Undergraduate Research Program

Amanda An Nguyen

Amanda Nguyen in front of wired cagesMajor: Physics:Bioengineering
Mentors: Andre Berndt, Department of Bioengineering

Contact: aan5@uw.edu

Current research projects: Optogenetic Modeling of Chloride-Mediated Neurotransmission





Amanda An Nguyen is a senior in Bioengineering at the University of Washington. Her passion for research lies in developing optogenetic tools for visualizing key biological mechanisms, and she is pursuing this research in the Berndt Lab at the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine. She was a 2019 UTokyo Amgen Scholar. Amanda grew up in Seattle, and her hobbies include painting and singing.

Haley is a sophomore in Biology (MCD) at the University of Washington. She is very interested in the role and importance of research in medicine, especially with creating and implementing treatments. Since spring 2019, she has worked in Plymate Lab at UW SLU to help explore prostate cancer treatments. In her free time, Haley enjoys bouldering, basketball, aquariums, and gardening.

Sarah is a junior at the University of Washington studying molecular, cellular & developmental biology. She has been involved in research since the spring of 2018, and her current project focuses on insulin endocytosis and transport across the blood-brain barrier and the role this might play in Alzheimer’s disease. Her ultimate goal is to have a career in medical research.

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Chloride-mediated neurotransmission plays critical roles during early development. Disturbed chloride homeostasis in early neuronal circuits results in imbalances in neuronal differentiation, cell growth, and synapse formation that are thought to trigger irreversible paths into brain states associated with autism, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. I am working on the development of optogenetic tools for studying the role of chloride-mediated neurotransmission with the goal of understanding the mechanisms behind these disorders and redirecting current therapeutics to address these mechanisms.

Prostate cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the US for men, and incidences have about doubled in the last 20 years. My lab explores cell mechanisms that enable prostate cancer progression to understand how current treatments succeed or fail. An example would be exploring how certain receptors, such as at AR-Vs androgen receptor, plays a role in prostate cancer progression or treatment. We use this knowledge to help develop future treatments to increase patient survival.

The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a layer of tightly-woven endothelial cells that moderates what substances can cross from the blood in your capillaries into the cells of your brain. My research mentor and I are exploring how insulin gets into the BBB, specifically what protein regulates uptake of insulin and its receptor. Insulin has been shown to improve cognition, and it is linked to degradation of the protein beta amyloid, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. However, the brains of Alzheimer’s patients exhibit decreased insulin signaling and receptor sensitivity. We are hoping that learning more about this system in a healthy model may give us valuable insight into the disease condition.

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I joined the Berndt Lab during the summer before my junior year. I emailed Dr. Berndt expressing my interest in optogenetics, and he was willing to take me in! I was eager to get involved in undergraduate research because I was, since a young age, interested in learning more about how the brain works and the causes underlying neurological disorders. I also wanted to see tangibly how my coursework in BIOE could be applied to address a cause I was extremely passionate about. My research in optogenetics as an undergraduate allows me to begin contributing to the effort to improve current therapeutics to better target the mechanisms underlying neuropathological states.

I really wanted to get involved in research because I felt unsatisfied with the way labs were carried out in many of my classes, and I knew that there was more skills and knowledge to learn in a real research setting. Since high school I’ve also been really interested in healthcare, and joining a lab in the UWSOM really taught me about how treatments and cures and researched and implemented. I got involved by reaching out to professors who listed their projects on the URP Database, and am I very grateful that Dr. Uo accepted me into the Plymate Lab at UW South Lake Union. I’ve been happily running biochemical analytics there since the end of my freshman year.

I got involved in research spring of my freshman year. I’ve known since high school I wanted a career in research, and so I wanted to get real-life experience as soon as I could. I used URP’s research opportunities database to find potential mentors, until I eventually got a position at the VA Hospital studying Alzheimer’s and the blood brain barrier.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Put yourself out there! There are so many opportunities for undergraduate research here at UW, and while it may take some time to find a fit for you, as long as you keep putting yourself out there, you will find it!

Finding and being involved with research sounds very intimidating at first, especially when you’re surrounded by people who have much more knowledge of the topic than you. I want to say to everyone who’s worried that they may not have enough experience or knowledge yet: Don’t be afraid! Professors and graduate students understand that you have an undergraduate level of understanding, and they will be very excited that you are participating in research early on in your academic career. I never thought that I would enjoy being in my lab as much as I did, and I am so grateful for the skills and relationships that I developed in my lab. You have nothing to lose by putting yourself out there, and so much potential passion and inspiration to gain.
Don’t give up! It might take you a few tries to find a research opportunity. Before I got a position, I spent about a quarter and a half sending out emails and getting rejection emails in response. In fact, the first time I reached out to my current lab, they turned me down! It wasn’t until a few months later that a position opened up and they contacted me again. My path to finding a research position definitely wasn’t what I expected it to be, but I got there eventually, and you will too!