Meet Suna Burghul
Graduation Year: May 2016
Field of Study: Biophysics
WNK (With No Lysine (K)) kinase is a protein involved in a short cascade upstream of its substrate OSR/SPAK (oxidative stress regulated kinase / Ste20 proline/alanine rich kinase). WNK kinase is known to be a regulator of blood pressure and the WNK isoforms regulate cation-chloride cotransporters that control salt resorption in the kidneys. Misregulation of WNKs can lead to hypertension and thus the many factors that can affect regulation of the WNKs are of great importance.
We studied WNK3 autophosphorylation regulated by chloride concentration and increasing intermolecular interactions. Effects of these factors on the WNK3 phosphorylation state were studied through protein assays using mass spectrometry and phosphoprotein gel stain. Activation of WNK3 appears to increase with intermolecular interactions suggestive of trans autophosphorylation. Conversely, WNK3 is inhibited with increasing chloride concentration.
I stepped into the lab barely being able to work a pipetman and left being able to analyze and understand data from a mass spectrometer. I learned so much in that one semester that will forever impact my career in medicine and research.
I started a little skeptical because I was worried about being in the department of biophysics because I wasn’t exactly a physics wiz and was more interested in chemistry. Little did I know I would be doing a lot more biochemistry than physics. There were days of frustration from machines working incorrectly, or analyzing data only to find out I made a huge mistake in my protein assay that caused my experiment I had been working on for a week to be invalid. But there were also days of triumph when experiments worked correctly or when I got a beautiful sigmoidal curve from my data.
One of the best parts of my experience was the friends that I made. Our lab was the first to have two Green Fellows, and being in the lab with Jenny was one of the best parts of my experience. Not only did I always have a lunch buddy to watch Korean dramas with, but also we helped each other with experiments or thinking through things to help make conclusions about experiments. I also had outstanding mentors in the lab. Dr. Goldsmith is incredibly intelligent and working in her lab was an absolute privilege. Our lab had a very fun and joking atmosphere, which made every day different, and exciting. One of the coolest experiences was getting to meet Dr. Johann Deisenhofer, a Nobel Laureate who was not only in our department, but just down the hall.
Advice for future students:
My advice would be to take full advantage of this semester to immerse yourself in your research. Don’t work, don’t study for the MCAT/GRE, put all of your effort into you Green Fellows Project because you may never get another opportunity like this again where you have the entire semester to focus solely on research!
Understand that when you first start in the lab you won’t understand a lot, there will be a huge learning curve, and you may feel lost, AND THAT’S OKAY! Your mentors will not expect you to jump into the lab already knowing everything that you need to do. Their job is to teach you and they wouldn’t have been chosen as your mentor if they didn’t want to.
If your lab doesn’t mind, try to arrive at 10 am and leave at 7 pm and avoid the 8am and 5pm traffic at all costs! I got very lucky to be in a lab where everyone came in late and left late which exactly fit what I preferred doing.