Thursday, August 20, 2015

UIS student Lauren Hollinshead receives inaugural Undergraduate Research Scholar Award

The Undergraduate Research Support Program at the University of Illinois Springfield has awarded its first Undergraduate Summer Scholar Award to Lauren Hollinshead, a senior biology major from Sherman, Ill. The award was made possible by gifts from the Alfred O. and Barbara Cordwell Therkildsen family.

Hollinshead used the award to conduct research at the Nature Conservancy's Emiquon Preserve near Havana, Ill., location of the UIS Therkildsen Field Station. Her work contributed to the research of her mentor, UIS Assistant Professor of Chemistry Stephen Johnson, a neuropharmacologist who studies venom for its potential as a therapeutic drug.

Through their research this summer, Hollinshead and Johnson investigated the structure and properties of sPLA2, an enzyme in bees and wasps. Johnson hopes the research will lead to a better understanding of the enzyme's role in pain and inflammation.

Hollinshead and Johnson began by collecting bees and wasps at the Emiquon Preserve and then painstakingly extracted the tiny, fragile venom sacs from each insect.

"That was the hardest part of my research," said Hollinshead, who admits to being frequently frustrated before she finished the task.

With venom samples in hand, Hollinshead began the analysis that would eventually isolate a group of proteins with the right characteristics for producing sPLA2 activity. She used advanced techniques and instrumentation, such as the ultraviolet-visible spectrophotometer and SDS-PAGE, all of which she had learned to do during her undergraduate degree.

At that point, Hollinshead had to stop because the next step, identifying the exact protein that gives rise to sPLA2 activity, would require the use of advanced techniques, including tandem mass spectrometry.

"Dr. Johnson said it would take me a good ten years to learn how to use the mass spec properly," Hollinshead said, laughing a little.

Undergraduate projects like Hollinshead's allow students to do real-life research, build a collegial relationship with a professor and begin to perceive of themselves as professionals. All this strengthens their commitment to their college education and gives them incredible confidence. UIS hopes to offer many more experiences like this in all fields to students.

The work certainly inspired Hollinshead. She intends to eventually earn either a Ph.D. or go to medical school. For now, she's looking forward to more work with Johnson as she begins a master's degree in biology at UIS.

"Dr. Johnson is amazing," Hollinshead said. "He really motivated me to pursue research even more."

For more information on the Undergraduate Research Program, contact Keenan Dungey, director of the undergraduate research support program at 217/206-7345 or For more information on the venom research, contact Stephen Johnson at 217/206-7336 or

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