Biology Students Discovery Has Potential in Gene Therapy

Glennis Nagel

A UNK undergraduate biology student has been recognized for her research using a virus that can be used in gene therapy to transport DNA without being infectious. The finding has potential in the treatment of myocarditis, pancreatitis and other diseases.

The discovery recently earned Christine Gilling, who is being mentored by Dr. Kim Carlson, associate professor of biology, top honors in the cellular and molecular biology division at the Sigma Xi Student Research Conference in Orlando, Fla. The presentation was titled “Stability of a Foreign Protein in Chimeric CVB3: Potential Vector for Gene Delivery.”

Gilling is a UNK Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN) Scholar. All UNK BRIN scholars have to complete a 10-week research experience. Gilling did her research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center with Dr. Kyung-Soo Kim.

She was recognized at the awards ceremony with a medal and an invitation to join the international honor society of research scientists and engineers.

Gilling said that she likes the field of genetics, because of the opportunity…”to come up with a question and then come up with the answer yourself ” through research. She was also quick to point out that last year three geneticists won the Nobel Prize in medicine.

Dr. Carlson describes Gilling as “…mature and dependable. She has a sense of the lab. Some students do research because they have to. She does it, because she loves it. She has the love for it.

“She has been designing and carrying out her own experiments,” Dr. Carlson said. “You don’t get undergrads who carry out four projects at once on their own. She does.”

And Gilling is passing it along. “Now Christine is mentoring other students,” Dr. Carlson said. “Some students come with the preconceived notion that every experiment has to work, she said. “It’s called REsearch. If we knew what to expect, we would call it ‘search.’ If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.”

In doing her project, Gilling worked with a Coxsackie virus, CVB3, as the vector, or transport, system.

“We use a virus to transport the DNA, because it is easy for the virus to get into the host genome,” Gilling explained.

Throughout her undergraduate career, she has been involved with research and has presented at various conferences. She has an active spring semester planned with presentations in February at an education conference in St. Joseph, Mo., and in April at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research in Salzburg, Md., Nebraska Academy of Sciences in Lincoln and UNK Student Research Day.

Gilling transferred to UNK from a Wisconsin college after her freshman year. Before coming to UNK, she searched the Internet for a Ph.D. geneticist she would want to study with and found Dr. Carlson’s bio on the UNK Web site.

“She’s done almost anything a geneticist could do,” Gilling said of her mentor, who drew Gilling to UNK. “UNK is awesome,” Gilling said, “and I love Nebraska. I could not find a better place to live. I have no desire to leave.”

Where she continues her education may or may not take her out of Nebraska. A senior, Gilling has applied to graduate programs at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, University of Iowa and the University of Texas.