Thomas Gallant ’12, of Scotia, N.Y., recently presented his research at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. His research explores the effects of HIV proteins in humans and focuses on a potential cure to the virus.
A chemistry major with a biochemistry concentration in the premed program, Gallant has been working alongside Ann Sheehy, associate professor of biology, examining the interaction between an endogenous human anti-HIV protein called APOBEC3G and the HIV protein that regulates and degrades it. His presentation was titled "Investigating Novel Targets on APOBEC3G (A3G) Domains as Areas for Anti-HIV Therapy."
Ultimately, Gallant and Sheehy aim to restore the power of the disease-fighting protein by freeing it from the virus’s control. “If we’re able to liberate [the endogenous protein] from the HIV protein, it can have its anti-HIV effect,” he says.
Gallant, who is a member of the Holy Cross men’s crew team, began the project last year as part of the Summer Science Research Program. BD Corporation, an international medical technology company that serves healthcare institutions around the world by manufacturing a broad range of medical supplies, provided funds for his research via a grant to the College’s science coordinator, Daniel Bitran.
Though the research will continue after Gallant graduates, he and Sheehy predict their findings surrounding the protein-protein interaction will be ready for publication in roughly a year. “[Our research] won’t be published in an undergraduate research journal.” Sheehy adds, “It’s going to go to a professional scientific journal in the HIV field.”
NCUR brings together leading undergraduate researchers from across the nation in a special conference each year. While the majority of students present their studies with posters, Gallant applied to a more competitive branch of the conference and was chosen to present his research orally in front of students, professors, and supervisors from around the country.
Sheehy encourages all of her senior researchers to present their findings in front of other scientists before they graduate. “I think it’s really important to present your work and be a part of the scientific community,” she says. “This means getting up in front of a group of people who don’t know what you work on and being able to convey the importance of what you do and how you do it.”
Gallant says he felt well prepared for his talk at the national conference because he had already presented his research twice: once at BD headquarters and once in front of the biology department at Holy Cross. Gallant used the feedback he received at these initial presentations to make improvements and refine his presentation technique.
“The entire biology department got involved, which was really helpful,” Gallant says. “Everyone gave feedback, so by the time I was actually presenting it wasn’t intimidating at all.”
Gallant says the chance to network with scientists from various backgrounds was a valuable part of the experience. “One of the greatest things was all of the people you could meet,” he says. “I met a lot of students, I met professors from medical schools, and I got to hear Mario Capecchi speak.”
Capecchi, the conference’s keynote speaker, is a molecular geneticist and a 2007 Nobel Prize winner in medicine or physiology for his pioneering work on animal models for human diseases.
After graduation, Gallant will work at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a branch of the National Institutes of Health which is led by Anthony Fauci '62, a leading immunologist. Gallant accepted a position as a research technician in Dr. Fauci’s lab. Gallant secured the position through a Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award, and will pursue a project that aims to develop an HIV-1 vaccine. During his interview for the NIAID position, Gallant presented his research to lab members.
“Many of our students go to interviews and give conference presentations and are so impressive that people are repeatedly stunned that they are undergraduates,” Sheehy says. “Presentations are where most undergraduates reveal themselves to be undergraduates, but in the case of Holy Cross students, they are indistinguishable from first-, second-, and potentially third-year graduate students. “We hear this all the time.”