Deborah Dele-Oni: Research in immunology

Deborah Dele-Oni '18 conducted research during her internships at UMass Medical and Brown University.

student in a research lab
Deborah Dele-Oni examining clownfish genes in the Drew Lab at UMass Dartmouth
  • Year Class of 2018
  • Major Biology
  • Minor Biochemistry
  • Hometown Fall River, MA
  • Award DHC Leadership Series Recognition, Endeavor Scholar
  • Internships UMass Medical, Brown University, Gateways to the Laboratory Program, Weill Cornell Medical College
  • Research Immunology
  • Leadership Admissions Ambassador, President & founding member of UMassD chapter of CurlyinCollege
  • Next Steps Career as a pediatric immunology clinical researcher

Biology major: a blend of lab work and research

My biology major has provided me with plenty of lab courses and the opportunity to conduct my own research as an undergraduate research assistant in the Drew Lab on campus. 

Under the supervision of Dr. Robert Drew, my research project focused on a gene known as SIAT7 in clownfish and other closely related species. I examined whether the gene is expressed in clownfish mucus, and if expressed, what genetic differences exist between clownfish SIAT7 and its closely related non-symbiotic species. 

Endless possibilities for research

My internship at UMass Medical School in a Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology Research lab opened my eyes to the world of research and the endless possibilities it offers.

I was able to conduct a research project in a lab alongside other undergraduates involving a heat shock protein called Hps90 and how systematic mutational analysis affect the fitness of cells. I learned how to conduct several fundamental lab techniques such as polymerase chain reaction, restriction digest, and DNA manipulation.

I got to see what it’s like to work 9-5 in a lab with less human interaction than typical medical doctors receive. I learned how the professional world works when it comes to research, including the corporate side of research.

I also learned that research is a long and rewarding career and to always expect the unexpected.

Many of the things I learned in the lab are now being taught in my classes, and it’s great to see the connections.

Research presentation
Presenting research in neurodegeneration and cancer

STEP-UP internship: an intellectual challenge

As part of the Short Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP), I got to choose the institutions where I conducted my research. I chose Brown University to explore a broad area and challenge myself intellectually.

The research I did was clinical-based and focused on public health issues. I was in the tuberculosis and infectious disease labs. I saw patients and learned a lot about the world of immunology and infectious diseases. 

My days as an intern were very flexible, and some days I found myself doing research instead of seeing patients. Other days, I would attend seminars and have meetings with doctors to update them on the status of my findings.

This program helped me form the distinct career path I want. I see myself becoming a pediatric immunology clinical researcher, using my experience to do some translational research in hopes of improving healthcare overall. 

Research in neurodegeneration and cancer

As a summer intern at Weill Cornell Medical College, I worked under the supervision of a post-doctoral student on an individual project in the Pesko Lab. 

I conducted research in neurodegeneration and cancer.

My aim was to study the mechanism of association between Parkinson's Disease and melanoma. Epidemiological studies have shown that patients with Parkinson's Disease have a higher risk of developing melanoma, but a lower risk of developing other cancers.

I was rewarded for the research I conducted at Weill Cornell Medicine by getting my work published in The FASEB Journal. The publication, titled "Dissecting Comorbidity between Parkinson’s Disease and Melanoma in a Cell Culture Model," appears in the April 2017 issue.

Student at FroDown event
At the FroDown event, sponsored by Eden Body Works

Becoming a leader

Being a part of the Endeavor Scholars program, in addition to being president and founding member of the UMass Dartmouth chapter of CurlyinCollege, has strengthened me as a leader and communicator. It’s given me so many opportunities to demonstrate my leadership abilities on- and off-campus.

Two of my most memorable experiences as President of CurlyinCollege would have to be FroDown and the CurlybeforeCollege community service event. We were fortunate enough to have the Vice President of our sponsor, Eden Body Works, attend the FroDown and speak to our students.

Both events brought students from all backgrounds together to promote positive energy on campus in celebration of natural and curly hair.

The CurlybeforeCollege community service event highlighted issues with youth and through discussions that condemned society's impossible standards of beauty, encouraged us to be the best versions of ourselves.

A campus conducive to learning

UMass Dartmouth’s environment is conducive to learning—students are friendly, professors are helpful, and the campus is beautiful.

In the summer, the seats right outside the library are the best to catch up with friends, eat, or do homework. In the winter, I enjoy the Library Living Room because of how cozy it is.

The campus is small enough that you’ll always see your friends, but big enough that you’ll always meet new people. 

Scholarship opportunities based on merit and need have made it possible for many students to attend college stress-free. 

Next steps

I will be taking a gap year to see what the world has to offer.

My ultimate career goal is to be a pediatric immunologist specializing in immunogenetics. I want to study how genetics play a role in the immune system of kids who may be medical mysteries or aid in developing better treatments or possible cures for illnesses they are plagued with.

I feel well prepared for the next step of applying to professional programs. My research experience, extracurricular activities, and community service have made me a very competitive applicant. 

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