Student Spotlight: Thomas Auen, OMS-II

Student-Doctor Thomas Auen

Student-Doctor Thomas Auen

Second-year ICOM student, Thomas Auen, contributed to recently-published research that discovered Lipocalin-2 (Lcn2) is dispensable for both high fat diet-induced obesity and its therapeutic reduction by celastrol. Student-Doctor Auen conducted this research during his time at Boston Children’s Hospital. 

The study, published in Scientific Reports, Nature group, is available to read at the following link: https://go.nature.com/2kEsWSJ 

Q: What does this research entail?

A: This research was tied to an earlier project I worked on that was published in Nature Medicine this spring (https://go.nature.com/2m1mGo6), where we were essentially looking at the signaling cascades and pathways involved in ER stress-related progression towards Type 2 diabetes insulin resistance, so a lot of these essential health outcomes leading toward obesity. We want to understand what’s happening at the molecular level, especially in the brain, so this most recently published research was looking at the Lcn2 gene. Lcn2, we found, has a role to play within the hypothalamus. The earlier paper looked at IL1R1 which is also an important molecular signaling factor that we’re only starting to really understand how it plays a role in the brain, signaling our hunger, playing a role within leptin cascade — so huge implications on metabolism overall.

Q: How did you become involved in this research project?

A: My interest started in college. I did two summer undergraduate research projects. The first one was at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and I was looking at bacterial communities in Yellowstone Hot Springs. I didn’t enjoy it too much so I switched gears, and the following year I did an undergraduate project at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine. It was there that I was working in metabolism, looking at oligonucleotide knockdown of specific genes that then have a role to play in the development of fat. That project, fingers crossed, should be published within the next year. That was really the learning experience that set my sights on getting in the lab, learning about the roles that specific molecular components can play in the development of metabolic disease. It’s such a prevalent factor, especially in the United States, but the world in general.

Q: How does it feel to be published?

A: It’s really nice to see the outcome. I know, especially from the research assistant standpoint, we’re doing a lot of the hands-on work. We’re not doing as much of the data crunching and high-level thinking, but we’re like the soldiers on the front lines, getting all of the data. So to open a copy of Nature Medicine, like this spring when I got my copy, I can sit there and say that this is the fruit of my labors. It’s phenomenal to be able to both share that celebration with my fellow lab mates out in Boston, but then also to talk with other people now that I’m in medical school and think about all of the implications it has with health in general. Years from now, we’ll see how genomics/genetics plays a role as a physician and what I can use it for in my practice.

Q: Do you plan on pursuing research projects at ICOM?

A: I’m working with Dr. Joshua Lundberg and Dr. Jessica Ziebarth and I’m doing clinical assessment. I’m taking a step back from the bench and I’m digging into more data collection. We’re going to be looking at factors that play a role in medical students opting to practice in rural locations. It’s going to be completely different from the clinical stance rather than the lab stance, but I'm very excited about it. 

Q: What advice would you give to students who are interested in researching?

A: I would say test the waters, like I did. Especially if you don't know what you want or what you're looking for, take every opportunity — anything that can get you involved. The work itself is going to be of benefit to your scientific knowledge, but also how you apply hypothesis development, then you can start honing in on a more specific area. It's always exciting and I say take any opportunity that you have because you never know where it's going to take you.