SKC Students Conduct Biomedical Research

May 15th, 2006 | By | Category: 17-4: Reforming Our Schools, Native Style, Tribal College News

Using a Department of Defense instrumentation award, Salish Kootenai College (SKC, Pablo, MT) has equipped a modern molecular biology laboratory to support faculty and student research projects. Currently, the lab employs seven students as research assistants under the guidance of SKC Physics and Chemistry Instructor Michael Ceballos (Tepehuan Indian).

“These students break the stereotype that Native Americans are only proficient in environmental studies and resource management. Indian people can do anything – even biomedical research!” says Ceballos.

Through a National Science Foundation – Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF-EPSCoR) grant, Ceballos is studying structure-function relationships of viral polymerases. Specifically, his group is investigating the activity of an enzyme involved in the replication cycle of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).

The FIV genome and life cycle resemble Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Ceballos hopes that data emerging from this work will contribute to the larger national HIV/AIDS research effort.

Although this NSF-EPSCoR research award does not provide funding for undergraduates, Ceballos has patched together student salaries through a series of smaller NSF-EPSCoR student awards, several All Nations Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation student scholarships, and a National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMontana Space Grant Consortium grant.

Because the tribal college has equipped a state-of-the-art biology-chemistry lab, SKC can now offer summer research opportunities in biological and chemical sciences on campus. This is possible through a NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant awarded to SKC and Montana State University’s Dr. Mary Cloninger.

“We’ve had limited success sending students off-campus to train at major universities, primarily because 8 weeks is a long time for a student to be away from family. Dr. Cloninger and I decided that we could generate greater participation in biochemical research by offering summer internships on a tribal college campus,” says Ceballos.

“The students are very excited and passionately engaged in their projects. That makes all the late nights and weekend work worth the effort.”

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