Paige Heiple and Lauren Watts, senior BJU students, presented a research project at Southeastern Undergraduate Research Conference in Columbia, S.C., on Jan. 27 and 28.

Their report was one of only 12 oral presentations out of the 62 teams attending SURC.

Heiple and Watts, both biochemistry and molecular biology majors, presented their findings on the University of South Carolina’s campus.

Those attending their presentation included the other attendees, many of whom are doctors, scientists or students.

Heiple and Watts’ research was begun as part of a summer internship program with Cayman Chemical Company in Michigan.

The project focused on creating an anti-cancer agent by synthesizing a molecule, called Ski2, which stops cell growth in four different cell lines.

They were following a synthesis process that has been outlined in the “Journal of Medicinal Chemistry,” but their goal was to perfect the results as much as possible.

“Our goal was to optimize it so that the process could get a better end result,” Watts said.

The students then used the BJU labs and equipment for around eight hours a day.

Dr. Robert Lee, a BJU faculty member in the departments of chemistry and physics, was their mentor. 

“This was a really good experience,” Heiple said. “It gave us valuable lab skills that we will both need in our prospective fields.”

Watts said this experience really boosted her confidence in the lab.

“I [have] now done these techniques over and over and I [feel] really confident doing them,” Watts said.

This internship has opened up opportunities for future internships and careers for both students.

Watts was recently accepted into the St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Tennessee as a part of its Pediatric Oncology Program. Her work will be similar to what she did with Cayman.

She will be involved with cancer research by working with compounds that will be used in PET and CAT scans so that professionals can better see tumors.

Heiple is currently applying for a summer internship with Cayman Chemical Company, and she is being considered for the position.

The fact that she is in the consideration process is very special for Heiple because Cayman normally only accepts students in a master’s or doctoral program.

“As an undergraduate, just being considered [for this internship] is a real honor,” Heiple said.