L.I.F.E. Foundation Fellowship

2021

Student Bio & Research

Ben Coburn

Bio

My name is Ben Coburn, and I am from Hebron, KY. I attended high school at Villa Madonna Academy. I am majoring in Computer Science, with a minor in Biology & Chemistry. I chose NKU because of an experience I had touring one of the research labs. I was very impressed with all of the groundbreaking work that is being done here and wanted to be a part of these students expanding the scope of knowledge. I also chose NKU because of its great Computer Science program. I also had a chance to spend a day touring the computer labs and meeting with the faculty and Chair and was also impressed with what I saw there. Finally, both my father and sister graduated from Chase Law School, so I’ve known about NKU all my life. I am most excited about the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge to bridge the gap between where our limits of biotechnology currently are and where the limits can be. I’ll be studying this through research and collaboration with my professors and fellow students.

Some things that I would like to say to the donor are that this work is extremely important and where my passions lie. Especially in this modern society, not enough resources are allocated to education and specifically expanding the boundaries of where our knowledge lies. Research is a very long process that involves a good amount of funding. However, knowledge is power. Whenever a new physiological process or interaction is discovered, it can be life changing to the lives of so many people. I am excited to be part of this work and discovery. Something that really resonated with me is that our donor had a specific goal on learning to prevent neurodegenerative disease. I believe the RNA sequencing research that I am currently involved in is giving me the fundamental knowledge to truly understand the brain in a way that, one day, may potentially lead me to be able to use computers to solve some of the biological processes that lead to mental decline that have been previously written off as inevitable.

I hope one day that I can develop new biotech that changes the way we as a species observe the brain and, potentially, the rest of the body. As of now, the goal is learning. I would like to pursue an MD-PhD in order to learn everything that is necessary for the road ahead. Once I have the specific knowledge to be able to understand how these concepts work, I would like to apply them in a lab setting to be able to work on bridging the gap between where we currently are and where we can possibly go with new technology.

Research

Topic: Prenatal Exposure to Helminths Prevents Persistent Immune Sensitization and Cognitive Dysfunction Induced by Early-Life Infection.
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Lauren Williamson, NKU.
Summary: In this project, we studied helminth infection and their effects on cognitive development and the immune system on rats in a variety of ways, including RNA sequencing.

Student Bio & Research

Ashton Davey

Bio

I am a Freshman Computer Science Major at Northern Kentucky University minoring in Biology. I was raised in West Carrollton, Ohio. I graduated as Valedictorian from West Carrollton High School. As a programmer on my school’s FIRST Robotic Competition team, I learned many of the fundamentals of programming in LabVIEW and Java. In high school I excelled in college level Chemistry, Environmental Science, and Biology classes. It was at this point I began to learn more about the field of bioinformatics. The possibilities seemed endless once I learned I could combine my love for life science and computing. At the same time, I saw friends and family battle brain cancer, struggle with mental health, or live with Parkinson’s. This sparked a desire to use my passions to pursue biomedical research. I chose NKU due to the student support, comfortable size, and undergraduate research opportunities. The mission and resources of the College of Informatics caught my eye. I’ve really loved the sense of friendship and community at NKU. The university has provided a safe, welcoming environment for me to learn, explore my potential, and take on new challenges. Everything seemed to fall into place, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

During the summer of 2021, I was a student research assistant at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, which introduced me to biochemistry and molecular modeling. I am currently working in the Biochemistry department under Dr. Michael Guy. Our group is studying posttranscriptional tRNA modifications in yeast using molecular biology and genetic techniques. These tRNA modifications play a role in proper cell growth and are associated with diseases such intellectual disability and cancer. I have already modeled one of our proteins of interest, Trm732, using a predicted structure from Google’s AlphaFold 2 database. In the future, I hope to employ computational tools such as computer modeling, protein folding, docking, as well other bioinformatics techniques.

The LIFE Fellowship has provided so much support and resources for me to explore my passions and work towards making a difference for others. I am extremely appreciative of these opportunities.

Research

Topic: The Role of Post-transcriptional tRNA Modifications in Eukaryotic Cells.
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Michael Guy, NKU.
Summary: We are studying post-transcriptional tRNA modifications in yeast using molecular biology and genetic techniques. These tRNA modifications play a role in proper cell growth and are associated with diseases such intellectual disability and cancer.