SFU Undergrad Researcher: Tracy Huynh

Introducing Tracy Huynh of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!

Name: Tracy Huynh
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Year: Fourth
Supervisors: Dr. Andrew Weng, Terry Fox Laboratory, BC Cancer Research Centre (current) and Dr. Michael Silverman, Department of Biological Sciences (former)


Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: It’s kind of a funny story. In November 2015, I was in the midst of doing my second co-op term at Pacific Environmental Science Centre as an Analytical Chemist. I realized that I was going back to school soon and then I began to absolutely regret waking up every morning because I knew I was getting that much closer to 10-hour study days again. Do you know how amazing it is to be able to fall asleep without having to worry about how a single mark on a single midterm from a single class could destroy your hopes and dreams and haunt you for the rest of your life? You’re so at peace when you’re not in school!
I browsed through some professor’s profiles in the Department of Biology one day out of curiosity and came across Dr. Silverman’s page. He had a picture of a fluorescent neuron on his website. It was cool. So I read through his research and sent him an e-mail to see if he was interested in taking on a volunteer for the Spring 2016 semester, since I would no longer be in co-op.
We met several times one-on-one throughout November-December. Eventually, somehow, we both agreed on me taking on an Honours Thesis/NSERC project with him for a year. I was only in my third year and had completed a total of ZERO 3rd year MBB courses. I was completely underqualified for the job and I told him that and I’m sure he knew that too. But, hey, I have to give a huge shoutout to Dr. S for taking a chance on me. Sometimes, it’s okay to put yourself out there with a bit of humility. From January 2016-December 2016, I worked on my project and finally got to present NEGATIVE results in December. Great times, man.

Q: What is your research about?
A: My research involved studying the impairment of autophagy and its effects on Alzheimer’s disease in neurons. Autophagy is an important cellular function for the degradation of damaged or malfunctioning proteins and organelles in a cell. It is particularly crucial in the post-mitotic neurons in our brain, which cannot simply dilute the toxic burden of damaged proteins by normal cell division. A disruption to the autophagic process can be particularly detrimental to neuronal survival. In my research, I treated cultured neurons with amyloid beta oligomers (AβOs), which are toxic and insoluble proteins that need to be degraded. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the presence of these AβO-containing plaques and a buildup of immature autophagic vesicles, suggesting some impairment of the autophagy pathway. My goal was to see whether there was a relationship between AβOs and the normal autophagic process.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: I would have to say MBB 321: Intermediary Metabolism. It was so interesting to see how all of the ongoing metabolic pathways co-exist and interconnect in this amazing map of the cell. So many molecules are being made and degraded at the same time in each of the trillion cells inside our bodies. I also really enjoyed MBB 308 labs. Dr. Honda is such a boss.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: I am actually going to be on co-op once again! I will be working under a few graduate students in Dr. Andrew Weng’s lab, who is an MD PhD, Senior Scientist in the Terry Fox Laboratory at BC Cancer Research Centre. I am so excited to be able to participate in a new project in the field of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and I am certain I would not have even received an interview offer if it weren’t for my time researching in Dr. S’s lab. I still have a lot to learn and am looking forward to see where this co-op job might take me next.
I’m also going to be hiking a lot this summer because I’m a huge hiking enthusiast. Hence why I chose the hiking photo instead of a picture of me in the lab. Why look at pipette tips and computers when you can look at a beautiful BC backdrop? Am I right? #beautifulbc #explorebc… By the way, I’m trying to get Instafamous so #followme #f4f #l4l lmao, I’m hilarious.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: Failure. I am used to projects failing and receiving negative results (I presented an entire thesis on why my project did not work). I have learned all of this the hard way and with a lot of support from my mentors and peers. But, I am no longer afraid of getting negative results. I am more scared of failing my supervisor. They took a chance on me and that’s what scares me the most, is letting them down. I know they have gone through their fair shares of trials and upsets. It just scares me to think I might be disappointing anyone if I don’t work hard enough. Luckily, every single supervisor I have worked with has been empathetic and so supportive.


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