Students Learn About Groundbreaking Research at Rockefeller University Lecture
Students Learn About Groundbreaking Research at Rockefeller University Lecture

Dwight is committed to providing students with exceptional learning experiences beyond the classroom, connecting them with renowned leaders in industries such as the arts, sciences, technology, and business. Most recently, six Upper School students attended a lecture entitled "Science Goes 3-D: Revealing the Atomic Secrets Inside Our Cells," at one of the world's premier research centers — Rockefeller University — where they heard from investigators on the forefront of medicine, including a Nobel Prize-winner.

The students were accompanied by teachers Anne Metcalf, James Kearsley, and Barry Gragg, Head of Science; two students — Anika Jeyaranjan '19 and Cordilia Zhao '20 — summarized the lecture for us all:

On October 25, we met at Rockefeller University to attend a lecture on groundbreaking research in the field of cellular protein channels, drug-resistant cancer cells, and new techniques to design effective and affordable medicines using state-of-the-art cryogenic electron microscopy technology. Biochemist Dr. Roderick MacKinnon (Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2003) shared his discoveries about the function of ion channels. He demonstrated how the new imaging technology creates a more explicit picture of the structure and the movement of a protein within the phospholipid bilayer of a cell. Moreover, Dr. MacKinnon described how this new technology could model the physical tension within the cell membrane. Ion channels are essential to transfer electrical signals to our brain, allowing us to feel touch and sense pain. As an example, he illustrated the way in which pressure on the skin pulls apart the protein channel, allowing ions to pass through to transmit the electrical sensation signal.

Biologist Dr. Jue Chen explained how this technology has helped further research into a cure for cystic fibrosis. Her research focused on a large group of proteins called "ABC transporters" that enable molecules to pass through cell membranes. Dr. Chen centered specifically on the P-glycoprotein and the multi-drug resistance protein MRP-1. She found the mechanism by which these proteins eject chemotherapy molecules from cancer cells. Using cryo-electron microscopy and computational biology, Dr. Chen determined where the protein pump within the tumor cells interacts with the drugs and explained their versatility. This helped her to design a more affordable drug, allowing every patient the treatment necessary to relieve the symptoms of cystic fibrosis.

"Our students reported that they were prepared to attend this sophisticated lecture, thanks to their thorough study of the IB Biology syllabus in Dr. Metcalf's class, which laid the groundwork for them to follow, and comprehend the details and implications of, this groundbreaking research," said Mr. Gragg. "We send our appreciation to Chancellor Spahn, who paved the way for us to have this unique experience."






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