By | Elena Tonc ’13
Biology, Chemistry
Osijek, Croatia

In Professor Chatterjea’s lab we study the role of mast cells—a particular kind of white blood cells—in the onset of inflammatory pain. One of our recent projects is investigating a chronic pain condition called vulvodynia (pain in the vulva), as clinical studies have shown increased mast cell activation in the affected tissue. We have created a model to better understand what biological factors are involved in the onset of pain. We are also concerned about the effect of the therapies most commonly used to treat this condition, and the mechanism behind their action.
Collaboration is essential in our lab. In weekly meetings we discuss with Professor Chatterjea our projects and the recent publications pertaining to our work, and plan future experiments. My lab mates and I also spend a lot of time together outside the lab, discussing our research or doing fun stuff such as bowling or going out for dinner.
My previous research experience with chemistry professor Keith Kuwata was in computational chemistry. We used computational models of reactions that occur in the troposphere and have an impact on the overall ozone levels.

I also took part in the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program last year. Our team—which also included two economics majors and another science major—researched state-of-the-art technology related to a new medical product being developed by Mayo Clinic researchers. Together we assessed the product’s marketability and made a recommendation to its licensing manager. I learned about the development of medical devices and how a product moves from the lab to the marketplace.

Conducting undergraduate research in chemistry and biology has allowed me to become a more well-rounded scientist. The Mayo Innovations Scholars Program helped me gain a more complete picture of the research process as a whole. Together, these experiences have been an invaluable introduction to scientific careers.

Tonc is among Macalester’s Davis United World College Scholars.

January 23 2013

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