Roya Zamani: Exploring Medical Research
By Allison Monroe
Research has piqued Roya Zamani’s curiosity for most of her life. "I have always been interested in the process itself and how studying small pathways can help us with understanding larger phenomena." Roya was admitted to UH in fall 2010 through the Houston Premedical Academy (HPA), a competitive program offered through the Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions. HPA selects up to ten students per graduating class to receive joint admission to the University of Houston and Baylor College of Medicine.
The junior biochemistry major and 2010 Tier One Scholar plans to pursue a career as a pediatric neurologist. Volunteering with multiply impaired students throughout middle and high school played a large role in Roya’s decision to go into the medical field. "Most of the kids I had an opportunity to work with had a history of neurological pathologies.” As a summer camp counselor, Roya had the chance to turn her school into a campground for multiply impaired students who attended her middle school. The volunteer program, “aims to provide an enjoyable summer experience filled with opportunities that are not readily accessible throughout the community. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had."
In the summer of 2009, Roya participated in her first formal research experience through the Welch Summer Scholars Program at the University of Texas at Austin. She was a member of a biochemistry lab that focused on the effects of mutated genes on mitochondrial respiration in yeast. Having already been exposed to scientific research as a Welch Summer Scholar, Roya was eager to take advantage of the Tier One Research opportunity upon her arrival at UH. “Houston is a community dedicated to the advancement of science. Being part of that community inspired me to continue participating in research.” Roya contacted Dr. Veronique Tran, Tier One Scholars Program advisor, early on in her freshman year to inquire about potential research opportunities. Dr. Tran encourages scholars to explore opportunities that match their interests and career goals; for those planning a pre-health career, “Being in Houston, Tier One Scholars have year-round access to research opportunities throughout the Texas Medical Center. Many of our UH faculty also collaborate with investigators at institutions such as Baylor College of Medicine, MD Anderson Cancer Center, UT Health Science Center at Houston, and the Methodist Hospital Research Institute."
Roya is "specifically interested in translational research, a field that aims to merge basic science and clinical practice.” She joined Dr. Chester Brown’s laboratory in the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine during the spring semester of her freshman year. “I participated in a lab studying genes related to the onset of obesity.” Roya’s work focused on the construction of plasmids - circular strands of DNA which can replicate independently of the bacterial genome. “The process involved combining specific fragments of DNA, which together allowed us to study the effects of the GDF3 protein in a tissue-specific manner. By expressing the gene in certain tissues and silencing it in others, we are able to assess the role it plays in normal physiology.” Roya’s hard work paid off as she successfully completed construction of the plasmid on her last day in the lab.
The hands-on research experience Roya gained in the lab at Baylor provided a solid foundation for her success in the classroom. “I have found that I understand the material taught in my science courses much more thoroughly. By conducting research, I am able to apply the theory that I learn in the classroom directly to the projects that I work on in the laboratory. ”
Roya will continue to broaden her research experience through the 2012 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). She will spend ten weeks conducting research in the Department of Psychology at the University of Houston under the guidance of two UH faculty members, Dr. Carla Sharp, director of the Developmental Psychopathology Lab, and Dr. Shishir Shah of the Quantitative Imaging Laboratory. Roya’s research will be rooted in neuroeconomics, a relatively new interdisciplinary field aiming to study reward-related decision-making. She will be working on a pilot study, helping to develop algorithms to assess non-verbal behavior. The goal is to be able to use the results to better understand the non-verbal behavior of individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder. She is already making plans for summer 2013 to gain research experience abroad. Interest in Scandinavia’s advancing medical field has compelled her to seek more information about opportunities to study and research in Norway.
The Tier One Scholars Program encourages students of all disciplines to take part in research early during their time at UH. Roya found her calling with biomedical research, but she encourages all Tier One Scholars to take advantage of the Tier One Research Stipend and explore opportunities, “Whether it is science, literature, or the classical studies, the experience of conducting research is something all students can carry with them in their future.”