that reveals that changes in one’s lifestyle—such as a healthy diet, stress reduction, and frequent exercise—can lengthen one’s telomeres, a huge finding. Longer telomeres are associated with less diseases and a larger lifespan. The fact that one can alter his or her telomere length by some degree illustrates that one’s genetic material is not necessarily his or her fate. These scientists hope that their study inspires larger studies that encompass more people and more factors to confirm the finding that an increase in telomere length can indeed increase the human population’s lifespan—a concept that can be a breakthrough in the medical world.

 

“Scientists Begin to Unravel the Mysteries of Aging.” Today’s Science. Infobase

Learning, Mar. 1998. Web.

This article, published by Today’s Science, provides information on the job of the enzyme telomerase, which is a protein that counteracts the telomere shortening that occurs with every cell division by consistently adding more DNA sequences to the telomeres. This enzyme is only found in reproductive, fetal, and cancer cells, but not in somatic cells, which are also known as body cells. In body cells, the gene for this enzyme is completely turned off and nonfunctioning. Scientists are proposing that if they can find a way to turn on the gene in these somatic cells, perhaps these cells can divide indefinitely. This would ultimately postpone the process of aging for humans. Scientists are also looking at how telomerase can be utilized to rejuvenate cells that are deteriorating, as well as to improve cancer treatments.

 

 

 

Shay, Jerry, and Woodring E. Wright. “Roles of Telomeres and Telomerase in

Cancer.” Journal List. US National Library of Medicine, 2011. Web.

 

Published through Seminars Cancer Biology, this scientific article provides more detail on how cancer is related to the repeated DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes called telomeres. In cancer cells, telomerase activity is almost always present, allowing these cells to divide incessantly, and ultimately permitting the tumor to become larger and larger. These seemingly immortal cancer cells are the reason why scientists are looking into the enzyme, telomerase, for not only cancer diagnosis, but also for cancer treatment. Currently, it is widely accepted that the process of aging serves to prevent malignancies like cancer. With the complex knowledge of telomeres and telomerase, scientists today are attempting to unearth an effective way to both treat and possibly cure cancer, as well prolong aging—a challenging task.

Autism Reading

In today’s reading, it stated that decades ago, doctors have struggled with patients who are intellectually disabled. Back then, most called them “idiots”– because they did not know any better– and did not seem to think there was hope with these types of patients. There were no special schools or educational programs to help them prosper. Many of these patients were mentally challenged in some areas, but were extremely knowledgable (more than the average human) in other areas, which bewildered many physicians. For example, one patient was unable to speak properly in social situations, but was phenomenal with numbers and mathematical equations. Today, this is called “autism.” With the help of the main doctor mentioned, Howe, he was able to provide for these patients and build educational spaces for them to succeed in their lifetime.