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K-State Today

May 14, 2012

Discovering distinction: Bigelow receives top undergraduate research honor

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

A Kansas State University undergraduate student studying the proteins of colon cancer cells is being honored for her research efforts.

Kristina Bigelow, senior in biology, Elsmore, is the recipient of the university's Distinguished Undergraduate Student in Research Award. The honor was established to recognize outstanding contributions by an undergraduate student to the discovery and creation of new knowledge to K-State. Bigelow receives $1,000 and a plaque.

As an undergraduate researcher, Bigelow studies how the loss of gap junction intercellular communication can be restored in colon cancer cells. Gap junctions are intercellular channels made of connexin proteins, which control the passage of molecules from one cell to the next and determine a cell's health and functionality. Colon cancer cells contain fewer gap junctions than healthy colon cells. Bigelow found that adding connexin protein -- such as connexin 43 or Cx43 -- using a transfection technique caused an increase in gap junction activity in colon cancer cells. She is now studying the effect of small molecules, called gap junction enhancers, on the gap junction activity in these cells.

"If I had not started research when I did I most likely would not have found out how much I enjoy it," Bigelow said. "Performing research has made me realize how much I want to keep going with school and make research part of my future."

Bigelow's research mentor is Thu Annelise Nguyen, associate professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at K-State.

"Being in Dr. Nguyen's lab is the most amazing opportunity I have ever had," Bigelow said. "Working in her lab has helped me decide on a course for my future. I am going to start my master's degree in January and then hope to go on for a dual medical doctorate and research doctorate. Without the lab I would still be confused about what I want."

Bigelow has received several other honors while at K-State, including: first place in the undergraduate student oral session at the 2012 K-State Research Forum; first place in oral session at the 2012 Phi Zeta Research Day; the 2012 Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence -- or K-INBRE -- Star Trainee at Kansas State University; and a Cancer Research Award from the Johnson Cancer Research Center in 2011 and 2012.