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Intrigued by research she previously performed on the metastasis of breast cancer and a 10-week research internship at Albany Medical Hospital in the Immunology and Microbial Disease Center, Jackie Golden ’07 (Latham, N.Y.) decided to pursue an honors thesis focusing on how the immune system reacts to pathogens.

The biology major is working with Robert Kurt, assistant professor of biology.

“Jackie’s thesis is a project to investigate whether professional antigen presenting cells called dendritic cells produce a specific pattern of substances called chemokines after they encounter pathogens,” says Kurt. “Dendritic cells are responsible for starting immune responses. So basically she is looking at what happens when an immune response to a pathogen just begins. Chemokines are substances that cause white blood cells to come to the site of infection. So by studying what chemokines are produced at the beginning of an immune response, we may get a better idea of how the immune system determines what is the best way to get rid of a pathogen.”

Golden has been conducting research with Kurt through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program since her sophomore year. The program allows students to conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend.

“Professor Kurt has been my academic adviser since my first semester and my research adviser since sophomore year,” she explains. “It has been a great experience working with Dr. Kurt. He has a lot of patience for his students and is willing to sacrifice his time to teach students the necessary techniques, and I have found him to be a great resource and very supportive of my project. I have learned a lot over the past three years of working in his lab.”

A leading cancer researcher, Kurt has mentored more than 25 Lafayette students in research projects since joining the faculty in 2000. Most recently, he received a $192,750 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to continue research that ultimately may lead to more effective treatment strategies for breast cancer patients. The grant extends research supported by a $214,000 U.S. Department of Defense grant to study the immune response to breast cancer. He also played the lead role in obtaining a $144,058 National Science Foundation grant for the biology department that funded the purchase of major equipment that has enhanced laboratory exercises and expanded research opportunities for students and faculty, including cancer research.

Kurt commends Golden’s abilities in all academic arenas.

“Jackie is a terrific student in the classroom and in the laboratory. She has a genuine interest in learning all she can about whatever she is working on. Her dedication and commitment to her research is outstanding,” he says.

Through her thesis and past research, Golden believes Lafayette to be a positive environment for undergraduate research.

“I have found Lafayette to be a nurturing environment to perform undergraduate research. The ability to become involved in NIH-funded research projects as a sophomore in college is an asset that this school provides for its students,” says Golden. “The professors devote a lot of time and energy into training their research students, leaving them with exceptional laboratory skills and experiences.”

“Lafayette is the perfect place for this type of research,” adds Kurt. “We have the ability to do some cutting-edge research with our students, which is great for them as well as faculty. In addition, the ability to work with a professor instead of a technician, graduate student, or post-doctorate is a great aspect of the student’s research experience at Lafayette.”

After graduation, Golden plans to attend medical school, a goal that Kurt believes will benefit from her undergraduate academic experiences.

“An honors thesis is a great experience for a student and empowers students to take on every aspect of a research project,” he explains. “By the time it is finished, Jackie will have designed the project, written a proposal, conducted the research, analyzed the data, and written and defended her thesis. The experience is useful for a career in teaching, research, and/or medicine because it teaches students how to go through the whole process from asking a question to finding the answer.”

Golden is head resident adviser and on the executive board of Alternative School Break. Through the Landis Community Outreach Center, she volunteers with Inglés Número Uno, a tutoring program for Spanish-speaking children. She is a past recipient of the Service Above Self Award, given to students who best exemplify the qualities of caring and concern for others in service activities. She also is a teaching assistant for Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy and a member of Alpha Phi sorority.

Honors theses are among several major programs that have made Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. The College sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year; 21 students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News