Prize-Winning ResearchGAMBIER, Ohio (February 21, 2011)
Camila del Mar "Cami" Odio '11 has won a competitive Pfizer Undergraduate Student Travel Award to present her research probing the toxic effects wrought by the dioxin TCDD to an audience of national experts.
Odio will present her research at the 50th annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology in Washington, D.C., in March thanks to the award, which is one of five presented each year by the pharmaceutical company to undergraduate students in the United States.
Odio has taken advantage of the "phenomenal" science facilities at Kenyon and the opportunity to work closely on research with faculty. "The way professors interact with students, you feel valuable as a budding scientist, that they're investing in you," she said.
Odio, a molecular biology major from Gahanna, Ohio, works with Wade Powell, associate professor of biology, who has won a series of grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to conduct research into the effects of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls on the African clawed frog, which tends to resist damage from these toxic chemicals. Odio has focused on TCDD (tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin), which has long been associated with the defoliant Agent Orange and is spewed into the environment through the burning of industrial waste and fossil fuels. TCDD is believed to cause cancer and birth defects.
She found amino acids in a protein in mice that binds with dioxins in the body to dangerous effect. The amino acids were transferred to the same protein in the frog, and that enhanced the binding of dioxins in the frog. "Understanding the structural basis of toxicity is really crucial to understanding which animals are going to be susceptible to this toxin," Odio said. "The predictive value of this information can help avoid large-scale toxicity testing in live animals."
Understanding the function of the protein, AHR, is another aspect of her research. "If we can understand how this protein binds this toxin, we can understand better how this protein moves across our body system. AHR does a lot of good things, but when it's occupied by the toxin it's not able to do the good things in our bodies."
The Pfizer award provides travel support and registration for the meeting. A Pfizer scientist will mentor the award winners during the conference.
Medical school is Odio's goal with a career emphasis on academic medicine and research.
Her research has blossomed, she said, as she brings her time at Kenyon to a close. "Having the attention the professors give you and being around such intelligent students all the time really pushes you forward," she said.
When she's not in a Kenyon lab, she can often be found at the Kenyon Athletic Center, where she teaches kick-boxing. Odio has practiced martial arts, with an emphasis on tae kwan do, since she was five years old. "I remember my first punch, feeling my hand kind of like sparkle, and from then on I was at it. That's how I am. I set my mind to things, and I just do them."