NCTR Summer Student Research Program—Training the Next Generation of Toxicologists

By Laura Schnackenberg posted 12-16-2021 14:30

SSRP Students and Mentors—2019

Note: Internship hosts can apply for SOT funding to match up to half the cost of summer research intern positions with SOT members. This program expands the number of opportunities for undergraduates to gain toxicology research experience. The deadline for 2022 funding is January 7. In summer 2021, SOT assisted with support for 27 students at 12 institutions.

For over 30 years, the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) Summer Student Research Program (SSRP) has a been a staple training program with the US FDA and eagerly anticipated by NCTR mentors and students alike. The success of our program depends on many factors, including (1) advertisement of the opportunity; (2) mentors with a desire to work with and encourage students; (3) funding for the program from SOT, the US FDA Office of Minority Health (OMH), and NCTR; (4) a dedicated committee to help match students and mentors; (5) liaisons that help facilitate onboarding and housing arrangements; and (6) most importantly, the students. We have been able to recruit students from colleges and universities throughout the United States to work with mentors in our six research divisions. Of our 29 students that participated in 2021, seven students were from Arkansas and 22 students were from other states.

Students and mentors work closely on a project that is showcased at the end of the 10-week period by the student delivering an oral presentation at NCTR. Additionally, a Lunch-and-Learn Series is offered that provides students an opportunity to hear about other research being conducted at NCTR. In 2021, the students heard about employment opportunities within the federal government, and a seminar on that included presentation tips with a focus on how to be effective in our more virtual world. Social gatherings for both mentors and students are organized for fellowship and fun during the summer. Collectively, we hope these efforts provide a positive experience for our students so that they will encourage others to apply or want to come back for another summer themselves.

While we had to put the program on pause in 2020 because of the pandemic, we were excited to welcome students back in 2021. As noted, we welcomed 29 students last year. While many of the 29 student participants worked on-site in the lab, there were some who worked remotely on bioinformatics-related projects. The summer projects covered a wide range of endeavors, such as:

  • Evaluating immunotoxicity of cobalt-chromium particles in differentiated HL-60 cells
  • Validating epigenetic biomarkers in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from women with lupus
  • Evaluating a reconstructed human-barrier culture system as an in vitro model for the human placenta
  • Evaluating neurodevelopmental effects of perinatal cannabidiol exposure in Sprague-Dawley rats
Sophie Li in the lab during the 2021 SSRP
Joseph Pham with his mentor, Dr. Rui Xiong

The SOT FUTURE Committee provided partial support for two of our students in 2021, Nikith Erukulla and Kylie Ning. Nikith worked to improve a model of pregnancy PBPK under the direction of Dr. Annie Lumen. Foundational training for the success of her project included learning about PBPK modeling and physiological changes during pregnancy. Nikith made a great contribution to help refine the model for accuracy and sensitivity. Kylie, under the direction of Dr. Nan Mei, evaluated the cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of black cohosh extract in the TK-6 human cell line. Kylie learned cell culture, a variety of toxicity assays, and data analysis. We are thankful for the support of SOT through the years. Since 2014, we have had nine SOT-funded students. Two of those students went on to pursue PhDs while another two obtained postgraduate degrees.

We are currently accepting applications for the 2022 SSRP through February 15, 2022. Find more information on the Zintellect website or contact program coordinators Page McKinzie or Laura Schnackenberg.