On 26-30 June, the Students Performing Advanced Research Queensland (SPARQed) program hosted a research immersion workshop specifically for regional and remote students. The students worked with Queensland Academy for Science Mathematics and Technology staff and Dr Aaron Smith’s team from the Institute of Health Biomedical Innovation. In the SPARQed world class facility at the Translational Research Institute, they investigated the hypothesis, that the NRA41 gene directly participates in the response to, and repair of, DNA damage such as UVR and hence protects the cell from the effects of this damage, allowing it to survive (cytoprotection). This unique initiative of the Department of Education and Training and the University of Queensland, managed by Queensland Academy for Science Mathematics and Technology, engages students in authentic experiences in cutting edge biomedical research and is aimed at building student engagement in STEM both at school and in their university pathways by showcasing science research as a real career choice. Through generous funding from the Lions Medical Research Foundation the students were hosted at King’s College at the University of Queensland. The student group, which was 80% girls, included students from across Queensland including Cairns, Townsville, Boyne Valley and Clifton.
In their investigations into the role of the NR4A1 (Nur77) protein in the response to DNA damage and genotoxic stress, the students conducted experiments to examine the effect of mutations introduced into the NR4A1 protein or pathway disruption on UV induced foci formation and to identify the effect of different types of DNA damaging agents on NR4A1 foci formation. They also worked with postgraduate students to determine if over-expression of the NR4A1 protein (WT or mutants) protects cells from UVR irradiation (and hence genotoxic stress) and attempted to identify DNA repair pathways that NR4A1 might associate with using co-localisation analysis with candidate DNA repair proteins.