News - Brent McCollum's Internship to Launch a Career

Brent McCollum's Internship to Launch a Career

Written By Kaylee Summers '16

Brent McCollumWhile lying on the hard floor of a high school basketball court, seriously injured from a head injury during the game, Brent McCollum realized the magnitude of influence one man, a doctor from the stands, could have on an individual’s life. Now, a Greenville College junior biology and pre-medicine major and Student Association President, McCollum is well on his way to becoming a great doctor ready to influence the lives of many. In 2014, McCollum spent his summer as a student in the GC science summer research program. Due to a connection from this experience, McCollum landed an internship of a lifetime working for Sigma-Aldrich.

During the summer of 2014, McCollum, studied under Dr. Bwarenba Kautu, Assistant Professor of Biology at GC, with colleagues at the National Institute of Health and the University of Cambridge, from the Departments of Neuroscience. With just one year of college under his belt, McCollum conducted a functional analysis of genes involved in neuronal mitochondrial trafficking in Caenorhabditis Elegans

During Homecoming of 2014, McCollum met Maureen Bourner, a GC Alumna, and Principal Scientist at Sigma-Aldrich and presented his summer research project results. Impressed with the presentation of McCollum’s unparalleled experience for his age, Bourner asked McCollum to apply for a coveted internship position at Sigma-Aldrich. Although the youngest, and one of only two applicants from a small Christian liberal arts college out of many other Ivy League applicants, McCollum applied and received the position. “I thought I would struggle to fit in, but I found Greenville prepared me, if not better prepared me, than some of the people who came from those big name schools like Harvard or Yale.”

Over the summer of 2015, McCollum worked as a research and development intern at Sigma-Aldrich in Midtown St. Louis, working in ADME toxicology- helping pharmaceutical companies conduct drug development tests. McCollum used cutting edge technology called CRISPR. CRISPR is an up and coming “miracle technology” that may be able to eliminate faulty genes. There are rumors that this technology will one day be able to destroy cancer and possibly “bring animals back from the dead”.

Although McCollum wasn’t bringing any animals back to life, he was manipulating the genes of kidney cells in canines. During his internship, McCollum used CRISPR technology to remove certain genes from a dog kidney cell in order to potentially insert human DNA into the empty spot in the genome. He successfully removed the specific genes from the canine kidney cells and Sigma-Aldrich was extremely impressed. Just within ten weeks, McCollum learned to alter the genome of a dog and potentially modify the human genome in the future. Soon after the completion of his project, marketing saw the potential in McCollum’s success and picked up his idea to start formulating a plan to sell it across the world. 

Because of the liberal arts education GC offered him, McCollum was well prepared for the task. According to McCollum, “Hard sciences are important to learn, but learning everything from psychology to sociology help when trying to truly understand the patient. The ultimate goal as a doctor is to treat the person and not just the symptom.” McCollum is empowered, prepared, and ready to go out and uniquely shape the world.

This story was published on March 10, 2016

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