Alex Pak

Name: Alexandr Pak
Country: Kazakhstan
Mentor: James E. Crowe, M.D.

I am from Kazakhstan (Central Asian country) studying Biological Sciences at recently opened Nazarbayev University in the capital of the country - Astana. I am a rising senior and plan to pursue graduate studies after my B.S. degree. I like to explore and experience new things, so VISRA was an excellent opportunity for me.

My story begun with searching for “international research programs” in the web (probably most of you did that), somehow I found VISRA and decided to apply. As you probably know, it is difficult to find a research program at high-ranking institutions for international students, which allows you to work in the top labs and covers all tour expenses. Well, VISRA does this!

I am working in the Crowe lab, which focuses on general biology and immune response against viral pathogens like flu, RSV, HIV and others. This group is aimed at understanding the viral dynamics and body’s response to it on the molecular level, employing biochemical and molecular biology techniques along with bioinformatics.  In short, they do very cool stuff. There is a nice atmosphere in the lab, people are friendly and always ready to help you. I would be happy to work in such environment.

My project, here, aimed at expressing and characterizing the Influenza viral neuraminidase (NA) protein. NA is one of the two major surface glycoproteins of the influenza that mediates detachment from the cells and believed to be crucial for viral infection. I used baculovirus expression system to express NA in the SF9 insect cells. After obtaining the protein, human blood samples could be screened for the presence of antibodies against NA by ELISA. After that, monoclonal antibodies could be isolated by hybridoma technology and characterized. Another option might be screening for NA inhibitors that could be potentially used as therapeutics against influenza. 

In addition to great research experience and seminars, there are a lot of things to do in the Music City, Nashville. Music festivals, tour in the state park, adventure trips, downtown nightlife and many other activities. Moreover, it is so much fun walking and exploring new places with your group and every time discovering something new. I like diversity in our group, to be exposed, simultaneously, to several different cultures, and this helped me to appreciate it more.     

I am really thankful to Vanderbilt University for organizing VISRA. I also appreciate what program coordinators, PhD students, and lab PIs did for us.