Researching birds’ muscular system to understand high blood sugar

Katerine DiazAs a Short Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP) fellow, I spent the summer researching naturally high blood sugar concentrations in birds and how these animals make use of their muscular system. We hypothesized that high blood sugar may be related to the ability of muscles to take up sugar from the blood and to store it.

The experience has allowed me to expand my network and has opened additional opportunities for me in the scientific field. I worked with Karen L. Sweazea, an assistant professor in nutrition and health promotion, in her lab at Arizona State University. After a few days in the lab, it quickly became apparent to me that there are many techniques that require practice to perfect. Although there were moments of frustration, in the end I feel that it was a valuable experience that will serve me well not only in my undergraduate years, but also in my career.


In addition to working seven hours a day, five days a week with my lab partners, I spent a lot of time reading published research in the field. At the end of the summer, we gathered our results and conclusions and created a poster and oral presentation that I gave at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. At the conference, I had the opportunity to meet many fellows doing undergraduate research in different institutions like Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Harvard Medical School, as well as influential members in the field, such as Director of Education in the APS Marsha Lakes Matyas, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State Gail Matters, Director of the NIDDK Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers.

At conference

It’s my goal to continue being involved in these studies. The fellowship, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the American Physiological Society for people who are underrepresented in the scientific field, has given me the opportunity to continue my research through future grants, scholarships and conference presentations not previously available to me.

The STEP-UP internship has been a great honor – in my academic and personal life. It’s an experience not too many Venezuelan women get.

I’m planning on graduating with a bachelor’s in dietetics and nutrition and applying for medical school. After this experience, I am highly considering research as a post-grad career, as well as having a health office of my own that will allow me to assist people with their nutrition. In order to guide others how to eat properly, I first have to know the mechanisms behind food, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and our bodies, and medical school will guide me in getting a better grasp of how these mechanisms work.

After this summer, I am closer to accomplishing my goal.

– Katerine Diaz