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Researcher of the Month

June 2019

Jesse PaceJesse Pace

Biochemistry major, Honors College, Class of 2020

Research Mentor:  Dr. Sandeep Mallipattu, Medicine, Division of Nephrology

“Research has really taught me how to learn,” asserts Jesse Pace, a senior Biochemistry major in the Honors College (class of 2020) who is spending his fourth summer intensively doing research in the laboratory of Dr. Sandeep Mallipattu (Medicine, Division of Nephrology). Jesse continues to enjoy doing research, and finds motivation in being able to see the big picture. “You’re doing something that no one else has ever done. So even If you’re doing small experiments, in terms of the results…they could have huge consequences. A two hour experiment can disprove an entire hypothesis or change the way you think about something.”

Jesse was first paired with his mentor as an incoming freshman in the summer before starting freshman year, as a recipient of the Harvard Lyman Summer Research Scholarship – and has been a productive member of the Mallipattu lab ever since. His research is primarily focused on the Kruppel-Like Factor family of transcription factors involved in regulating cellular processes in the kidney. Jesse has co-authored 5 publications to date, including recently a first-author review titled “Targeting STAT3 Signaling in Kidney Disease” AJP-Renal Physiology. He has presented three times at the annual URECA poster symposium, and has also presented at  the 2019 Experimental Biology Annual Meeting (Orlando, FL), the 2018 American Society of Nephrology annual meeting (San Diego, CA), and the 2016 Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine Undergraduate Research Symposium. He is also a recipient of the 2018 URECA summer award to support his research activities.

Jesse is involved in the Honors College as a Big Sibling Peer Mentor, and has served as a Teaching Assistant for General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry. Jesse is also a cabinet member of Stony Brook University Young Investigators Review (SBYIR); and is a member of the Phi Delta Epsilon Medical Fraternity. He participates in the SBU Undergraduate clinical Experience Program, and shadows Dr. Chelsea Estrada in the Stony Brook Kidney Center Dialysis clinic. He is currently applying to dual degree M.D./Ph.D. programs.

Jesse Pace is a graduate of Malverne High School (2016). His hobbies include scuba diving. Below are excerpts from his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.

The Interview:

Karen. Tell me about your research.  
Jesse. The big picture in the lab of Dr. Mallipattu is: we study molecular players involved with kidney disease. We study the Kruppel-Like Factor (KLF) family, which is a family of transcription factors--and how these KLF transcription factors regulate the functions of different cell types throughout the kidney. So if you have impaired function of some of these Kruppel Like factors, it can contribute to kidney injury.

How did you get involved in research at SB?  
I started the summer before I started here as a student. I applied for the Harvard Lyman scholarship for summer research. And I happened to receive that, which not only paired me up with my lab mentor, Dr. Mallipattu, but also provided me funding for the summer. At the end of the summer, my PI said, “we’d love to have you stick around for the next few years” – and I’ve been there in the lab ever since.

Sounds like you got a great start!
Dr. Mallipattu has definitely been a great mentor, and an advocate for all sorts of things…he helped me to get clinical experience, and has helped me in thinking about in what schools to apply to, and what opportunities to pursue. When we go to conferences, he introduces me to colleagues, to get their ideas on the direction of the field… Dr. Mallipattu has given me so much.

What do you enjoy most about doing research?
The one thing I love about research is that you’re doing something that no one else has ever done. So even If you’re doing small experiments, in terms of the results …they could have huge consequences. Sometimes a two hour experiment can disprove an entire hypothesis or change the way you think about something…. There’s always more to be done. But the amount of work you put in pays off: it makes me feel like you’re being productive even if you’re getting a few small tasks done--that they can all add up to be something meaningful.

Had you been involved in research as a high school student? Did you have a strong research background coming in?
I had a memorable research experience from middle school on a project that looked at monarch butterfly development, and the effects of radiation-emitting electronic devices. And from early on, I liked science. But I didn’t have significant research experience in high school. …
The first few months that I spent in the Mallipattu lab were focused on learning a lot of basic skills – becoming familiar with lab equipment, doing readings on what our lab is focusing on. You pick up your understanding of research material as you go along. As you start doing the experiments, you sort of piece together what the exact project is and how everything falls in to place...
I’ve been able to learn a lot from meeting one on one with my mentor every week. At this point, I’m able to propose new experiments, new project directions. Overall, I’d say I’ve gotten a thorough feel for the entire process of research – thinking about how to plan experiments, analyzing the data, preparing the manuscripts, even handling the publication process.

Tell me about more about that.So the most recent paper I worked on was actually a literature review. We talked about a topic that is common in cancers and a lot of autoimmune diseases, and was related to kidney disease. For that paper, I collaborated with a previous high school student of ours. And I was really able to take on a  lead  role– in terms of thinking about making the paper, planning what we’re going to include, making all the figures, submitting it, and then addressing the reviewer’s concerns.

What kind of perspective has your involvement in research given you on class work?
Out of anything, I’d say, research has really taught me how to learn. A lot of times, in classes, it really can be on you to make sure you understand the material at a deeper level than what’s presented in class. Just developing the skills on how to do research – looking up information and learning about something that‘s new to you, that is definitely something that translates to classes, and at a deeper level, just helps you perform better across the board.

What advice do you have about research for other students?
Be ready for the time commitment. You will get a lot out of it if you put a lot into it. I don’t think it’s for everyone…but it helps if you are a very organized, very detail oriented sort of person.  You really have to be motivated to get something out of it. You can’t sit back and go with the flow. It’s really up to you to push your research and try to make progress.

Did you find your summer experiences to be particularly valuable?
Definitely. The summer experiences are where the bulk of your work gets done. The biggest thing is that you’re not distracted by classes. When you’re a full time student in the semester, you have to pay attention to classes and there are a lot of other commitments. In the summer, without the distraction, you’re really able to go 120 percent into your work and also straighten out your plans for the year.

How many hours do you work on average during the school year?
For the first couple of years, I did about 15 hours a week. Now where I have more flexibility, I do ~20 hours a week.

How do you stay motivated in those times when nothing seems to be working?
There are days when you just want to go home, where you’re sitting inside in the lab (and it’s sunny out!)-and an experiment fails and you think it’s the end of the world. But I think you just have to remind yourself that it’s part of the research process. And that, if it weren’t for those times…when you do have powerful moments of discovery, it wouldn’t be as meaningful.
One of the most powerful reminders to me about why we do what we do came from one of the reviewers for the last paper. In his general note about our manuscript, he wrote that this will be of “significant importance and interest to the readers of the journal.” And that was one of the moments where I could see that what we’re doing has implications further than just me, or my lab… You’re part of a larger community of people across the county who are studying the same thing, trying to make a discovery that will have an impact. It’s really only a handful of people that are responsible for the entire progress of a discipline.

What are your future plans?
I’m applying for dual degree MD/PhD programs. My ideal career would be a physician scientist where I could see patients, and use my patient experiences to guide my research and also have my research guide how we treat patients. I think it’s important to remember that the work we do in the lab really goes back to the patients. Aside from learning about biology and science for the sake of knowledge, our overarching motivations for translational research really tie back to being able to better treat human disease…I do know for sure that research is going to be a part of my life forever.