Abby McGillivray has already determined her goal in life: to do the most good. She eventually intends to work as a medical missionary in South America or Africa and "help the people who need it most." But for now, her primary goal is a career in research.
She enrolled at Carroll, and will graduate, as a biochemistry major, but her graduate school focus has shifted from medical studies to medical research. Next year she will begin a doctorate program in the interdisciplinary biomedical sciences at Medical College of Wisconsin.
Abby's interest in research was fostered in the lab of Dr. Greg Marks, assistant professor of biochemistry. He personally selected her to work as a lab assistant during her junior and senior years. Abby and his other assistants are trying to conclude if an enzyme in estrogen is affected by the dioxin TCDD, an environmental pollutant that can cause sterility. They hope to quantify how much estrogen production happens in a cell that is exposed to varying levels of dioxin for different periods of time. Abby and senior Amanda Schoeberle will present a poster on this research project at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Dallas, Texas, in March 2014.
Abby will have another poster to present at the national conference, too. Last summer, she received funding from the National Science Foundation for an undergraduate research internship in the lab of Dr. D.K. Srivastava of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at North Dakota State University. Her job was to find inhibitory molecules for the metabolic enzymes SIRT5, which is a member of an enzyme family that is linked to aging, Alzheimer's disease and some forms of cancer. Abby found two inhibitors for her enzyme out of 411 compounds during her 10-week internship.
When Abby presents these research findings at ACS, it will be the second time she shares her knowledge with others. She first participated in the Younger Chemists Committee poster symposium at the November 2013 meeting of the ACS Milwaukee Section. Of the 34 undergraduate and graduate students who presented, her poster won first place.
She believes her advantage was that her poster made the research easy to understand for everyone, not just scientific minds. Marks, who encouraged Abby to present, said, "This win is particularly impressive because most of the competition was graduate students."
Even more impressive, Abby is a co-author of a paper that was recently published in the prestigious "Journal of Biochemistry." During her time at NDSU, she assisted in a comparison of HDAC8 inhibitors, or compounds that interfere with the function of an enzyme that causes cancer and memory loss. The research team examined a pharmaceutical that is approved for the treatment of T-cell lymphoma, and a new, structurally similar HDAC8 inhibitor. They determined that the existing treatment is preferential in effectiveness and for potentially fewer side effects.
Outside of the lab, Abby is a resident assistant in Frontier Hall. She is involved in Chemistry Club, is treasurer for Pre-Health Professionals Club and is president of the new Residence Life Leadership organization. In her final semester at Carroll, she is taking "fun classes" like Endocrinology, Human Physiology and Drawing.
"It has taken a lot of luck and long hours to get me where I am - but that's science," Abby said. "People can go years without finding anything. I'm an undergraduate with a publication. It's cool because it's not normal."