Given the choice of doing groundbreaking research close to home or more than a thousand miles away, senior molecular and cell biology major Shira Archie said, “I didn’t want to feel comfortable.”
Born in Bloomington, Archie spent the summer studying potential genetic therapies for rare, undiagnosed diseases at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City.
“I just wanted to do something different, and I’m really glad I decided to get out of the box and do this program,” Archie said.
“I’m happy to have gone through a very, real, drug-based project related to medicine and disease,” Archie said.
Archie’s research involved using CRISPR/Cas9 mutagenesis to inject genes from patients with rare, undiagnosed diseases into a single-cell zebrafish embryo. She then genotyped the fish using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to observe mutations consistent with the rare, undiagnosed diseases for which they seek treatments. Finally, Archie placed fish embryos in trays and administered several experimental treatments to determine whether similar genetic therapy could be successful in human patients.
“We’re doing the research so we can help these people, even if it’s just one patient with a rare disease,” Archie said. “We do the work and we try to find therapies for them.”
In addition to facilitating research, Archie’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program also included several workshops and a series of seminars. There were opportunities for students to shadow doctors, participate in coding classes, and participate in self-study classes. Archie also enjoyed hiking, exploring Salt Lake City, and making new friends and connections that she expects to last a lifetime.
At the end of the program, students attended a research symposium where they presented their research projects. “It helped us communicate science, which is very important,” Archie says.
At Illinois State, Archie is a member of the STEM Alliance organization, which aims to significantly increase the number of graduates who belong to groups underrepresented in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Archie is also a mentor in the NexSTEM program. Her mentee, Erinda Aidoo, was an intern at Yale over the summer.