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Biology Scholarship Funds Promising Undergrad’s Future

By Abbey Becker

Photo of Tracy Tabib by Vanessa Robertson.

Photo of Tracy Tabib by Vanessa Robertson.

Biology undergraduate student Tracy Tabib felt reassured about her plans to study biology when she won the 2011 Gloria Likins Undergraduate Scholarship for Women in Biology. “One thing that always worried me was how funding worked in biology,” she says. “I’m sure there are politics and messy stuff to go through for grants. It was nice to see a slice of how it works, even on a basic level.”

The goal of the Likins award is to make opportunities available for undergraduate women in biology and encourage them to consider careers in research. The award will fund Tabib’s research on a myeloma project with Dr. Katie DeCicco-Skinner, where she’ll primarily help to extract protein and RNA from cells.

After she graduates, Tabib hopes to enroll in an MD/PhD combination program and become a medical scientist. “I really enjoy seeing the applications of research and doing research on my own. I think it would be a good combination,” she says.

DeCicco-Skinner sees a lot of promise in Tabib. “She’s incredibly intelligent and pays very careful attention to detail,” she enthuses. “She is really excited about science. She lives and breathes it. She really is a very dedicated student.”

Tabib credits her professors at AU with much of her success, especially DeCicco-Skinner. “She helps me find opportunities for scholarships that I probably wouldn’t notice on my own,” she says. Coming to American, Tabib had an idea about what she liked, but her professors helped her define a goal.

That’s exactly what she looked for when she applied to college. She knew she wanted to go to a smaller school, a place where undergraduates got equal or more attention than graduate programs and medical schools. “I figured I’d be able to have better working relationships with my professors,” she says.

So far, she’s seen this wish come to fruition. “[The professors] really focus on teaching me things that would make me successful in future education pursuits.”

Taking a cell biology course with DeCicco-Skinner and assisting with research in her lab helped Tabib choose a direction for her future research. “I’d like to do more research at the cellular level,” she says. “I like studying the cell processes and how they’re interrelated.”

Before working on the myeloma study, Tabib had been helping with DeCicco-Skinner’s research on skin cancer. Using RNA that was collected from normal mice or mice missing the Tpl2 gene, she employed a technique called qPCR to measure the expression of genes involved in the induction of skin cancer.  Her research helped to identify certain inflammatory genes that become overexpressed in the Tpl2 knockout mice; genes that contribute to the high incidence of skin cancer in these animals.  Tracy could then use Western analysis, a technique to measure protein expression, to correlate the differences in gene expression with altered protein levels.  Ultimately, her research experiments are helping to elucidate the mechanism by which Tpl2 knockout mice are more susceptible to skin cancer.

This summer, Tabib won the Stephen C. Grebe Endowed Memorial Scholarship, which provides financial support to undergraduates pursuing summer research opportunities. The scholarship funded Tabib’s summer research with Dr. DeCicco-Skinner.

The Gloria Likins Undergraduate Scholarship for Women in Biology was endowed by American University graduate Gloria Likins. Likins graduated from AU in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and then worked as an associate for the National Institutes of Health. Likins passed away in 2005 after having named AU the primary beneficiary of her estate, permanently endowing the scholarship.