Summer Scholars Spotlight: Austin Parker

by anlindo on March 22, 2024

Senior Austin Parker (Biochemistry & Biology double major with a concentration in Medicinal Chemistry ‘24) conducted research last summer as part of the Summer Scholars program with mentor Dr. Christopher Lassiter. His project, Using CRISPR/Cas9 to model lipoid congenital adrenal hyperplasia (LCAH) in zebrafish (Danio rerio), was inspired by his interest in medicine and health and cutting-edge technology like CRISPR/Cas9. Austin believes improving the quality of life for individuals with chronic diseases is a worthwhile effort, and getting involved in this research provided resources to expand on previous knowledge of LCAH and discover new ways to detect and treat patients. 

The majority of his process was a learning experience. He said the beginning stages of the project involved learning how everything worked, technical and lab skills, as well as how to use CRISPR/Cas9. Once Austin learned to navigate the tools, cut sites were designed, and CRISPR was used. When asked what the most challenging part of his research was, he said having to troubleshoot things when they stopped working. 

Austin’s research project required him to utilize CRISPR/Cas9, a gene-editing technology requiring the Cas9 protein to do all the heavy lifting. He explains that CRISPR/Cas9 originated in bacteria and was able to be modified by scientists at UC Berkeley to target and make cuts at specific DNA sequences. For his project, he designed a strand of RNA the protein used as a reference. He used the RNA to cut the star gene to prevent the product of the gene from working properly to replicate LCAH in zebrafish. Zebrafish were chosen for this model because of their vast similarities with human genetics; over 70% of the human genome has a zebrafish gene with similar functionality. 

Currently, Austin is still hard at work on the model with zebrafish that could potentially carry the mutation. In the completion of his research project, Austin hopes to discover a deeper understanding of LCAH, including detecting early signs of the disease, new ways to treat it, and how it may impact other areas of the body. After graduating from Roanoke, he plans to attend pharmacy school and become a cornerstone in his community.

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