Benedictine grad earns national award for research on potential drug development

May 21, 2014

Student Research Conference

Lisle, Illinois ~ Kyle Turcic graduated from Benedictine University this May after not only impressing faculty members with his grasp of biology and laboratory research, but also being commended by some of the nation’s most distinguished and recognized professionals in the field.  

In addition to earning a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology, he spent 2.5 years outside of the classroom actively engaged in an undergraduate research project which caught the attention of professional experimental biologists at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in San Diego, Calif.

At the meeting of more than 14,000 scientists, Turcic, of Lisle, Ill., received an honorable mention award for work that sets the foundation to discover a drug for McCune-Albright Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes bone weakness, facial malformation and hyper-pigmented skin at puberty and extremely young ages.

Turcic worked alongside faculty advisor Robin Pals Rylaarsdam, Ph.D., professor of Cell and Molecular Biology, who has been studying the misregulation of G-proteins and their relationship to diseases at Benedictine for more than five years. G-proteins are cellular components that control the responses to many hormones and neurotransmitters. In McCune-Albright patients, one type of G-protein is abnormally active, causing children and adolescents with the disease to suffer from bone disease and frequent fractures.

“Being a part of this extraordinary research was humbling and rewarding,” Turcic said. “I was able to present our research to people who had a genuine interest in our work. We even received suggestions on how to move our project onto the next phase.”

During his presentation, Turcic explained the different experiments he conducted in Rylaarsdam’s lab and how they were able to identify three potential regions on the G-proteins where drug molecules could be targeted to turn off the abnormal protein.

Work in the lab continues this summer, as Rylaarsdam begins a collaboration with a computational chemist to begin to test candidate drug molecules based on the work of Turcic and many other undergraduates who have worked in her lab over the years.

Two other May graduates, Alison Dufour of Darien, Ill., who earned a B.S. in Biology and Bachelor of Arts in Spanish, and Kathryn Ghanayem of Wheaton, Ill., who earned a B.S. in Health Science, also contributed work in Rylaarsdam’s lab and presented their findings on the G-protein and its relationship to McCune-Albright Syndrome.

The Benedictine team was not limited to McCune-Albright researchers. Sydney French, of Durand, Ill., who earned a B.S. in Biology and conducted research with faculty advisor Jayashree Sarathy, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biological Sciences, presented on the effects of pathological doses of bile acids on intestinal cell growth and barrier function. Her studies demonstrated that high levels of bile acids in the intestinal lumen disrupt the tight junctions, which exacerbate during inflammation. Her studies will provide the basis for future studies on the role of bile-acid induced diarrhea in inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s Disease.

“I saw Kyle make the leap from a student reporting on what he did to a scientist discussing his ideas with other scientists,” Rylaarsdam said. “The first time anyone attends a huge scientific meeting like this, they begin to understand that what they’re doing in the lab is a real contribution to our human understanding of how life works. Other scientists are honestly interested in their work, not because they’re going to ‘grade’ the student, but because the students are showing new data that other scientists can use.

“In short, all four of our students graduated from being undergraduate students to standing as our scientific peers,” Rylaarsdam said.

Likewise, students acknowledged the growth they experienced under the tutelage of their mentors.

“Professor Rylaarsdam has helped me grow and develop myself into the person and researcher I am today,” Turcic said. “I am truly fortunate to have had her as my mentor. Going to a smaller school like Benedictine has many benefits and more student-teacher interaction is one of them.

“I had so many great opportunities at Benedictine – opportunities that I would have never imagined during my first time walking onto campus as a freshman,” Turcic added. “I am very fortunate and grateful to have had such amazing experiences where I was able to gauge my interests and weaknesses and truly develop myself.”

Benedictine University promises its students an affordable and attainable undergraduate education infused with the Benedictine values, faculty who make students’ learning their first priority, a support system dedicated to their success, comprehensive preparation to enter the job market, and a caring community in which they can become better learners, leaders and world citizens.

In keeping with this promise, every year at Benedictine, high performing undergraduate students like these are given the opportunity to participate in hands-on research projects with faculty to investigate new advances in science and search for answers to many complex and fascinating questions. Students involved in faculty research graduate from Benedictine with firsthand training and real-world laboratory skills from professors with the highest degrees in their fields.

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Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois and Mesa, Arizona. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 55 undergraduate majors and 17 graduate and four doctoral programs. Benedictine University is ranked No. 1 among the country’s fastest-growing campuses between 2001-2011 in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of private nonprofit research institutions, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among “America’s Top Colleges” for the third consecutive year in 2013. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business as the fifth largest in the Chicago area in 2013.


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