Jeshua Avila, a junior studying biochemistry at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), has received a $2,500 scholarship from Phillips 66, which will help him to continue research on a cell membrane protein called gramicidin.
Avila’s interest in cellular research is, in part, a personal pursuit.
“I have been interested in the medical field since I was a little kid, but I also have too many white blood cells, which is another reason I’m studying biochemistry. Sometimes when you have more white blood cells they can end up attacking other [healthy] cells in your body, thinking they are intruders,” said Avila, who has Vitiligo, which is caused by white blood cells attacking skin pigment. “They check my thyroid, and I don’t really have a problem with it now.”
To study the gramicidin ion channel protein, Avila he is using an infrared laser to determine how much light the protein absorbs to determine its structure.
The protein helps to channel material through the cell, or regulate “ionic permeability in cell membranes.” Such molecules are crucial for normal functioning of cells. Defective ion channels are implicated in a number of diseases.
“The work I’m doing is building on other’s research to support the evidence that the structure of a gramicidin protein is helical [spiral in form],” said Avila, a San Pedro resident.
Avila has not decided what he will use the scholarship for yet—possibly textbooks or tuition—which will help ease the cost of going to college so he may focus more on his course work and research.
“I’ve very grateful to Phillips 66 for this great scholarship. It’s good to have more money for tuition, books and other things,” said Avila. “I plan to go to graduate school, so every bit of money I can save now will help.”