An Honors biochemistry junior Annie Pally was one of 20 students awarded at the 11th annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in November.
With a double minor in business administration and Honors Medicine & Society, Pally received the award for her mouse model of autism, which analyzes potential methods of preventing abnormal cognitive and intellectual development.
“I’ve always been curious to see the underlying story behind scientific discoveries, to see how exactly … we develop our current understanding of science and why we perceive certain things to be the way they are,” Pally said. “Research allows for a complete independence of thought and stresses the importance of questioning both the known and unknown.”
Her research explored the effects of blocking the central cholesterol pathway, where intermediates are believed to cause the hyper-activation of a protein responsible for regular cognitive development. This hyper-activity is linked with Fragile X Syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder tied to autism and the most common form of inherited intellectual disability.
“Fragile X Syndrome results from the absence of Fragile X Mental Retardation Proteins, which under normal conditions is expressed in many tissues, and is particularly abundant in the brain,” Pally said . “(A correlation was found) between a lack of FMRP and the hyper-activation of a protein essential for neuronal development and brain function in the Fragile X mouse model.”
She presented her results at the conference, which held almost 1,500 students also presenting research projects. She received the poster award for her work while learning more about various other scientific studies.
“The conference provided an opportunity to interact with fellow undergraduates across the nation,” she said. “I got to learn more about the various types of groundbreaking research and understand more about their motivation to pursue research.”
This project was funded by a scholarship from the National Fragile X Foundation and the William and Enid Rosen Research Fund. It is a continuation of Pally’s previous work in Gunter P. Eckert’s lab at the University of Frankfurt in Germany through a summer internship with the DAAD-Research Internships in Science and Engineering program.
“That experience was truly better than I could have ever imagined. It was the best of both worlds, combining my love for science with a love for travel and (my) taste for adventure,” she said. “It was a refreshing immersion into a completely different lifestyle and environment from both a cultural and scientific perspective.”
Pally received a lot of support from her family, friends and research advisors. Her mentor, assistant professor of pharmacology MariVi Tejada-Simon, saw this as an opportunity to involve Pally in hands-on laboratory research and allow her to explore her interest in the field.
“I like to give undergraduates the opportunity to either realize they like research or realize that research is just not for them,” Tejada-Simon said. “I commit myself to guiding students through the issues they are going to encounter when they dedicate their life to science in terms of research.”
The chance to experiment with this research project seemed to do just what Tejada-Simon was hoping for. It allowed Pally to find self-confirmation for her interest in the field of research and invest in a plan to continue with it.
“Often times, the most rewarding experiences are those that are most unexpected. I am very grateful to everyone who made this opportunity possible,” Pally said. “I hope to pursue a future in the medical field; in particular, the clinical correlate of pediatric neurodevelopmental disorders.”