Six University of Arkansas at Fort Smith students spent part of their recent semester working with researchers at the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) on projects that could also lead to new treatments of neurodegenerative diseases and cancers.
According to the UAFS, students Priscilla Devora, Christopher Mizell, Natalie Nguyen, Deborah Robertson, Brenda Rosales, and Mark Spradlin worked with with ARCOM faculty Brandy Ree and Lance Bridges to analyze proteins that could play a role in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases, as well as how vitamin A derivates can be utilized as treatments for lymphoma.
ARCOM is operated by the Fort Smith-based Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, and is housed in a $32.4 million facility in east Fort Smith in the Chaffee Crossing area. The school is housed in a three story, 102,000-square-foot building, and a fully operational osteopathic college is expected to serve about 600 students when all four classes are full. The first of four classes is wrapping up its first year. The second group of around 150 students will begin classes this August.
The research was part of a biomedical research course taught by Dr. Jeff Shaver, associate professor of biological science at UAFS. The professor said the course gave students the opportunity to gain real-world research experience.
“One of the main goals is for our students to understand research and see the difference between research in a laboratory course and research with an institution like ARCOM,” Shaver said. “They’re doing much more background reading, research and planning. They’re finding out that in order to do research at this level, there’s a lot more trial and error than what they’ll see in a lab course.”
It also helped students like Rosales discover career paths. The Fort Smith native signed up for the course not knowing what she wanted to do after graduation. Rosales now wants to go to grad school to continue cancer research and possibly obtain a position in a biomedical laboratory.
“In a classroom setting, you usually have a protocol and you know what the outcome is. But here in the lab, it’s always different,” she said. “There’s no protocol to the research. In a classroom setting, literature suggests a concentration and students use it as a guide, but at the ARCOM lab setting, that is what is unknown.”
Rosales’ group was recently recognized for their research when they won an award at the annual Student Research Symposium at UAFS.
Shaver will in the fall offer an advanced biomedical research course for students from this semester’s course to continue their work, with the goal of eventually having upperclassmen students serve as mentors to students in the introductory research course. Shaver also is seeking to partner with other educational entities locally and statewide.
“This course has shown that our students are definitely interested in research,” he said. “I’m really not having to recruit for the class, because students are already talking to their peers about it and generating interest in the class.”