Undergraduate Research Program

Sarah Pemberton

Sara Pemberton Smiling in front of stairsMajor: Biology (Molecular, Cellular & Developmental)
Mentor: Elizabeth Rhea, Medicine

Contact: pembes@uw.edu

Current research project: Regulation of Insulin Endocytosis and Transcytosis at the Blood-Brain Barrier


Sarah is a senior 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 uptake 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
The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a layer of tightly-woven endothelial cells that moderates what substances can cross from the capillaries into the brain. My research mentor and I are exploring how insulin gets into and across the BBB, specifically what protein regulates uptake of insulin and its receptor. Insulin has been shown to play an important role in cognition. However, Alzheimer’s patients exhibit decreased insulin signaling and sensitivity in the brain. 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 got involved in research spring of my freshman year. I’ve known since high school I wanted a career in research, and so I was eager 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 BBB. It has been the most rewarding experience I’ve had in college by far.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
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 only rejections in response. In fact, the first time I reached out to my current lab, they turned me down! My path to finding a research position definitely wasn’t what I expected it to be, but I got there eventually. With persistence (and maybe a little help from URP), you will too!