Casey Cai could have spent her summer reading, traveling or just enjoying a break from classes. But when she was offered the opportunity to do hands-on biomedical research for eight weeks, she jumped at the chance.
During June and July, Cai worked as a Presidential Scholar at OMRF in Oklahoma City with Roberto Pezza, Ph.D. Cai studies a little-known protein that scientists hypothesize that, when deficiencies exist, may lead to chromosomal diseases such as Down Syndrome, Turner Syndrome, Edwards Syndrome and Kleinfelter Syndrome.
Cai, who will enter the University of Oklahoma as a freshman biochemistry major in the fall, is among 13 Oklahoma students selected for OMRF’s prestigious summer programs.
“When I entered the lab, I was surprised with how much responsibility was given to me,” Cai said. “Although I was supervised, I was able to design and perform my experiments, and I was expected to have the necessary background information by reading papers in my spare time. Everyone here is so passionate about their projects, and their knowledge is amazing.”
In addition to working in the lab, Fleming and Presidential Scholars attend lectures by OMRF scientists to learn about various research projects and science-related career options. They attend social events and spend time together as a group outside the lab. At the end of the summer, scholars make formal presentations outlining their individual research results to OMRF’s scientists.
OMRF’s Fleming and Presidential Scholar Programs have served as a stepping stone for hundreds of Oklahoma students seeking careers in the sciences. Since 1956, more than 500 gifted science students have received a close-up, hands-on research experience as scholars. Scores of former scholars have gone on to establish medical and research careers, including two OMRF researchers, Rodger McEver, M.D., and Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., who got their start in the program.
“These students learn a lot here and are exposed to new concepts, but we learn from them, too,” said Carlisa Curry, Fleming Scholar Program director. “They bring enthusiasm and fresh perspectives into OMRF’s labs. It’s clear through what we see in these young people that the future for research is bright.”
For Cai, this summer has confirmed her future ambitions. “I hope to become a pediatric oncologist, where I can practice medicine while also furthering the field of scientific research, and as a pediatric oncologist, I hope to be able to do both.”