Chemistry graduate student Shana Stoddard of Louisville, Ky., is among 77 young U.S. researchers chosen to participate in the 60th Lindau Meeting. Laureates in chemistry, physics and physiology/medicine convene June 27-July 2 to lecture and meet with some 500 students from around the world.
Stoddard, who specializes in biochemical research, said she was shocked to hear that she had been selected.
"My first thoughts - I don't actually remember," she said. "I do remember thanking God and being totally overwhelmed with emotion. I was extremely humbled."
The laureates speak on the topic of their choice in the mornings and participate in less formal, small-group discussions with students in the afternoons and some evenings.
"I hope to gain valuable insight on how to make contributions that will benefit society," said Stoddard, who expects to soon have her second research paper published in a professional journal.
"It is one thing to do research that gets published and create new information; it is another thing to do research that generates positive change in peoples' lives. That's what I hope to learn from these Nobel laureates."
Stoddard's research focuses on developing specific inhibitors for carboxylesterase, an enzyme that catalyzes chemical reactions, as in activation of the colorectal cancer drug Camptosar. At least two carboxylesterases are present in humans, one in the liver and another in the small intestine, both of which can activate the drug.
"We know that a side effect, severe delayed diarrhea, associated with Camptosar happens because the carboxylesterase enzyme in the small intestine activates a very large percentage of the drug very fast compared to the liver carboxylesterase enzyme," Stoddard explained. "The importance of developing specific inhibitors for carboxylesterase is to control which enzyme activates the drug. The end goal is to develop a drug that could be given at the same time as Camptosar and would eliminate the side effect."
On track to receive her doctorate at UM in 2012, Stoddard is sponsored at Lindau by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities, a consortium of U.S. universities headquartered in Oak Ridge, Tenn. ORAU administers a broad range of internships, scholarships, fellowships and research programs.
Her application to ORAU included a nomination letter from her UM research adviser, Randy Wadkins, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Lauding Shana for being selected, Wadkins said one attribute that strengthened her application is that "she sets herself apart because she is able to grasp the big picture of her research."
"She expressed this in a very eloquent application letter that wove her current research effort into a much larger web of science. I suspect the selection committee was as impressed by this as I was."
Alice Clark, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, said, "This will be an extraordinary personal and professional opportunity for Ms. Stoddard - and a privilege for the university to have a participant in this significant global dialog."
Stoddard first came to UM in 2008 after Wadkins recruited her as a participant in UM's summer research program Alliance for Graduate Education in Mississippi. The purpose of AGEM is to increase the number of students from under-represented minorities who enter science, mathematics and engineering graduate programs at the consortium institutions.
After a successful summer, Stoddard decided to enter UM's doctoral program in chemistry. She was engaged in research as an undergraduate at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, where she completed her bachelor's degree. Since coming to UM, she has co-authored one research paper, which was published last year in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, and her second is being submitted to the Journal of Pesticide Science this month.
"Shana's work to date has been mostly computational in nature, but she is also beginning a biochemistry project that involves isolation of an enzyme from a fungus," Wadkins said. "She is excited about the combined use of cutting-edge computer simulation and wet - even messy - biochemistry."
Stoddard's dream, though, is "to fix paralysis." She began this focus in high school after one of her best friends was paralyzed as a result of corrective surgery for scoliosis.
"There is a very important connection between my dream and my current research, which is equipping me to understand how to develop enzyme inhibitors through various techniques," she said. "I can take all of the tools I learn from this project and apply them to other biological systems."
Only days after learning she had won the trip to Germany, Stoddard received word that she is among 50 of the 500 students at Lindau chosen for a fellowship to attend the Euroscience Open Forum in Torino, Italy, July 2-7. The program "Lindau Fellows go ESOF" by the Robert Bosch Foundation, encourages young scientists to share their experience and participate in debates.
Wadkins said he is "always trying to give students an opportunity to meet prominent scientists." In that effort, his StudyUSA course is offered during May Intersession 2010 and includes visits to leading research facilities in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. For more information, visit outreach.olemiss.edu/study_usa/baltimore_dc10.html.
Funding for Stoddard's research comes from the National Science Foundation's EPSCoR program for Mississippi: msepscor.msstate.edu.
For more information on chemistry programs at UM, visit olemiss.edu/depts/chemistry.