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Undergraduate Research Award


Writer(s): Steve Scherer


Sahej Bains, a senior undergraduate biology student in Professor Hrycyna's research group, was awarded first place in her group of the Biochemical and Molecular Biology division at the 20th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Chemical and Biological Sciences held at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. The poster she presented was: "Mutational and Biochemical Analyses of Isoprenylcysteine Carboxyl Methyltransferase."

Bains is from West Lafayette and is studying pancreatic cancer therapeutics. "There is a clear need for the development of more potent therapeutics to combat pancreatic cancer. One approach to this problem is to study a family of proteins called the Ras proteins. Ninety percent of pancreatic cancers are attributed to activating mutations in the oncogene K-Ras. Thus, it is important to inhibit the activity of the K-Ras enzyme in cancer cells. The Hrycyna group does this by focusing on an enzyme called Isoprenylcysteine Carboxyl Methyltransferase (Icmt) which post-translationally modifies K-Ras and allows the K-Ras protein to localize to the membrane where it signals cellular growth. The goal of my research is to understand the mechanism by which Icmt functions in order to develop inhibitors," she explained. 

"As a first step, we aim to identify the K-Ras binding site of Icmt. Once we have this site identified, we can focus on developing inhibitors which will compete with K-Ras for this site. In my poster presentation at this symposium, I discussed several important residues in the yeast Icmt that I mutated in order to examine their effect on the activity, expression, substrate specificity, and cleavage patterns of Icmt. We were especially excited to see that one particular residue in our protein showed some interesting results when mutated, suggesting that it may be an important residue in determining the K-Ras binding site of Icmt. In the future, we will continue exploring Icmt further by using creative biochemical techniques to elucidate the K-Ras binding site," Bains added.

After Purdue, she plans to pursue a M.D. Ph.D degree.