For the Love of Science
At just 4 years old, Dono Shodieva and her family left Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and immigrated to the United States, where they laid down roots in Brooklyn, N.Y. While she only lived in her home country for four years, it was enough time for Shodieva to hear stories of her mother’s work at an Uzbek tuberculosis center—planting the seed early for the New York Tech biology major’s future love of science.
On the New York City campus, Shodieva is performing research on cervical cancer with Niharika Nath, Ph.D., professor of biological and chemical sciences. The research team, including Mary Margarette Sanchez and Angel Singh, is quantifying five different nuclear texture features to differentiate benchmark pap-smear images of precancerous cells into several categories, including normal, moderate, and severe dysplastic (abnormal) cells. The team aims to discover if these features can be used to discriminate between the different categories and determine the accuracy of the predictions made.
In February 2023 and October 2022, Shodieva and Sanchez presented their research to New York Tech Mini-Research Grant Award (MRGA) applicants visiting the New York City campus. The $300 award is given to a high school student or student group conducting a STEM-based research project to help offset the costs of research materials. Shodieva recalls the MRGA visit that took place in February 2023 as being extra special, as it brought only female students to campus.
“Our topic of cervical cancer resonated with this audience because it was something that, as women, we can relate to. We could see that they were focused on what we were saying and asked relevant questions,” she says. “This was definitely an empowering experience. I wanted these girls to leave with the thought that this research is something they can strive toward. They can do so much more as a student, and research is something that can drive them to discover more.”
While Nath had invited her to join the cervical cancer research team, Shodieva’s interest in the topic developed when she was in high school. Enrolled in the City University of New York College Now program, which offers New York City high schoolers dual enrollment in high school and college, Shodieva was able to get a head start on her studies during a summer internship in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) lab at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University.
The lab she worked in focused on cancer stem cell-based treatment, understanding radioresistance (the process of tumor cells adapting and becoming resistant to radiotherapy-induced changes), and how certain proteins, such as estrogen receptor beta, or ER-beta, play a role in cancer cell malignancy.
“Throughout the summer, our lab mentors gave us background information on molecular biology and what cancer is. We were taught how to micropipette, how to make agarose gels, and how to do gel electrophoresis,” she explains. “I believe this experience propelled my interest in cancer research and that area of study, in general.”
Shodieva says her favorite experience as a biology major has been applying classroom-learned knowledge to real life when she’s in the lab performing research. Her past and current experiences have helped her realize she wants to become an oncologist.
“Working alongside Dr. Nath on her research has opened my eyes to the possibility of a future career in medicine. I’m excited to continue assisting in her cervical cancer research and look forward to the day when I can apply some of the knowledge from this experience to help real-world cancer patients.”