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Local student learns at Centers for Disease Control

Thursday, February 7, 2008

When you are a biology student, seeing firsthand some of the national research on life-threatening infectious diseases can make quite an impression.

That was the experience of Laura Czyzewicz, a Buena Vista University senior biology major from Riverside, who interned during BVU's January interim at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.

With the assistance of BVU alumna Dr. Janet Nicholson, Class of 1970, Laura was able to observe the research being conducted on different viruses and bacteria in seven different laboratories.

Before heading to Atlanta, Laura also spent three days at the Iowa Hygienic Laboratory in Iowa City.

In Atlanta, Laura spent time in the HIV lab, the outbreak and biofilms lab (outbreaks such as MRSA, a bacterium responsible for difficult to treat infections in humans); flu lab; special pathogens lab; Varicella Zoster labs (VZV is a herpes virus that causes chickenpox and shingles); enteric bacteria and food outbreak labs, and polio research labs.

The labs are operated by the National Center for Infectious Diseases or the Center for Complex Infectious Diseases, both arms of the CDC.

"Being in my third year of research at BVU, I have a deeper understanding of the ideas and processes necessary to conduct any research project, which helped me to recognize and understand the various stages of the projects I saw at the CDC," she says. "The most relevant class I've taken at BVU that prepared me for the internship is microbiology because of the constant vigilance as to aseptic techniques."

"I also observed how much of the work being done at the CDC related to the simplicity of how a virus or bacteria work, which I was taught in microbiology," she adds. "It's very helpful and reassuring to see that the knowledge we acquire in many classes at BVU is applicable to real-world jobs."

While Laura did not work in high-risk areas at the CDC, she did have the chance to put on one of the hazmat "space suits," which are required protection for scientists working in Biosafety Level 4 labs, where research is conducted on such dangerous agents as the Ebola virus and smallpox. "The suit was an XXL size, which was a little big on my 5 foot, 3 inch frame, so when the suit was pressurized I couldn't reach the hands of the suit."

Laura met many of the personal goals she had for the internship, including a more in-depth exploration of her career goals. "I plan to go on to graduate school in Wisconsin and would like a career in disease research and control, either at the CDC or in a state public health laboratory," she said.

Former BVU student Nicholson, who is senior advisor for laboratory science for the Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases (cCID) of the CDC, arranged the lab schedules for Laura, who also stayed with the Nicholson family during the internship.

Laura is the second BVU student to do an internship at the CDC. Nicole Patterson, Class of 2006, interned in January 2005. After graduation from BVU, Nicole took a position as an Emerging Infectious Diseases training fellow in the Q Fever laboratory at the CDC. Last month, Nicole started another fellowship and is working in the Special Pathogens Branch at the CDC and has plans to eventually pursue a graduate degree.

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