UROP commends Michelle Tu for her passionate research into human-embryonic stem cells and treatment for spinal cord injury. Research has allowed Michelle to hone her critical thinking, creativity, and other valuable skills. She is looking forward to a career of using research to help develop stem cell-derived therapies for cancer. Congratulations Michelle!

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

My research focuses on central nervous system trauma and potential therapies for spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis. I conduct my research under the guidance of Dr. Hans Keirstead in the Reeve-Irvine Research Center.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

My initial interest in stem cells began when I read an article about the promise of stem cell research. I was amazed by the unique features of stem cells, especially their ability to differentiate into any cell type in the body. Stem cells hold the potential not only to alleviate various diseases but to advance medical and scientific research. Knowing that UC Irvine boasts many renowned researchers, I began researching faculty members involved in stem cell research. After reading a description of Dr. Keirsteadís research, I was immediately drawn to his work with human-embryonic stem cells (hESC) and treatment for spinal cord injury. During my third year, I was accepted into the UC LEADS program and began working in Dr. Keirsteadís lab. My first project involved characterizing two common types of SCI that respond differently to hESC-derived treatment.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Research has enhanced my understanding of concepts that I have learned in the classroom. The hands-on approach gives me better insight into what I learn in class and a greater appreciation for education. Research has also helped stimulate my critical thinking and inventiveness by compelling me to ask questions, understand convoluted concepts, and conceive new ideas. Furthermore, research has given me the opportunity to work closely with brilliant scientists who have taught me invaluable skills.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

Interestingly, my favorite part of research occurs before any experimenting is done. Generating the hypothesis, planning out the experiment and discussing the clinical applications of the project boost my motivation to do the research. Although it is uncertain whether we will achieve the anticipated results, the possibility of achieving those results keeps me motivated during those long hours in the lab and when problems arise during the experiment. Looking at the bigger implication of the project, such as the development of potential therapies for central nervous system trauma and advancing stem cell research, also keeps me driven and enthusiastic about my research.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

Currently, I am applying to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences. My ultimate plan is to become a stem cell scientist in either academia or industry and help develop stem cell-derived therapies for cancer. Through research, I have been given the opportunity to participate in various research programs and present my findings at several national conferences. These opportunities as well as my laboratory experience have equipped me with a great deal of knowledge and skills that I can offer to any respectable graduate institution. In addition, my strong research background gives me a definite edge over other competitive graduate school candidates.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

I highly encourage students who are interested in research to start early. I wish I had started research earlier in my undergraduate career so that I could have gained even more experience. However, it is never too late to start. If you are truly passionate about research and interested in what you are studying you will be just as knowledgeable and successful as someone who started earlier. I also encourage students to take advantage of opportunities to do research in different labs or institutions to explore various research areas and enhance their research experience.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '07 Michelle Tu
Nov. '07 Brett Reid
Oct. '07 Marlen Kanagui
Sep. '07 Yekaterina Pavlova
Aug. '07 Amanda Janesick
Jul. '07 Lauren Bloom
Jun. '07 Ismael Diaz Herrera
May. '07 Sarah Pauly
Apr. '07 Jenny Ouyang
Mar. '07 Valerie Dao
Feb. '07 Abraham Qavi
Jan. '07 Rachel Bell