FHSU biology undergraduates research diabetes and obesity, with help from catfish

Biomedical Research

by Samantha Dean
Two Fort Hays State University biology undergraduates are working throughout the summer researching the causes of diabetes and obesity in humans by examining the genes of channel catfish.

With the guidance of Dr. Yasuhiro Kobayashi, associate professor of biological sciences, Paige Evans, Concordia senior, and Alexyss Leiker, Hays senior, are finishing the research they began last summer. Kobayashi hand selected the undergraduates based on merits beyond academics.

"I don't pick students based on grades alone," said Dr. Kobayashi. "They have to work well with others and show motivation. No matter how smart a person is, it takes a lot of heart to do good research."

The students are using catfish donated by a hatchery in Milford. Evans is researching how food intake influences the expression, or the amount of material produced by a certain gene of a protein that acts as a metabolic switch, and Leiker is researching insulin receptors and the development of obesity in catfish.

Catfish raised to reach the table quicker develop characteristics similar to human obesity, meaning they accumulate fat in their bellies, which is not useful, instead of generating larger fillets.

"We do not know why they get fat," said Kobayashi, "but because fish become 'fat,' we think that we can use catfish as a possible model organism to study human obesity."

"Throughout our research, we have learned persistence and patience," said Evans. "There was a point where it felt like we weren't going anywhere with the experiment until we finally had a breakthrough that kept us going." After running lab procedures for months, Evans got positive results, which she will present at a conference in early August.

"We really depend on each other working in the lab," said Leiker. "Teamwork is essential."

FHSU receives scholarships and grants for research and supplies through K-INBRE (Kansas IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence) to support undergraduate students who conduct biomedical research with FHSU science faculty members.

"The research I'm doing at FHSU is preparing me for dental school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where investigating the effects of disease on teeth is an option," said Leiker.

"Research is good experience, beyond what we teach in the classroom," said Kobayashi. "Our students have the opportunity to travel and present their research at international conferences where they are exposed to people from other universities and countries."

Evans and Leiker will present their research at the beginning of April 2016 in San Diego at the Experimental Biology meeting in front of 15,000 people. Evans will also present at the National Institute of Health Headquarters in Bethesda, Md., from Aug. 2 to Aug. 6. At these conferences, they will rub elbows with students from Ivy League schools, representing the academic excellence of FHSU.

"FHSU's motto is 'forward thinking, world ready,'" said Kobayashi. "It is important that we expose students to the world outside of Kansas with opportunities like this."

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