Biology student juggles research projects
Published: Nov. 11, 2013
Being at Stephens College has taught Dina Kaissi ’14 that she can do anything—including juggling two research projects.
For her senior project, Kaissi is working with a University of Missouri researcher to study a collagen disorder that causes brittle bones. For extra experience, she’s conducting a study at Stephens on hyperbranched polymers. The research involves testing a certain type of polymer to see whether it can hold onto a guest molecule even in liquid.
A specific hyperbranched polymer is currently used in topical AIDS medication; however, it’s expensive and the polymer itself hasn’t been proven to withstand the body’s internal conditions.
If these hyperbranched polymers were able to hold onto guests—molecules with medicinal properties—they could lead to new pharmaceuticals, allowing the polymer to deliver medicine to the spot it’s needed without breaking down during delivery.
"That’s the idea," said Kaissi, a biology student at Stephens.
She’s testing the polymer’s ability by using various concentrations of dye.
When she’s not working with Assistant Professor Katrina Walker, Ph.D., on that study at Stephens, Kaissi is working in the lab of Dr. Charlotte Phillips, associate professor of biochemistry at Mizzou, Phillips’ husband, Dr. Jeff Phillips, associate professor of natural sciences at Stephens. Kaissi approached him with the idea of working in her lab. Specifically, the team is studying the impact of exercise on mice who have the collagen mutation that causes Osteogenesis Imperfecta, which causes extremely fragile bones.
By working at both Stephens and Mizzou, Kaissi said, she’s able to experience different research environments.
That said, Kaissi is glad she pursued biology at Stephens instead of at a major research university as she prepares for medical school. Originally accepted into West Point Military Academy on a tennis scholarship, Kaissi decided she wanted to pursue medical school instead and withdrew before her first semester started. When she returned home to Columbia, she admitted she wasn’t keen on the idea when her mom suggested Stephens.
But after arriving on campus, “I loved it,” she said. “Being at a women’s college has given me—well, I already had it, but it accentuated my belief in how much women can do. It really has fostered my desire to go into women’s health, and it showed me how important education can be.”