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Biochemistry Lab Studies RNA to Help Further Drug Development

By Colby Gallagher

Published on December 13, 2019

Knowing it would give him an advantage, Gregory Boymel BC’23 decided to use the summer before starting at USciences to get hands-on experience in a lab. As a biochemistry major, he thought working alongside Nathan Baird PhD, interim chair and associate professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry would be a perfect fit.

“We find that the success of our students is strongly correlated to their participation in research,” said Dr. Baird. “I was excited when I met Greg when he was just looking at the school and I said we would love to have you as a student, let me tell you about an opportunity you would have in the summer if you decide to matriculate.”

“I thought it would be a great experience to make connections and do meaningful research in a lab setting prior to even becoming a freshman,” said Boymel. “Everything we do here is meaningful.”

The lab studies ribonucleic acid or RNA and looks at finding new approaches to target it for drug development to help treat human diseases like cancer, viral infections, and HIV.

“We really are studying the mechanism of how that small piece of RNA functions and then how we might be able to search for drugs that could disrupt the function of that small piece,” said Dr. Baird.

His lab is currently finishing up a four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health and is in the middle of a grant from the W.W. Smith Foundation. He hopes that will allow his lab to push their field of study forward.

“Our targets of interest are highly important for human health and disease,” he said. “We’re not going to be doing the drug discovery at this stage. Somebody else might pick up from our research and carry that forward, but it’s really exciting to know that we’re contributing to what will be the next 25 or 30 years of biomedical sciences.”

Dr. Nathan Baird and Gregory Boymel BC'23 check Boymel's workDuring his time in the lab, Boymel was taught how to take DNA and run it through a machine that copies and reproduces it. He would then put the DNA through a process called transcription to produce RNA and purify it to be studied.

“A lot of the equipment we use here is very high tech, very expensive; it’s stuff you wouldn’t see at any high school or even most universities,” said Boymel. “So to not only be able to see it and see other people use it, but actually use it myself is such a privilege and an advantage. How could I miss out on this opportunity?”

Growing up, Boymel had always heard good things about USciences through his uncle, a pre-health alumnus who went on to become a pulmonologist. That reference paired with early research opportunities helped solidify his choice to become a USciences Devil.

“This school helps you advance into health science fields,” said Boymel. “I already got an email telling me my pre-health advisor. From day one, you have people by your side supporting you. For example, if you want to go to continue your education, they’ll guide you on the correct path so you have the best chance possible to get into medical school or a graduate school of your choice.”

Boymel said although he’s not the one curing cancer, it is an amazing opportunity to say he’s helped in a lab working to further research into treating human diseases. He’s one of five undergraduates working in Dr. Baird’s lab along with two graduate students.

Dr. Baird said any student interested in basic biochemistry would be a good fit for his lab. He recently applied for a new NIH grant in the fall to continue researching RNA and offering future scientists hands-on experience.

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