BU Student Conducts Cancer Research through the Amgen Scholars program at UCLA
Pictured from left to right: Dr. Albert Lai, Meghan Bell, and Dr. Byram Ozer
Major: Integrative Neuroscience
Hometown: Long Island, NY
Class of 2016
Article written by JC Wu, Class of 2017
Meghan Bell is a senior studying Integrative Neuroscience at Binghamton University. For the summer of 2015, she was accepted into the Amgen Scholars program and did cutting-edge research on cancer at UCLA. Her exposure to the intensive research culture there led to the development of her own unique research project on brain tumors that may grant a new outlook on the disease.
Ever since her first year at Binghamton, Meghan has participated in research with accomplished researchers. She started off freshman year taking psychology classes and discovered that she was not interested in the social aspect of the science but "more on the neurological basis of behavior". As a result, she switched to Integrative Neuroscience, but she was still struggling to figure out a way to grow this seed of interest. It wasn't until she took Organic Chemistry with Professor Ming An that she knew what her next step would be. Professor An shared a lot of his own research on cancer drug delivery, prompting Meghan to look further into his work and other research activities that were going on at Binghamton. She asked to join his lab and he accepted. Working under Professor An was Meghan's first encounter with cancer research. It was Professor An who introduced Meghan to Amgen, a large biopharmaceutical company based in California and their Amgen Scholars Program.
The program is extremely competitive and Meghan felt intimidated by all the competition from applicants from top-notch schools across the country. But the director of Office of External Scholarships, Janice McDonald, was extremely helpful in guiding her through the application process. Needless to say, after a long and anxious period of waiting for that one e-mail, Meghan was accepted into the Amgen Program.
Prior to the start of the program, Meghan traveled to Honduras with the Binghamton University Global Medical Brigade Chapter. There she acquired clinical experience working with patients and was able to see "the actual applications of what [researchers] do." The trip led her to aspire toward a MD-PhD where she will combine both her passion for clinical work and laboratory research after graduating from Binghamton.
In the summer of 2015, Meghan flew across the country to UCLA to begin the Amgen Program. Carrying with her the clinical experience from Honduras, she was eager to dive deep into the behind-the-scenes of medicine. She trained under the wings of the principal investigator Dr. Albert Lai, who has a MD-PhD and works with cancer patients.
Meghan has always had a curiosity with cancer treatment. Dr. Lai's lab granted her enough resources and independence to build her own research project. She investigated the mutation of two proteins that occur in the treatment of a primary form of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme. A patient with this form of brain cancer will typically go through treatment with a drug called Temozolomide (TMZ). The drug usually shows effectiveness in the early stages of treatment but the patient may eventually develop resistance as the adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) and mutator-S homolog 6 (MSH6) proteins start to become mutated from drug use.
Through this independent project, Meghan learned the true nature of the research field. She saw that doing real laboratory research can at times be "frustrating because nothing is sugarcoated." She witnessed way more occasions of failure than success. A new study like hers was "a shot in the dark" with so many possible directions to be explored. However, she never let failure keep her down because the "5% that worked" was not only thrilling but motivating to keep her moving forward. She also found inspiration from the strengths of the cancer patients that Dr. Lai was treating in the hospital. She said, "A lot of them were young, have family, and all wanting to go back to work even though they have cancer." Their willingness to continue fighting their disease gave Meghan the inspiration to continue her work to fight the disease behind the scenes in the laboratory.
Meghan found her ten weeks in UCLA an extremely rewarding and life-changing experience that "challenged her in ways she couldn't imagine." Not only did she have a chance to meet amazing people, but she also got to immerse herself in the rich research culture of the university. But the progress of her research does not end there, she wants to "bring the UCLA experience to Binghamton." Currently in her senior year, Meghan plans to continue researching brain cancer for her senior thesis. After graduation, she will continue down the path to her dream of earning a MD-PhD.
Meghan has gone a long way in becoming an independent researcher with her project as part of the Amgen Scholars Program. When asked if she has any advice for students interested in getting involved in research, she said, "Don't be afraid to look, to reach out to people. You have to be your own advocate."
The Amgen Scholars Program gives undergraduate students from around the world an opportunity to do research at top-notch institutions in the US. If interested, click here.
For more information about summer opportunities and external scholarships, please click here.