Senior Receives Prestigious Summer Research Award in Biology

Huffman photo

An Eastern Kentucky University senior from London, Ky., is among only 11 students nationally to receive an undergraduate summer research award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Sarah Huffman, a pre-med biology major, will spend 10 weeks this summer in the research laboratory of Dr. Rebekah Waikel, assistant professor of biological sciences at EKU. Huffman’s proposal was entitled “Investigating G-Protein Coupled Estrogen Receptor’s Potential Role in Estrogen-Mediated Inhibition of Cardiomyocyte Hypertrophy.”

"I cannot wait to begin my summer research," Huffman said, "and I am very excited to see what comes from it."

Waikel said Huffman will use an in vitro rat cardiomyocyte model system and biochemical methods to study whether cellular signaling from the newest estrogen receptor, GPER, like the traditional nuclear estrogen receptors, can inhibit cardiomyocyte enlargement (hypertrophy).

“This work is important,” Waikel explained, “because cardiac hypertrophy (enlargement of the heart) is a major contributor to heart failure, which is the leading cause of death in the United States.  It has long been known that estrogen is good for the heart. However, the mechanisms by which estrogen mediates its beneficial effects are not well understood. Sarah’s work will improve our understanding of estrogen’s cardioprotective biochemistry, which could potentially aid in the development of new heart therapies.”

The award includes a $1,000 stipend for Huffman, who is the only student at a Kentucky college or university to receive the award.

Huffman, a graduate of South Laurel High School, has worked in Waikel’s laboratory since Fall 2010.

“She is an excellent student (and) is passionate about EKU, and shows it by being very involved in her sorority and within the biology department,” Waikel noted. “She is highly motivated and organized, yet easygoing and a joy to be around. She is compassionate and spends most of her free time volunteering for her church and other organizations. These are all important attributes that will make her a successful physician.”

Huffman is currently president of the Molecular Biology Society (the local chapter of the Undergraduate Affiliate Network of American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) and has served as the public relations person for the Biology Club.  In her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, she has served as vice president for academic development and as co-chair for its major fundraiser this year, “Lip Sync”, which raised $7,000 for arthritis research and outreach. 

Huffman plans to pursue a career as a medical professional in eye health and practice in eastern Kentucky.

Published on June 03, 2011