Zithlaly Amezquita thought she missed something.

A 15-minute oral presentation goes by pretty quickly, so Amezquita racked her brain to see if she had covered everything.

“Did I say that line?” she asked herself. “Did I forget to mention this?”

But Amezquita’s anxiety washed away after she talked with Dr. Ghanshyam Heda, her mentor, and he told her she did a “fantastic job.”

The judges at the 85th annual meeting of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences must have agreed after Amezquita won the award for the best oral presentation in the undergraduate Molecular and Cell Biology category on Aug. 5-6 in Biloxi.

“I was ecstatic,” a rising senior at Mississippi University for Women. “I was already very excited and grateful that I had the opportunity to represent MUW at the MAS conference, so winning the award made the experience even better.”

Amezquita received her award for her presentation “Endogenous CFTR Expression in Human Epithelial Cell lines.” The presentation included data contributed by W graduates Lisa Shreshtha and Justin Labonte. Shreshtha is a doctorate graduate student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, while Labonte graduated in the spring of 2021.

The work, which was done in Dr. Heda’s lab at The W, tries to detect the naturally occurring expression of the CFTR protein (which is related to the disease we know as cystic fibrosis) through a biomolecular lab technique known as “western blotting.” She has been working on the project since the summer of 2020.

Amezquita said Dr. Heda’s newly developed western blotting technique, which requires a specific mixture of blocking agents, allows researchers to detect the CFTR protein at endogenous levels. She said this is the first report in scientific literature where the CFTR protein has been detected at endogenous levels through the use of western blotting.

Amezquita said a second goal to the project involves detecting the expression of CFTR mRNA levels in endogenous expressing cell lines and then comparing it to its exogenous expressing lines. She said there is still work left on that project, but researchers have their primary goal down.

Heda thanked the Mississippi IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) for supporting his research laboratory and sponsoring the travel to the MAS conference. He also thanked The W’s Office of Undergraduate Research under the leadership of Hillary Richardson for awarding summer research scholarships to Amezquita and Sara Lynn Sleigh to pursue undergraduate research in his laboratory during this summer.

“Zee gave an error free presentation with absolute clarity, and I am proud of her progress in my laboratory,” Heda said.

Heda said Amezquita will continue to work on the “Detection of endogenous CFTR protein expression” project and others during her senior year. Amezquita said that work will help prepare her for future career options, which include earning a Master of Arts in Teaching Program (MAT) and continuing her education. Her goal in whatever she decides to do is to help young students learn how exciting and amazing science really is.

“Working in Dr. Heda’s lab has taught me research requires dedication,” Amezquita said. “If I end up working in research, the amazing experience and things I learned as an undergraduate in Dr. Heda’s lab at The W will help me immensely.”

This article is a press release originally posted on the MUW website here.