Catherine Mills ('15 Chemistry)

Photo of Zoe VanderPloeg What do you do for your undergraduate research?

The main focus of our laboratory is to create novel DNA-damaging compounds that can be targeted specifically to cancer cells for improved treatment of cancer. These compounds are being designed to minimize the side-effects of current cancer chemotherapy (hair loss, gastric irritation, suppressed immunity, etc). The strategy being used is to attach a non-mutagenic DNA damaging agent to ligands which can bind specifically to receptors which are over-produced on cancer cells. The goal of my research is to make the DNA-damaging agent without the cell-targeting ligand, so that we can use it as a control for studying the effectiveness of the new compounds being developed in our laboratory.

What made you want to pursue an undergraduate research project?

I have always planned to pursue a graduate program in biomedical science, but greatly desired the opportunity to acquire hands on research experience as an undergraduate student before embarking on my graduate studies

How did you start your research project?

I took Organic Chemistry II with Dr. Varadarajan, my first semester attending UNCW as a transfer student and really enjoyed his class. Knowing that I wanted to pursue undergraduate research, and drawn to his teaching methods, I asked Dr. Varadarajan about his current projects, and knew instantly that I wanted to be a part of his research team.

Was doing your own research fun? Be Honest.

Incredibly fun, and equally challenging! However, I believe the challenges you encounter daily throughout the course of your project, and learning to overcome these obstacles, are just as fulfilling as the "fun" you will have during your research.

It isn't required to do research as an undergrad, so what advantages do you think this experience has provided you?

My research experience has shown me how important it is, to not only successfully apply the knowledge I've learned in the classroom to the laboratory, but to be able to translate and make my research more relatable to people of various educational backgrounds, who may not be as familiar with chemistry.

What recognition and/or grants did you receive for your research?

I have received the 2014 UNCW Summer Undergraduate Research Creativity Award, the 2014-2015 Ann Sherman Skiba Undergraduate Fellowship, the 2014-2015 Will S. DeLoach Award for Excellence in Organic Chemistry, and the CSURF Research Supplies Grant (Spring 2014).

Note- Catherine also received the EMEC, LLC Scholarship in Science & Mathematics, a UNCW merit scholarship for students who are seeking careers in science and mathematics.

What are your plans after you receive your degree from UNCW?

I am hoping to be admitted into one of the Biomedical Science PhD programs that I am currently applying for.

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