A Saint Louis University student researcher and one of Rock Falls' brainiest natives recently spent a day on Capitol Hill, advocating for the importance of biomedical research.
Celine Hartman, 24, is a fourth-year graduate student at Saint Louis University, working in its Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
On April 6, she and the rest of a team of student researchers from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology took their passion for their science out of the lab and did their best to use it to convey to federal legislators the importance of continuing to fund agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Hartman, who is a 2010 Rock Falls High School graduate and the daughter of Jim and Dawn Hartman, took part in the society's Hill Day, meeting with lawmakers and congressional staff to talk about the work they are doing.
“Celine had the initiative to apply for this wonderful program,” said David Ford, who runs the department's lab. “Beyond performing exciting and cutting-edge research, it is great that this opportunity is available to students, which allows them to understand the importance of science as an important investment by our government and to advocate science to politicians.”
She and the other participants emphasized the critical role that federal investments in research plays in supporting the nation’s scientific enterprise and how those investments lead to improvements in Americans' quality of life and well-being.
“I think people may not realize how cutting the NIH will affect the general public,” Hartman said. “By cutting basic biomedical research funding, pharmaceutical companies will now have to perform the same fundamental research we are working on, instead of finding drugs to push through to clinical trials. This will, in turn, increase the price of the pharmaceutical drugs even more.”
Hartman came to SLU in 2013 after graduating cum laude from Bradley University in Peoria with a biology degree. Her thesis project is focusing on determining the biochemical mechanisms that a pro-inflammatory family of lipids, chlorinated lipids, cause endothelial dysfunction leading to multi-organ failure during sepsis.
She joined the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology last year.
Why this field of research?
I’ve always had an interest in cardiovascular research, after having some heart problems when I was a kid. My mom (and many other family members) is a nurse (in the cath lab at CGH Medical Center), so I’ve been exposed to the medical field all my life.
I knew I didn’t want to become a medical doctor, but I wanted to continue my education after Bradley to have more job options. After meeting and talking to Dr. Ford about the research in his lab, it was an easy decision to join his lab.
What do you do in the lab?
Our lab studies biochemical mediators of sepsis and cardiovascular disease. Specifically, we study a class of lipids (fats) which are chlorinated. We are working on utilizing these lipids as a new diagnostic marker to identify these inflammatory diseases sooner, as well as finding new targets for drug therapies.
As a graduate student in the lab, I design, perform, and analyze the results of experiments, so every day is a new adventure.
Why was it important for you to do this?
With the recent political events in our country, conversations with policymakers regarding the importance of STEM research (science, technology, engineering and math) are more important than ever.
The proposed 20 percent cut to the NIH budget in FY18 is shocking. The proposed cut would essentially prevent any new grants from being funded, which would be devastating to all biomedical research.
As a young scientist preparing to enter the work force in the next 1 to 2 years, I wanted the opportunity to tell policymakers my story and why we need sustainable funding to the NIH. I was able to advocate on behalf of all young scientists in Missouri and beyond.
What did you do on Capitol Hill?
In preparation for Hill Day, we had a webinar training where we discussed the basics of the federal budget, how NIH/NSF are funded, and what the proposed budget cuts could mean.
We also received a lot of information about each member of Congress that we would be meeting with. We prepared by reviewing each person’s story, voting history and participation in committees.
On Hill Day, we were paired into groups with one other student and one faculty member who is on the Public Affairs Advisory Committee. My group met with Congressional members (both senators and representatives) from Missouri, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
What was your main message to legislators?
During each meeting, we discussed our own research and why we participated in the Hill Day.
The main message that we wanted to discuss was about the proposed budget cuts.
We would reiterate that we greatly appreciate the support to the NIH thus far, as all of our research progress is possible due to the federal funding of the NIH. We also discussed how we hoped to continue to see sustainable funding over the next few years and how detrimental the proposed budget cuts would be to our own research.
What did you learn on the Hill?
It was very interesting to see the other side of research funding that we don’t think of normally. Funding the NIH has strong bipartisan support, so the conversations were very supportive of our research and the potential implications.
Moving forward, I believe conversations like the ones that I had will help support NIH funding and continue to provide jobs for young scientists like myself.
Founded in 1906, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization with more than 12,000 members. Go to www.asbmb.org to learn more.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.
Go to www.slu.edu to learn more about the school and all it has to offer.