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Senior Spotlight: Scientist pursues passion for cancer research, animal care

Natalie Holmberg-Douglas, a senior biochemistry and animal science major, is working with multiple colleges at Chico State to work with animals and research cures for cancer. Photo courtesy of Natalie Holmberg-Douglas.

While most kids prefer to play with dolls, Natalie Holmberg-Douglas preferred her microscope.

Holmberg-Douglas, a senior biochemistry and animal science major, is part of a research group in the chemistry department that is conducting cancer research.

“I work with Dr. Arpin and am working on a project to build a library of small molecules that inhibit Grb7,” she said. “Grb7 is a protein overexpressed in several types of cancer cells.”

Holmberg-Douglas said the small molecules she is synthesizing are designed to target and inhibit Grb7 function and kill the cancer cells.

“I hope by the end of my research experience that I will have been able to find novel results that help further research,” she said.

She was awarded a grant for research last summer and has been working on that lab ever since.

“I wanted to work in Dr. Arpin’s lab because her research was really relevant to my interests,” Holmberg-Douglas said. “I enjoy understanding what is happening on a biomolecular level, and this cancer research is applicable to my interests in animal medicine, as well as human.”

On top of conducting research, Holmberg-Douglas has presented her findings at two conferences.

“The American Chemical Society national conference in San Francisco was in 2014, and I presented the research I did over summer,” she said. “The conference was a great experience. I met many influential people, attended seminars about the latest chemistry advancements and had a great time bonding with professors and other students.”

She also attended the CSU Annual Biotechnology Symposium in Santa Clara in January, where she again presented the research she has been doing for Arpin.

It isn’t hard to balance both of her majors because they go really well together as a pre-veterinarian student, Holmberg-Douglas said.

“I came to Chico as an animal science major,” she said. “I was interested in becoming a large animal veterinarian. After taking my first chemistry classes, I found that I enjoyed the subject and loved learning about it.”

After adding the biochemistry major her sophomore year, she became involved with the chemistry club and last spring she served as the chapter secretary and now she’s vice president.

Holmberg-Douglas enjoys sharing her excitement about science through her positions.

“My favorite thing about being an officer in this club is having the ability to encourage students and community members to learn more about chemistry,” she said. “I think science is awesome. There is always so much to learn and there are new discoveries everyday.”

She is also involved with the College of Agriculture.

“I currently am a chemistry tutor for the College of Agriculture and offer drop-in tutoring for any agricultural major students,” Douglas said. “Every year, I chair the forestry field day contest for FFA (Future Farmers of America) high school students.”

Additionally, she spends a lot of time volunteering.

“I served on the Student Learning Fee committee for the College of Natural Sciences, chair the Forestry Contest for the College of Ag, and I usually participate in various volunteer activities that arise,” she said.

Holmberg-Douglas has one more year at Chico State before graduating and plans to attend graduate school. She would like to enter a dual veterinary degree and Ph.D. program.

Ultimately, she hopes to go into animal science after college, but she is excited to continue helping with the Colleges of Agriculture and Natural Sciences.

“The most rewarding part about being involved in each college is that it allows me to share my love for science to other students,” she said. “I particularly love understanding what is happening in an organism at the biomolecular level. It is really cool understanding the processes that keep us alive each day.”

Nicole Santos can be reached at [email protected] or @Iam_NicoleS on Twitter.

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