Undergraduate Research Program

Elizabeth Chen

Major: Biochemistry
Mentor: Dr. Franck Kalume, Neurological Surgery

Contact: egc2@uw.edu

Current research project: Contribution of PV and SST Interneurons to Seizure Phenotype in a Mouse Model of Ndufs4-related Leigh Syndrome


Elizabeth is a current senior studying Biochemistry and minoring in Anthropology at the University of Washington. She is interested in brain research, in particular, work concerning neurodegenerative diseases after personally knowing individuals suffering from these illnesses. Since January of 2019, Elizabeth has been working with Dr. Franck Kalume and his lab at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, focusing on characterizing the epilepsy phenotype and other symptoms of Leigh Syndrome using mice models. She hopes to continue this research and to bring more awareness concerning neurodegenerative diseases and its research to the community.


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
This past year, I have been looking at Leigh syndrome(LS), the most common type of pediatric mitochondrial disease, and its association with loss-of-function mutations in genes that encode for proteins in the electron transport chain in mitochondria. Recent studies in our lab have shown that knockout of the Ndufs4 gene in GABAergic interneurons are the key driver to seizures in the mouse model. As a result, I have been focusing on which subtypes of interneurons are the leading cause of the seizures, focusing on two major subtypes of GABAergic interneurons. A better understanding of mechanisms underlying epileptic seizures will lead to the development of effective treatments for LS-related epilepsy.


When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I got involved in undergraduate research winter quarter of my Freshman year where I spent much of the Autumn quarter looking for an undergraduate research opportunity. Coming into the UW, I knew I wanted to participate in undergraduate research as it would be a great opportunity for me to grow in my professional career, however, I just did not know where to get started. Fortunately, I had an Undergraduate Research Leader come into my FIG class to share about his experience and how I can get started. I started by attending an Undergraduate Research Info Session where they shared many details on how to approach potential mentors as well as how to best prepare your resume to be successful.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Advice I would give to a student interested in undergraduate research would be to remain curious and be proactive about your work. Once I had my research position, it was easy for me to remain complacent about my work, often just going through the motions. But use this research opportunity to the fullest! Ask your mentor questions or even other lab members. Ask them about the research they are doing, lab processes, or even advice for graduate school or a future career. Often, they have gone through exactly what you hope to do in the future!