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Brian Kelch lab to bring biomedical science lessons to Worcester Technical High School

UMass Medical School Communications

octubre 02, 2018
  Brian Kelch, PhD

Brian Kelch, PhD

As part of a 5-year, $1 million grant to study viral motors from the National Science Foundation, doctoral candidates and postdocs from the lab of Brian Kelch, PhD, will share their biomedical training and laboratory experience with students at Worcester Technical High School.

Dr. Kelch, assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, uses state-of-the-art cryo-electron microcopy to study the molecular machines that viruses use to package DNA into their tiny protective shell.

“We wanted to incorporate outreach and education into our work,” he said. “As a professor, part of the job isn’t just research, it’s also teaching. Doctoral students need that experience to compete in the today’s job market after graduation.”

UMMS students will serve as educators and mentors for Worcester high school students, helping them to understand how health ties back to the abstract concepts they learn in the classroom by using real life examples of a biomedical researcher at work. They will also share their knowledge of lab techniques and technologies, many of which are used in biotech companies that look to employ students graduating from Worcester Technical High School.

The high school students will also spend time in Kelch’s lab during the summer getting hands-on research experience. The goal for each student is to be a named author on a published study.

“It’s not often that research universities reach out to the public high school population,” said Kelch. “It’s important to engage students at this level to foster a lifelong love of learning and science.”

Funding from the NSF grant will be used to continue Kelch’s investigation of viral molecular motors. A unique combination of speed and force is needed to overcome the tremendous pressure generated as viral DNA is squeezed and condensed into its tiny protein shell, which is also called a capsid. If these motors—among the strongest biological motors observed—were the size of a car, they’d be traveling the equivalent of about 400 mph and have four times the towing capacity of a standard pickup truck, according to Kelch. Using cryo-EM to rapidly freeze and image these motors, Kelch will explore how these motors leverage DNA into the capsid as it winds itself into its package.

Related stories on UMassMedNow:
Brian A. Kelch, PhD, named 2014 Pew Scholar
UMMS scientists develop new model for motor responsible for packaging viral genome