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UNCP student wins prestigious NCBC Fellowship


UNC Pembroke seniorRebecca Howell has been named a North Carolina Biotechnology Center (NCBC) Fellow for 2011.

Howell works in the laboratory of Alzheimer’s disease researcher Dr. Ben Bahr, UNCP’s William C. Friday Distinguished Professor in the departments of Biology and Chemistry and Physics. She is UNCP’s third NCBC fellow from UNCP and the second in Dr. Bahr’s lab. Graduating senior Joanna Cooper won the same fellowship last year.

Besides winning coveted NCBC fellowships, both Cooper and Howell are also RISE (Research Initiatives for Scientific Enhancement) scholars, a National Institutes of Health program that assists students financially to train for careers in biomedical research. They have both been accepted to graduate schools in research fields.

The research being conducted in Dr. Bahr’s lab, located in UNCP’s Regional Center at COMtech, prepared Howell and Cooper for further scientific study.

Cooper will begin a Ph.D. program at the University of Tennessee next year. She described her research, which was on display in April at “Research in the Capital” for the North Carolina General Assembly.

“I am studying the effects of memory enhancing drugs and other potential treatments for a little known genetic syndrome,” Cooper said. “Sly Syndrome (mucopolysaccharidoses) affects children with mental deficits comparable to Alzheimer’s disease. Their prognosis is not good.”

Howell, a rising senior, will continue her ongoing research in Dr. Bahr’s lab, but is already considering several different graduate programs for future study. Her enrollment at UNCP was a lucky accident, following her family’s misfortune in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  Following that personal upheaval and relocation to North Carolina, she found science at UNCP a treasure.

“I did not expect this kind of science at a small school,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from Dr. Bahr….I am working with slices of brain tissue from the hippocampus because that’s where memory is stored,” she said.   “Accumulation of proteins that are degraded by cathepsin affects memory,” she continued. “If we can regulate cathepsin, we may be able to reduce pathogenic accumulations in Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.”

Cooper has the same praise for the opportunities at UNCP to study science and to further her education.

“Both RISE and the NCBC Fellowship have been great,” Cooper said. “Dr. Bahr is a good facilitator of undergraduate learning. He has the right personality for working with us.”

The RISE program introduces undergraduate students to the world of scientific research by having them work one-on-one with faculty members to produce projects, attend conferences and conduct research in labs at other universities during the summer.

The NCBC Undergraduate Fellows program is directed toward undergraduate science and engineering majors to encourage interest in and preparation for careers in biotechnology.  The undergraduate research funded in this program must have strong relevance to biotechnology and requires that students work with a research mentor.

The NCBC fellowship funds $5,000 for supplies, travel and compensation; in return Fellows are expected to work a minimum of 400 hours on their research, present a paper or poster at a professional conference and attend a regional, state or national meeting on the business aspects of biotechnology.