Her Campus: What was your research about?
Quin Wolters: For three years, I studied Alzheimer’s disease, researching the disease and reaching out to researchers in the field. I learned a lot of great research and presenting skills by going to STEM fairs. Eventually, I created my own proposal which is a hypothesis about some area in your research.
HC: What was your proposal about?
QW: I looked at the blood brain barrier which separates blood vessels from brain tissue. The blood brain barrier is made up of endothelial cells which can become inflamed when harmful bacteria try to pass through it. Inflammation of the blood brain barrier can lead to the loosening of these endothelial cells which leads to easier passage of bacteria through the barrier. My research looked at the accumulation of amyloid beta protein, possibly triggered by the infiltration of bacteria. Amyloid beta protein is, at its core purpose, an antimicrobial peptide which is a protein that combats microbes (aka bacteria). If the brain doesn’t have a proper mechanism for flushing out this protein, the protein clumps together into plaques. These plaques interrupt communication between neurons and trigger the twisting of the Tau protein within neurons (called neurofibrillary tangles). The synergy of these two processes causes the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
HC: Who was your main role model during this program?
QW: The program continually offers guidance from older students as well as a faculty advisor who is a mentor who stays with you for all three years. Throughout the program, I had to complete at least 5 hours of research each week, so it was crucial to have extra help from time to time. My mentor, Dr. David Lewis, was super influential in helping me engage in connections with professors at universities and in keeping me on the best path to succeed.
HC: How did your research inspire any potential career paths?
QW: I’ve always been interested in going into the medical field, and after taking this class and doing the research, I realized how interested I am in the brain, specifically. I could see myself as a doctor or even a researcher.
HC: As a woman in this field of research, how do you think this experience was different?
QW: In general, being a girl in STEM is more in demand since it is still a predominantly male field. I never experienced anything discriminatory, but there are definitely more guys than girls at these STEM fairs. I hope my research inspires more girls to join this program and participant in research to continue to pave the way for women in STEM.