Lorrel Brown

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?
I conduct research under the mentorship of Dr. Sudhir Gupta and Dr. Leman Yel in the College of Medicine, Department of Immunology here on the UCI Campus. Our exciting project is investigating the effects of mercury on neuronal cells. This project was sparked by alarm over a compound known as Thimerosal, a mercury-containing vaccine preservative. People were concerned that Thimerosal was contributing to the onset of Autism in children, as neurological damage consistent with mercury poisoning was evident in Autistic patients.

We have been examining the specific pathway by which mercury causes neuronal cells to undergo a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death. We have found evidence to support our hypothesis that mercury does cause apoptosis via the mitochondrial pathway, and now we are working to delineate the step-wise mechanism of this pathway.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

During the spring quarter of my freshman year, after hearing much about the UROP program and the availability of on-campus research for undergraduates, I searched online for faculty currently performing research in my areas of interest. After attending several interviews with different faculty members, I met with Dr. Sudhir Gupta. I was originally interested in joining his lab because they had conducted research in the past on chronic fatigue, a condition from which my mother suffers. Dr. Gupta informed me that while they were not currently researching chronic fatigue, they were about to begin a project dealing with mercury poisoning. Immediately I was interested because my mother also suffers from mercury poisoning, and this connection gave me personal stake in our research findings. After the summer vacation, I joined Dr. Gupta's lab and have been working there since.

3. How has research enhanced you education?

Research is as vital a part of my scientific education as the classes I take. They walk hand-in-hand, augmenting each other and providing me with a balanced, broad foundation of scientific knowledge. In class, I learn the current state of knowledge about cellular processes, molecular mechanisms, and theory behind experimental techniques. I then go to the lab where I actually perform these techniques and apply my knowledge of biology to a new, unsolved mystery of the human body in an attempt to add to the scientific body of knowledge. I am a stronger student because of my experience in research, and I am a better researcher because of my training as a biologist.

4. What has been you favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?
After nearly six months of being trained in the lab, I had finally reached a stage of relative independence in which I was able to perform the experiments for our project completely on my own. After one particularly long experiment and protocol, Dr. Yel called me into her office with a surprise. She showed me the most beautiful pictures I had ever seen -- I wanted to take them home and display them on my wall! Amazingly, these pictures actually showed the process of a cell "committing suicide," as it were. The shrinking size, the fragmentation of DNA, the disruption of the mitochondria - all these things were evident in these pictures. But the most amazing feature of all was that I was responsible for these pictures, I had made them possible by my experimentation! It was a thrill that I will never forget.
5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

After graduating from UCI, I plan on going to medical school to become a physician. While clinical practice will be a large part of my life, I would not be satisfied if this were my only involvement in medicine and science. I plan on being actively engaged in biomedical research, perhaps in the area of migraine headaches or genetically engineered organs for surgical transplantation. I also hope to serve as an ethical and moral voice in the medical community, shaping policy for the future both on issues of public health and research guidelines. I want to live at the interface between public service, medicine, and biomedical research. Being involved in research as an undergraduate has revealed to me a side of medicine I never had considered for my future. My experience has also convinced me of my desire to be involved in this vital aspect of medicine.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

Find your passion and get involved, NOW! It is relatively easy to find a faculty mentor who is conducting research in an area of your interest. Using the web site, find this faculty member, read some of his or her published articles, and set up a meeting with them. As you present yourself, remember that faculty members are generally more than willing to have students come and work with them. The arrangement benefits your mentor as much as it benefits you. Treat the faculty with respect, but do not be intimidated. Get out there and get involved!

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '02 Ping Chen
Nov. '02 Sanjay Naran
Oct. '02 Alana Shilling
Sep. '02 Michael Vongphoe
Aug. '02 Ryan Wright
Jul. '02 Adrian Fernandez
Jun. '02 Allen Andres
May '02 Elizabeth Tsai
Apr. '02 David Bear
Mar. '02 Lorrel Brown
Feb. '02 Jiri Herrmann
Jan. '02 Kathi Hamor
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