By Caroline Thompson, Staff Writer
When Dr. Jason Rawlings joined the biology department at Furman, he brought along his work on T-cells and invited biology majors at Furman to participate in this research.
Previously, while he was working on his postdoctoral fellowship at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Rawlings began studying the decondensation, or texture loosening, of chromatin in a class of cells called T-cells to understand how immune systems were activated in response to infections.
Now, he hopes to control the decondensation of chromatin, and use that to manipulate the immune systems of patients with autoimmune disorders, immune-deficiency disorders and even leukemia. These goals are very far down the road, but are becoming more obtainable with the involvement of Furman students.
“All of the doing in the labs is the students,” Dr. Rawlings said. He likens himself to the captain of a ship, keeping it on the right course, while he works with the students to identify questions that need to be answered and design experiments to address their hypotheses. Beginning early in their undergraduate careers, students work in a hands-on way with Dr. Rawlings. “I’ve had students come back for multiple summers and multiple experiences,” Dr. Rawlings said.
It is because of the support, opportunities and resources made available by Furman over the years that Dr. Rawlings says his research team has been able to “do the same things that graduate students do.”
And not only are Furman students doing work equal to that of graduate students, but they are also competing and winning against them. At the 53rd Midwinter Conference of Immunologists in Asilomar, Calif., Furman students presented the results of their research on T-cells and received the Council Award, an award given to the most outstanding graduate school poster.
Of course, the other graduate schools represented, such as Duke, UCLA, Stanford and NYU, would have been honored to receive this award, but the fact that it was undergraduate students to win makes this accomplishment an even more impressive feat.
“One of the reasons I came to Furman is so I could work with undergrads,” Dr. Rawlings said, reaffirming their remarkable ability to complete advanced work.
As for the future of this research, Dr. Rawlings admits that every answer they get raises more than one new question, but since the experiments and research will build on each other, he hopes that Furman students will continue to participate in this project.