Highlight on undergraduate research: Alice Chen-Liaw

The Aquinas Photo / Emma Black  ALICE CHEN-LIAW, junior, conducts research with George Gomez, Ph.D. on axon length and variety of length, and studied the effects of Interleukin 1 beta on cholesterol secretion over the summer.

The Aquinas Photo / Emma Black
ALICE CHEN-LIAW, junior, conducts research with George Gomez, Ph.D. on axon length and variety of length, and studied the effects of Interleukin 1 beta on cholesterol secretion over the summer.

MATTHEW REYNOLDS
Science & Tech Editor

An honors student and editor of Esprit, Alice Chen-Liaw, conducts research to rescue fatty livers and assess the roles of antioxidants in cells. The junior biochemistry, cell and molecular biology major explores oxidative stress and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) regulation at the cellular level through her research experiences at The University and Rutgers University, respectively.

This past summer, Chen-Liaw participated in a 10-week program in cellular bioengineering at Rutgers. She participated in research on fatty liver cells, specifically on the interactions between signaling molecules and VLDL secretion in conjunction with defatting liver cells with a defatting cocktail.

“My research was to see if Interleukin 1 beta could increase VLDL secretion in fatty liver cells and improve the efficiency of the defatting cocktail,” she said.

Her work bears further implications concerning organ transplants. Specifically, Chen-Liaw said that there is a liver shortage in the U.S., while livers spoil from too much fat droplet buildup within the cells., Chen-Liaw cites her experience in the cellular biology course, taught by George Gomez, Ph.D., as crucial to carrying out procedures as she applied and refined techniques to analyze cells while participating in the research program. Her work within the laboratory could translate to increased efficiency in rescuing fatty livers intended for transplant.
Her work over the summer culminated this weekend when she went to San Antonio, Texas for the Annual Meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society to present a poster on her summer at Rutgers.

Before Chen-Liaw could reach these conclusions, however, she developed her skills through years of research experience at The University. She recognized her interest in research before entering The University, and she cites the guidance of Mary Engel, Ph.D., as an excellent aid in helping her become exposed to undergraduate research.

Chen-Liaw began her undergraduate research by shadowing other undergraduates working in the laboratory of Timothy Foley, Ph.D. She says the experience introduced her to biochemical techniques and primary scientific literature.

Furthermore, Chen-Liaw said the experience, “sparked her interest in oxidative stress in neurons.”

Her interest in exploring scientific developments grew during the summer following her first year at The University. She did a faculty/student research program in the laboratory of Gomez. While working with Gomez, Chen-Liaw read past honors theses, and the topic that most piqued her interest involved previous work on the effects of oxidative stress on neuronal axon lengths. Previous work showed that the addition of peroxide ions to neurons leads to shortened axon lengths, which has been attributed to oxidative stress; however, Chen-Liaw wanted to go a step further.

“I was curious in looking at whether antioxidants, specifically extracellular antioxidants, could mitigate the effects of oxidative stress. I found that when neurons were incubated in peroxide and the antioxidant glutathione, both axonal length and the variety of axonal lengths increased,” she said.

Following her summer research, Chen-Liaw continued her work with Gomez and was given the opportunity to expand her scientific presentation skills. In the fall of her sophomore year, she presented a poster on her work at the Annual Meeting for the American Society for Cell Biology in New Orleans.

Alice’s positive work ethic extends to all aspects of her life. A fellow undergraduate researcher in Gomez’s lab, Erika Sarno, commented, “Alice truly has a passion for research, and her genuine curiosity allows her to go above and beyond to look for new opportunities, which sets her apart from her peers.”

After she finishes her undergraduate studies, Chen-Liaw intends to apply to M.D./Ph.D. dual-degree programs to continue her education. Upon completion of the dual-degree program, she hopes to become involved in clinical or translational research to approach scientific questions from a more focused vantage point.

“I am thinking of applying to M.D./Ph.D. programs because the track integrates both clinical care and research, and I plan to use medical knowledge to ask pertinent clinical questions concerning applications of research,” she said.

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