July 31, 2012
Biology graduate builds on research skills in prestigious internship
By Ben Lawson, media assistant
Kelvin Ihenacho, a 2012 Northwest Missouri State University graduate, attributes the guidance of Northwest faculty to helping him land a research internship this summer at Johns Hopkins University, one of the most well-known research institutions in the world.
Ihenacho, who received a bachelor’s degree with a major in biology and minor in biochemistry in only three years, landed the 10-week internship shortly after graduating in May. He is studying the role of polycystin-1 and polycystin-2, which are encoded by the genes PKD1 and PKD2 and are responsible for polycystic kidney disease.
For his research, Ihenacho is moving mammary gland epithelial tissues and epithelial nephritic tubules to a 3-D organotypic culture system that closely resembles their natural environment. He also induces a mosaic knockout of the PKD1 and PKD2 genes in these tissues, and studies their development using real-time confocal and differential interference contrast imaging. Through his research, he hopes to better understand the cellular basis of kidney development in order to make therapeutic advancements in the treatment of polycystic kidney disease.
Ihenacho said he gained valuable hands-on experience at Northwest that helped prepare him for the internship. Faculty such as Dr. Ahmed Malkawi, associate professor of chemistry, were instrumental in helping him develop the skills he needed to succeed in his internship.
“He was really the first person to expose me to research, and I really liked it,” Ihenacho said. “He was a truly dedicated and industrious mentor and teacher. He has helped me a great deal with becoming a competent chemist, and I can only hope to have teachers of his caliber in the next level of my studies.”
Ihenacho also participated in research with Dr. Rafiq Islam, professor of chemistry, on hereditary hemochromatosis, which is closely related to his research at Johns Hopkins. Islam said Ihenacho possessed a level of insight and focus on the project that is rare in an undergraduate student.
Ihenacho said the skills he learns conducting research cannot be compared to classroom learning.
“It’s a lot more practical than anything else I have done before,” Ihenacho said. “In school you do a lot of theoretical stuff, but here you actually see the big picture and you know why you are doing this and that, so it all comes together.”
So far, the results of Ihenacho’s research on epithelial morphogenesis have been promising. After his internship ends in early August, he hopes to continue with his research as long as funding for it is renewed.
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