Summer in the lab: an internship at UAMS

Release Date: 11/18/2011

If you hang around the biology department, you know Andrea Muffuletto. She is president of the Ozarks Biological Society and a member of Beta Beta Beta (Tri-Beta), the National Biological Honor Society. She helped coordinate Science Day. She serves on the committee for the Academic Enrichment Fund and is a part of Ozarks Alchemists, the chemistry club. Outside the classroom, she has shadowed (followed and observed) a dentist at River Valley Dentistry and a gastroenterologist at Arkansas Children's Hospital as part of an internship.

This summer Muffuletto took part in a summer internship program through the Arkansas Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) at the University of Arkansas Medical School in Little Rock. The internship was the result of a conversation with Dr. Alan Tackett from UAMS, who came to speak at Ozarks last spring.

"Dr. Tackett suggested I apply through INBRE for an internship," she said. "In the application we were to choose three professors that we were interested in having as our mentor. I asked for Dr. Tackett's lab and was accepted."

Muffuletto worked in a large and busy lab for 10 weeks. "There were lots of students doing research there," she said. "Dr. Tackett had two students there who'd finished their Ph.D.s and two or three who were working on theirs. Also lab techs. I spent a lot of time helping a Ph.D. student with a project for his thesis."

Sabrina Goddard and Andrea Muffuletto interned at UAMS over the summer.

Ozarks students Sabrina Goddard and Andrea Muffuletto both had summer internships at UAMS.

She explained the project she worked on used a process known as "western blotting" to separate and identify levels of a certain protein in both metastic (cancerous) and non-metastatic (non-cancerous) melanoma. "Basically we wanted to see how much of this protein was present in both a normal lesion or mole, versus a ‘cancerous' melanoma site," she said. "We wanted to do this because we've seen trends with this protein in other forms of cancer and we wanted to determine if this protein showed a similar trend in melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. And as a matter of fact that's exactly what we found."

Muffuletto said when running the lab tests everything is done multiple times to avoid fluke results. "We did it all in triplicate," she said. "You need to get the same result several times in a row. People might not realize how much work it takes to get even a small result."

As part of her internship, Muffuletto did two presentations on her research before an audience of staff members and other grad students from around UAMS, one at mid-summer and one at the end.

Although she originally planned to go to dental school, Muffuletto has considered grad school at UAMS as well, but most recently is contemplating a career as a physician's assistant. "Although 'physician's assistant' may not have the same prestige for some as 'physician,' it's a two-year program instead of eight years plus, and if I want to specialize as a physician's assistant, I can go another two years and do that too," she said. "Right now there's only one school in Arkansas with a program for physician's assistants, but in spring 2013 UAMS is starting a program. They're working out the accreditation right now. I want to be in that program."

Muffuletto plans to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in January and hope to apply to grad school. "Next semester, though, I'm going to focus on getting real hospital experience," she said. "I definitely need more hands on."