BLACKSBURG, Va., April 17, 2012  - This summer, VBI will host junior Calvin Stephens as part of Fralin Life Science Institute’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF).  Stephens will aid the Mittelman lab in testing a new form of genomic medicine.

Today, researchers at VBI and other institutions are trying to find genome mutations that influence normal traits as well as disease. In the future, researchers will seek to act on the findings of harmful mutations by designing therapies to repair or counteract them. This fellowship will explore an innovative approach to repairing disease-causing DNA repeats, sequences in the genome that consist of repeated DNA bases. For example, excessively long repetitions of CAG repeats are the cause for several genetic neurological disorders including Huntington’s disease, myotonic dystrophy, and others. Calvin and the Mittelman lab plan to test a new therapeutic strategy that will edit long CAG repeats so that they become smaller and less harmful.

David Mittelman, Ph.D., said, “Calvin helped generate some of the preliminary data for this project and we are thrilled that he will be able to continue his research through the summer with the support of this fellowship from Fralin.”

VBI seeks undergraduate and graduate students from across campus to help advance transdisciplinary research at the center. Last year, undergraduate Andy Martin from the College of Engineering won a summer research fellowship to develop improved bioinformatics methods for detecting DNA repeat mutations using whole genome sequencing. Martin’s research has contributed so far to two scientific manuscripts, one of which was recently published in Nature.

Since 2008, Fralin’s SURF program has connected motivated students with faculty mentors in a 10-week intensive fellowship.  Students participate in weekly research and professional development seminars, social events, and a final symposium during which students present their research.

“The goal of the SURF program is to acquaint students with what it is like to be a research scientist. Many fellows have come away not only with a better appreciation for the career field, but also with one or more publications in peer reviewed journals,” said Dennis Dean, Director of Life Sciences.


About Virginia Bioinformatics Institute
The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech is a premier bioinformatics, computational biology, and systems biology research facility that uses transdisciplinary approaches to science, combining information technology, biology, and medicine. These approaches are used to interpret and apply vast amounts of biological data generated from basic research to some of today’s key challenges in the biomedical, environmental, and agricultural sciences. With more than 320 highly trained multidisciplinary, international personnel, research at the institute involves collaboration in diverse disciplines such as mathematics, computer science, biology, immunology, biochemistry, systems biology, statistics, economics, synthetic biology, and medicine. The large amounts of data generated by this approach are analyzed and interpreted to create new knowledge that is disseminated to the world’s scientific, governmental, and wider communities.

About Fralin Life Science Institute
The Fralin Life Science Institute strategically invests in targeted research areas within the life sciences. Such investments include recruitment and set-up support for new faculty members, retention and recognition of established faculty members, seed funds for new research projects, equipment purchases, graduate student recruitment and support, undergraduate research support, and support for outreach activities. Research initiatives within the life sciences receiving the highest priority for support include vector-borne disease, infectious disease, plant sciences, ecology and organismal biology, obesity, and cancer biology. The Fralin Life Science Institute is also actively engaged in cooperative partnerships with colleges, departments, and other institutes that support the life science community.



Tiffany Trent

April 17, 2012