Maria Alatorre

March 4, 2013

A Q&A with Maria Alatorre

A junior biology major from Indianapolis, Maria Alatorre has minors in Spanish and psychology–all of which she hopes to put to use as a nurse practitioner working with underserved populations. As she prepares to join Timmy Global Health [Timmy Global Health is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that expands access to healthcare and empowers students and volunteers to tackle global health challenges] on a medical brigade in Guatemala over spring break, Maria answers a few questions:

  • You were active in doing research during high school in Indianapolis. What role did your research interests plan in making you choose IU Bloomington?

The research experience influenced me to come to IU for several reasons. First of all, it connected me with professors, doctors, and alumni of IU. My lab mentor for Project SEED, Dr. Hiremagalur Jayaram, was very supportive and a great teacher. He told me about the benefits of going to and IU campus, and that his son, a successful physician, had graduated from IU Bloomington. Also, living near the IUPUI campus and the hospitals around the campus put me into constant contact with name “IU”: IU Health, IU Simon Cancer Center, IU Medical School. I realized that Indiana University was a place of prestige, honor, and tradition, and I saw the school as a way for me to realize my own dreams.

  • Describe some of your undergraduate research.

I’ve worked with Dr. Joel Ybe and Dr. Sarah Fontaine, who study Huntington’s Disease on a molecular level. [Ybe is a senior research scientist in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry in the IU College of Arts and Sciences. Sarah Fontaine has been as postdoctoral researcher with Ybe.] We studied the huntingtin gene, mutating it to better understand how it functions, its role in the disease, and how its function varies from that of wild type (normal) huntingtin. We also performed experiments to study how huntingtin interacts with other proteins, such as huntingtin interacting protein (HIP1), clathrin, and huntingtin associated protein (HAP). Finally, experiments have been conducted to study how stabilizing the coiled coil domain of huntingtin affects the gene itself. I have had the most experience performing mutagenesis in the huntingtin gene, then my undergrad colleagues perform the next steps.

  • Who else at IUB has had a big impact on you?

All of my professors have had a positive impact on me, whether it is in the biology, psychology, or Spanish departments. The professors who stick out in my mind are the ones who are really passionate about what they are teaching, and possibly even researching, and most importantly, want to get you excited about it too. Also, the professors that try to understand you as both a person and a student are great. They don’t expect you to know everything about a subject that you have just been exposed to for the first time. They expect you to struggle and are prepared to help you. Those are the professors that have had the biggest influence on me, even if they don’t realize it, and I thank them for that.  Additionally, my academic advisors are very helpful, attentive, and really are dedicated to serving the students. They have been patient and listened to my worries and dreams.

  • You have volunteered at Camp Kesem, and traveled with Timmy Global Health in Guatemala. How have those experiences had an impact on your research interests/projects?

These experiences have shown me two prominent things: I prefer being on the other side of research, that is, the “bedside” rather than on the bench. I feel more satisfied when I am able to interact with other people, and when I can actually talk to someone and share some knowledge with them that might help them. That said, research has definitely shown me that if I wish to be an effective healthcare provider, I absolutely have to appreciate the research that went into the development of a new drug or treatment, and I have to stay updated on that research. I had a summer internship with the IU Simon Cancer Center (it’s a great program for undergraduate students!), and I was working in the clinical pharmacology department. One of the issues brought to my attention was the gap that exists between researchers and practicing physicians, especially the lack of communication about clinical trials, new medications, the differences in how people can metabolize a drugs, etc.  It’s amazing to know that many patients do not receive optimal care because physicians are not getting (or looking for) the information that will allowthem to give their patients the best care possible, and at the same time, that some researchers forget about the human aspect of their research. It’s great if you synthesized a new drug, but if it’s expensive to buy, how are people in developing countries going to benefit?  My student research experiences and having the opportunity to talk to professionals who see many sides of the healthcare world, give me a more realistic view of what being a great healthcare provider really means.

  • What do you hope/plan to do after graduation?

I hope to become a nurse practitioner. Through my shadowing, Camp Kesem, and Timmy Global Health experiences, I have seen that I enjoy working with children and with underserved populations. I would absolutely love to work in international medicine, either with Timmy Global Health or with Doctors without Borders. Having the opportunity to go to Guatemala with Timmy and working with an amazing group of people has given me a very rosy view of how amazing it would be to travel around the world, to serve people. I might be in for a rude awakening! But I do know that serving people through medicine is what I am passionate about, so while there will be tough days, I’ll be happy in my chosen career.


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