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November / December 2004

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UMaine Today Magazine

Student Focus

Headed into Med

Siblings Julia and Sword Cambron

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Siblings Julia and Sword Cambron of Jonesport, Maine, want to spend their lives helping people. To do that, the University of Maine bio-chemistry majors with minors in chemistry plan to enroll in a medical scientist program next year to earn both M.D.s and Ph.D.s. Sword wants to pursue a career in neuroscience; Julia a career studying and treating genetically based disorders.

"I've been interested in medicine since first grade," says Julia, 19. "One of the main reasons I'm interested in the field is we had a family friend die of a rare bone cancer."

Julia and Sword took a semester of college courses at the University of Maine at Machias before transferring to UMaine in 2001. Because they take the same classes, Julia and Sword study together and "fill in each other's weak points." Each has a 4.0 GPA.

"You have to have curiosity to survive the curriculum of a science major," says Sword. "The more I've studied, the more interested in science I've become. Studying the basic sciences, you start to see the applications to medicine and the importance of getting the adequate foundation on which to build a knowledge base for medicine."

According to Julia, "you have to love what you're doing," especially when the semesters of pre-med students get "insanely busy."

"A lot has to do with being home schooled," she says. "We never get tired of learning."

For the past two years, the pair has been involved in organometallic chemistry research led by UMaine chemists Alice and Mitchell Bruce, who study the basic mechanisms, properties, synthesis and medicinal applications of gold(l) complexes, which include auranofin, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

They believe this research will lead to a greater understanding of the action of gold-based drugs in biological systems. In the research laboratory, Julia and Sword also work with Ph.D. students.

The siblings took their MCATs (Medical College Admission Tests) last year and are now applying to medical schools. Ideally, they say, they would like to attend the same university in New England for their graduate work. But their plans don't stop there.

"The ultimate goal for me is to open my own facility and clinic focusing on collaborative research and the application of new treatments for diseases," says Julia.

Sword, who has 14 years of study ahead of him following graduation from UMaine this May, also hopes to establish a research clinic, first in this country and later in a third world nation.

Teaching Scientists

Jessica Odell

As a science teacher in training, Jessica Odell asks lots of questions. "If we're going to be teaching science, shouldn't we know what it's like to do it ourselves? When an experiment (in the classroom) doesn't work, what do you do? How do you look at things from a different perspective?"

Odell is at the crest of a new wave in science education, part of the first group of graduate students in the University of Maine's Master of Science in Teaching (MST) program.

The opportunity to develop a broad range of science education skills attracted her to the MST. Her coursework touches on many sciences; her graduate committee includes professors in Earth sciences, chemistry, physics education and biology.

For her thesis, Odell is surveying UMaine science students on one of the pillars of scientific knowledge the conservation of mass and energy. To determine how well students learn both the concept and its application, she is testing their knowledge before and after they complete introductory science courses.

Other researchers have found that students struggle with the conservation principle even after receiving instruction. The results of her project will help her and other science teachers to develop classroom activities that help students grasp the concept more effectively.

One of the MST program highlights for Odell was a semester spent doing research at Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. Her research with lab scientists Kevin Flurkey and David Harrison focused on thyroid hormone deficiency in mice. It turns out, she says, that a lack of the hormone affects the immune system. In mice without the hormone, the immune system ages more slowly than it does in mice that have normal thyroid hormone levels. The health consequences of that are unclear at present.


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