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SXU Biology Student Awarded Tri Beta Research Grant


Saint Xavier University (SXU) biology student Mercedes Cichocki is one of four students who have been awarded a research grant from the Beta Beta Beta Research Foundation. Beta Beta Beta (TriBeta) is an honor society for students, dedicated to improving the understanding and appreciation of biological study and extending boundaries of human knowledge through scientific research. The foundation supports selected research activities by undergraduates who are regular members of TriBeta.

Cichocki's research involves spinophilin and hormonal activity in relation to the mating habits of male red-sided garter snakes, an extension of research initiated by Randolph Krohmer, Ph.D., biology professor.

"Red-sided garter snakes undergo a dissociated mating pattern, which means they mate immediately after their winter dormancy period. This behavior is believed to be correlated with the sex-steroid hormones estrogen and testosterone, such that seasonal levels of sex hormones influence growth of neuronal dendritic spines, allowing for a greater number of synapses in the regions of the brain believed to be associated with the control of mating behaviors," said Cichocki.

"The protein spinophilin is used as a biochemical marker of dendritic spine formation. For this part of the research, I'll isolate RNA from hormone-treated brains of red-sided garter snakes and use RT-PCR analysis to look at changes in expression of specific genes believes to be associated with hormonal regulation of dendritic spine formation," added Cichocki.

Cichocki, who expects to graduate in spring 2022, will use her grant funds to order supplies for targeting and isolating ribonucleic acid (RNA) from brains of red-sided garter snakes.

Cichocki has always loved science but was most interested in the field of biology, as she loves learning about how living things do what they do. She has a special interest in histology and medical laboratory science.

She is a member of Tri Beta and Tau Sigma, the honor society for transfer students. This past summer, she participated in the EXPLORE STEM Summer Research Fellowship and she's received the Conference of Women's Legislator scholarship for the past two years.

Cichocki is especially appreciative of Krohmer and Ricardo Monzon, Ph.D., biology professor. Both have been mentors throughout her undergraduate research and have given her great advice on lab research techniques and understanding her interests. She's also gotten lots of help, guidance and support from Donna Karge, another SXU biology professor.

Cichocki feels her time at SXU is preparing her well for the future, and she is loving her time at the University.

"I've gotten the chance to build good relationships with my mentors as well as the opportunity to learn lab techniques that will be helpful to me in my career, participate in research programs and learn from experienced, caring professors. I am also a single parent and I've had a good experience with flexibility in my courses, which allows me to do well with my course work and still have time for my children," said Chicocki.

Chicocki plans to begin work as a lab technician or assistant after graduating, and then she hopes to either become a certified histotechnician or attend a master's program in medical laboratory science.