Rebecca Atkins has known where she wanted her life to take her since she was in the eighth grade. Seven years later, the junior biochemistry/molecular biology major continues to follow that challenging and rewarding path at Wittenberg University.
As an eighth-grader in Sylvania, Ohio, Atkins was assigned an I-Search research paper, which required students to choose a topic and present the information to their peers. Atkins read the book Hot Zone, a non-fiction bio-thriller by Richard Preston, and developed an immense interest in Ebola, a term for a group of viruses named after the Ebola River in Africa.
First discovered in 1976, Ebola has one of the highest case fatality rates of any human pathogenic virus. Scientists believe that the virus is transmitted to humans via contact with infected animal hosts.
Following the completion of her project, Atkins realized that it was not just Ebola, but all bio-terror agents that interested her. At that point, Atkins made it her goal to cure not just Ebola, but other bio-terror agents as well.
After a neighbor encouraged Atkins to apply for a position at the University of Michigan, located about 45 minutes from her hometown, she made the most of a fascinating internship during the 2008 summer months. While the internship was not focused solely on bio-terror agents, she worked with professional scientists at Michigan, testing specific genes to find potential relationships with Esophageal Aden carcinoma, or esophageal cancer.
The summer research project is nearing completion, and Atkins said there don't appear to be any new connections made. That does not mean Atkins considers her work to be in vain.
"I guess the professionals could see it as a sort of disappointment, but I do not," Atkins said. "I had an amazing opportunity and was also working on examining other genes and their relationships with chemotherapy patients' abilities to survive this disease.
"The scientists will now be able to closer examine these new genes, searching for any potential links to a cure."
After graduation from Wittenberg, Atkins plans to continue her education, studying virology, or the study of infectious viruses, in graduate school.
- Written by Lizzie Amorello '09
- Photo by Erin Pence