Arryn Owens of the Schang lab receives Rawlings Cornell Presidential Research Scholar Award
The Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Presidential Research Scholars program supports a select group of undergraduate students from across the college to support sustained engagement in research and close collaboration with faculty and other mentors. Research proposals are written by students, with mentoring from their faculty members, for the opportunity to receive funding to be used for research-related expenses throughout their undergraduate term.
The program also combines professional development and community building events to round out the experience.
This year, Arryn Owens, ‘24 undergraduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences, and student researcher in the Schang lab here at the Baker Institute was one of just three juniors selected as a program scholar.
Hear from Arryn on how she plans to use her research funding, and what led her on her path to research at the Baker Institute.
What led you to start your research here at the Baker Institute?
I am lucky to have been selected for the Cornell Institute of Host-Microbe Interactions and Disease (CIHMID) Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) program. The program selects students interested in host-microbe interactions research and provides a directory of associated faculty across the University in which we can connect with. Dr. Luis Schang was one of the faculty members on the list. I reached out to him and we connected in the spring of 2021. I then began working on research in his lab at the Baker Institute in fall of 2021.
How did you become part of the Hunter R. Rawlings III Presidential Research Scholars Program?
I had been working in the Schang lab for about a year when I decided to submit an application for the program. Dr. Schang is my faculty member for the Rawlings Scholar award and helped me write the proposal that I used in my application. The proposal outlined the research I had started and will conduct for my remaining two-years at Cornell.
Can you describe the research you are doing in Dr. Schang’s lab?
The Schang lab works to uncover the mechanisms that regulate viral infection and pathogenesis with the broad aim of identifying targets to explore toward the development of broad-spectrum antiviral therapies. My research focuses on the interactions between infecting viral DNA and host cell proteins that regulate DNA accessibility. The goal is to better understand the role of so-called epigenetic regulation in viral infection with Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1).
HSV-1 is among the most prevalent human viruses, infecting around 70% of the global population, and has a variety of severe manifestations. It is unique because it relies on the establishment of lifelong infection with periodic reactivations from a latent state.
As a result of these latent infections, there are no curative treatments for HSV-1, and the mechanisms of latency remain unclear (though most current models propose that epigenetic regulation plays a major role).
Evaluating the interactions between host cell genetic regulatory proteins and infecting viral DNA addresses a major gap in our understanding of the regulation of both active and latent HSV-1 infections, and most importantly, transitions between the two states. Therefore, my research is aimed at identifying mechanisms that are critical for the pathogenesis of HSV-1 and similar viruses.
How do you plan to use the research funds awarded through the program?
My hope is that I will be able to use the funding to support a trip to the International Conference in Antiviral Research (ICAR), the annual meeting of the International Society for Antiviral Research (ISAR), in Lyon France in March 2023.
What do you enjoy about being a part of the Baker Institute and Dr. Schang’s lab?
Working in Dr. Schang’s lab has been my first real opportunity to be exposed to the research world - and to engage in scientific discovery outside the classroom. It is truly inspiring, exciting and eye-opening to be a part of a high-functioning lab doing cutting-edge research in my field of study.
I most enjoy the opportunity to be included in and contribute to the lab’s work, and to be a part of the lab community. I really value the collaborative and supportive atmosphere of the lab and how we challenge one other to improve our understanding and question our work deeply. Dr. Schang maintains very high standards for our work, and I believe it betters all of us as researchers, students, and people to strive toward the highest standard we can.
My experience in Dr. Schang’s lab has also helped open doors for me that otherwise may not have been opened. Last summer, I conducted computational biology research at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle (my home city!), and I believe my experience gained in the Schang lab played a huge role in my selection for that role. It’s clear that my experience in the lab will strongly influence the direction of my future after graduation, a future which for me will likely be a Ph.D. program.