Scott Avecilla

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?
My specific area of research focuses on the interface of chemistry and biology, a field called Chemical Biology. We are interested in the synthesis, design and biological characterization of novel DNA binding ligands for use in gene modulation technologies. If we can successfully develop the ability to regulate gene expression, we may have within our grasp a new paradigm in human medicine. Certain cancers and viral infections can be turned from life threatening acute conditions to chronic, manageable disorders. By the targeting and manipulation of the genome, we can conceivably down regulate oncogenes (or genes related to the particular disease) to reverse the cancer state! My primary mentors are Professor Barbara Hamkalo (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, UCI) and Professor Michael Berns (Director, Beckman Laser Institute). With these mentors, I perform most of the biological characterization. However, in keeping with working at the chemistry-biology interface, we have set up a collaboration with Professor A. Richard Chamberlin's lab (Chemistry, UCI) for the synthesis of the compounds.
2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

I began my involvement in research the summer following my freshman year... I had met Dr. Hamkalo in a freshman seminar and she graciously invited me into her lab. That summer I learned many biochemical/molecular techniques under the direct supervision of a post doctorate researcher. My research experience was greatly enriched when I studied abroad in Denmark for a 6-month period... in addition to fascinating course work in the biomedical sciences, I was fortunate enough to embark upon an independent project on PNA (peptide nucleic acid). After my fruitful experience in Europe, I returned to UCI with a new outlook on research and I approached my faculty mentors with exciting research projects that I had designed.

3. How has research enhanced you education?

Research has been the true key to my success as a science student. The understanding of the experimental techniques employed in modern biological/chemical research has given me insight into the fundamental knowledge behind the textbook science often taught in lectures. Instead of simply memorizing the outcomes of experiments, I engaged the methodology and the actual experimental results to interpret for myself what was discovered. I have found research to be one of the most stimulating parts of my education at UCI.

4. What has been you favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

Recently, I have been characterizing the cellular uptake of a synthetic DNA binding ligand. In the scientific literature, there have been stunning reports of in vivo HIV-1 replication inhibition (greater than 99%) and other landmark findings that indicate that this synthetic molecule has the unprecedented ability to turn genes on and off. However, an obvious absence of the uptake characteristics of polyamide (in the literature) prompted us to answer that question. I have taken great satisfaction in the knowledge that some of the experiments that I have designed and performed were truly novel and cutting edge for the field. Now, as I prepare my findings it is so fulfilling to see that all the hard work and sleepless nights have amounted to a small advancement to human understanding

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

I am planning to pursue an MD/Ph.D. as the next phase of my education. After much deliberation, I have decided to attend the NIH funded Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at the Cornell/Rockefeller/Sloan-Kettering Tri-Institutional program starting this summer. The goal of training students in both medicine and science is to create a new generation of researchers capable of working at the increasingly vital interface between science and medicine. Individuals who can bridge the gap and effectively translate knowledge from both sides have a special insight into disease and the molecular aspects behind it, which could lead to new discoveries in medicine. In order to even begin such a long educational journey, it was necessary for me to know what modern research is like and if I would enjoy doing it. Happily, my experiences at UCI and abroad have given me a certain affirmative to that question!

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

Start early! As soon as you feel comfortable with your academic requirements (courses etc.) start to investigate what it is that interests you most. The next step would be to find faculty mentors that work in an area of interest. There are many resources for this of which UROP is the best organized. After meeting with prospective faculty mentors go to the lab that "feels" right (I know that this is not too scientific, but I would suppose that you would have picked professors that would make excellent mentors in the first round of selection). From there on, have FUN!

Research gives you the opportunity to be creative and independent at a time of your life when developing those attributes contributes heavily to one's success.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '99 Gina Rappleye
Nov. '99 Maria Rendon
Oct. '99 Scott Avecilla
Sep. '99 Peter Krutzik
Aug. '99 Raj Gopalakrishnan
Jul. '99 Christina Rahn
Jun. '99 Catharine Larsen
May '99 Han Kang
Apr. '99 Bonnie Pau
Mar. '99 Sharla Meeks
Feb. '99 Simin Bahrami
Jan. '99 Catherine Le
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