Friday, January 26, 2018

Now accepting application for Summer 2018

We are currently accepting applications for the upcoming summer.  We have 5 positions available within the SURF program and 12 within the SURES program.  I am currently confirming the availability of the faculty mentors and have recruited a few new ones.  I am also working on some new activities and tours. 

The applications are available here.  You may also access it from the Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky website (Summer Internships).

Let me know if you have any questions,

Dr. Swanson

Monday, August 28, 2017

Ownership of Research Masterpieces by Brittany Rice

     A few days prior to the research poster presentations, SURE students were told to prepare an elevator pitch for the promotion of “their science.” This pitch was suggested to ensure the students could effectively communicate their research and findings to all members of the audience, and included answers to the following questions:
  • -        What is being investigated?
  • -        Why is it being investigated?
  • -        How was the investigation conducted?
  • -        What was found during the investigation?
  • -        What directions should future investigations take based on current findings?

This pitch, as well as detailed elaborations of the students’ research, was given to several members in varying disciplines of the science community last Friday at UK’s Hilary J. Boone Center. The discussions of research findings were accompanied by the students completed research poster masterpieces. Posters were aesthetically pleasing and complimented research discussions with a “picture” of depth balanced with simplicity. Poster topics ranged from “Tobacco-free Youth Advocacy Programs in a Rural, Low Socioeconomic Status Community” to “Characterizing insulin receptors using immunochemistry in aging rodents treated long-term with intranasal insulin.”
Students discussed their science with the different members of audience for two hours and received positive feedback on their presentations. What was amazing was the enthusiasm and ownership of students regarding their work. If an individual is a trained and focused scientist, it is challenging to convince them of the importance of research outside of their area of expertise. However, after hours of engaging discussions, the widening of the mind and opening of the eyes of others (including myself) occurred. This alone is a testament to how involved and effective the students’ talks were. The culmination of the research projects described not only alerted me to the environmental contribution to health, but also of the many facets of environmental health research.
The effort, mastery, and ownership of the students displayed during the poster session is evidence of the success of the 2017 Summer Undergraduate Research in Pharmacology and Environmental Sciences Program.

Brittany Rice, M.S.
Nutritional Sciences Doctoral Student

Graduate Research Assistant

Color Me Science by Brittany Rice

Whoever thought science could be so colorful? On August 3rd, SURE students begin to “paint” their masterpieces. These masterpieces were to demonstrate their summer research. In constructing these works, students had to follow a template that consisted of a stroke of abstract, stroke of introduction/background, stroke of method and results, and a stroke of conclusion and future directions.
As any novice, the students struggled at first. Students toured UK Medical North Building and viewed posters on various research topics to incite their inner artist. Upon touring, students discussed the different “brush strokes” in each work of art (research poster presentation). No two posters were alike, and varied in detail and visual depiction of research investigations. Despite the individuality of each poster, the formula for its construction remained the same. With more perspective and insight, students begin to tackle the initial sketches (draft) needed for the completion of their masterpiece (research poster presentation).
Once sketches were completed, students took their science from off the “paper” onto the lab coat. Yes, you read it correctly... As a scientist, one must be creative, detailed oriented, and communicate effectively. In an exercise to further develop these skills, students tie dyed lab coats. Tie dying lab coats is not an easy task. The striations and colors of dye are determined by the banding pattern chosen. To ensure the successful execution of this exercise, the students worked collaboratively and according to their strengths. A few students disseminated the instructions to the masses, while a handful of students helped with the banding patterns. Some students even volunteered to do the dying for those who struggled with coordination of colors.

The students were left with the task to rinse and dry lab coats, as well as complete their research poster presentation masterpieces. On August 11th, the students will wear their uniquely designed lab coats and present their summer research. Overall, this experience was colorful in the literal and figurative sense. 

Brittany Rice, M.S.
Nutritional Sciences Doctoral Student

Learning about using biotechnology to develop drugs, becoming an MD/PhD and environmental engineering

   Our discussions during the penultimate week of our program involved three very successful individuals who are engaged in quite different careers.
    On Monday, the SURF students met with Dr. John Littleton.  Dr. Littleton first became interested in pharmaoclogy's interest in pharmacology began when he was a medical student.  Upon receiving his MD and PhD, he embarked on a research career studying alcohol dependence and neuroprotection.  When he arrived at the University of Kentucky, he became interested in using biotechnology to develop screening methods for identifying natural products to use as novel drugs.  This led to the establishment of his company, Naprogenix.
     The SURF and SURES students then met with Dr. Susan Smyth who is the Director of the Gill Heart Institute and Director of the MD/PhD program at the University of Kentucky.  Dr. Smyth's research focuses on cardiovascular disease.  She talked about her training experiences and how invaluable her mentors were to her career success.  She also discussed the MD/PhD program and the strategies that she uses to balance her career as a clinician and researcher with her family life.
     On Tuesday, the SURES students met with Dr. Kelly Pennell. Dr. Pennell talked about her interests in environmental engineering and her career path that led her from being an environmental consultant to her current activities studying the fate of environmental contaminants-  She is particularly interested in vapor intrusion.

Image result for susan smyth and cardiovascular disease
Image result for pennell and vapor intrusion

Image result for naprogenix

Learning about the new Environmental Health Sciences Center (CARES) and drugs used to treat opioid overdoses

     As we entered the first week of August, we engaged with two professors who work closely with community members.
     The SURF students talked to Dr. Daniel Wermeling who is a professor in the College of Pharmacy   Dr. Wermeling began his career as a pharmacist in the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital.  He developed expertise in the nasal delivery of drugs.  From there, he worked on developing novel formulations of drugs which led him to form independent companies.  Upon realizing how the opioid epidemic is impacting our communities, he then focused on developing nasal delivery systems to rapidly deliver the opioid antagonist, naloxone and treat overdoses.   He has also worked on making changes in public policy such that these treatments are more readily available and is currently working with members of the community to educate others on how to prevent overdoses.
 Image result for narcan nasal spray

     The SURES students met with Dr. Xianglin Shi who is the director of the recently funded UK Cancer for Appalachian Research in Environmental Sciences, UK-CARES.  The University of Kentucky joins a number of universities who host similar centers.  Dr. Shi  discussed how the new center is organized.  UK-CARES supports interdisciplinary research and involves scientists from the Colleges of Engineering, Medicine, Nursing, Public Health.  The center will not only promote research, but also provide opportunities for education and interactions with members of the Appalachian community.
EHS Core Centers Map

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Learning about the blood-brain barrier, graduate school and environmental justice

     The SURF participants met with Dr. Anika Hartz for lunch on Monday.  Dr. Hartz studies regulation of the blood-brain barrier function in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and brain cancer.  You can read more about her here-  Dr. Hartz did most of her scientific training in Germany.  We had a great discussion comparing and contrasting the scientific opportunities in Germany as compared to those in the United States.

    On Tuesday afternoon, both groups met with the Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Brian Jackson (  He is also a Professor in the Physiology department who has spent the majority of his research career studying renal function.  Dr. Jackson was trained in the United Kingdom and talked quite a bit about the differences in his training compared to what is typical in the United States.  We also discussed the different graduate programs and training opportunities available at the University of Kentucky.  Dr. Jackson also addressed questions pertaining to the application process and provided insights on what made a successful application.

On Thursday, we watched the movie, Erin Brockovich.  This movie is based on a true story wherein a legal assistant (who is also a single mother) discovers that the Pacific Gas and Electric Company has been contaminating the drinking water of a small town (Hinkley, California) with the carcinogen, hexavalent chromium.  When she realizes that a large number of the residents have serious medical problems, she initiates efforts towards a major class action lawsuit.  During our discussion, we learned that this story has many parallels to Adam's work who is studying tricloroethylene with Dr. Kelly Pennell in the College of Engineering.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tours of Shriners Hospital for Children and the Wastewater Quality Town Branch Facility

      On Wednesday, July 19, the SURF participants toured the new Shriner's facility that is now on the UK Healthcare campus.  We learned about the Shriners Hospitals for Children which specialize in orthopedics, burn care, spinal cord injury and cleft lip and palate.  These hospitals typically team up with academic medical centers.  The Shriners Hopital in Lexington specializes in in orthopedics and is an out-patient facility.  Many of the phycisians who provide care at Shriners are also University of Kentucky faculty members.  The facility has been designed specifically for childern and incoporates art and natural lighting to provide a comforting environment.  You can read more about this facility here.

     On Thursday, the SURF and SURES participants took a tour of the Wastewater Quality Town Branch Facility and Laboratory guided by Dr. David Price.  The processes involve removal of large items such as branches, aeration to encourage bacterial decomposition, transfer to large holding tanks and finally to chlorination.  The tests performed in the laboratory include analyses of coliform and chorine levels.  The test results are available to the public.  This trip could probably be described as one of "sensory overload".  Since it was such a hot day, I asked everyone if they still had an appetite for ice cream.  Fortunately, ice cream was still appealing, so we met at Crank and Boom to help restore our sensory balance.