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Osteopathic Medicine - Biology Major Bri Falatovich Participates in Cancer & COVID-19 Research

Senior Bri Falatovich is an undergraduate biology major in Seton Hill’s Osteopathic Medicine Collaborative Degree Program with the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM). Being part of the LECOM Osteo-Med Program means that as soon as she completes her undergraduate biology studies at Seton Hill in spring 2022, she will move into a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree program at LECOM. Being part of the Biology Program at Seton Hill has given Bri the opportunity to take part in a variety of research projects.

COVID-19 Research at Seton Hill

In the spring of 2021, Bri conducted a research project on the novel COVID-19 virus. This project took place under the guidance of Dr. Jamie Fornsaglio at Seton Hill. Bri worked with fellow biology major Adam Bobak to research how COVID-19 impacts the expression of ACE2 (angiotensin I converting enzyme 2), an enzyme that lowers blood pressure. They tested 40 random participants at Seton Hill and compared genotype and expression to COVID status. Through their research, they found that COVID-19 positive individuals had the highest ACE2 protein levels. 

“We were really fortunate to learn how to navigate through the lab and the ins and outs of independent research, especially because we both did research shortly after at West Virginia University,” Bri said. “Dr. Fornsaglio was vital in the learning process and was a key factor in going to WVU.” 

Cancer Research at WVU

From June to August 2021, Bri participated in WVU Cancer Institute's Summer Undergraduate Research Program. She was one of only seven undergraduate students chosen to do research at the Cancer Institute. Bri worked in the labs of Dr. Nancy Lan Guo and Dr. Alexey Ivanov, assisting them with their research on zinc finger protein 71 and its functions in non-small cell lung cancer cells, one of the two major types of lung cancer. 

“It has just been incredible to experience not only the educational gains from these experiences, but the interpersonal relationships that I have gained and the team building that I will take with me for the rest of my life.”

“Both of the research projects that I did depended on the education that I had in the classroom at SHU,” Bri said. “The research I did at Seton Hill drew on both lab and lecture lessons from genetics and cell biology, and required a lot of additional research. The research I did at WVU required me to remember [what I learned] from cell bio, genetics, microbiology, organic and general chemistry, ethics… I learned so much as I went on there.” 

Bri has known that she wanted to pursue a career in medicine since middle school. 

“These experiences definitely were transformative for me,” Bri said. “They solidified that the path I am on is for me, and that research is something that I am passionate about. Constantly being surrounded by such a variety and wealth of knowledge was such an incredible thing.”

Growing Up at Seton Hill

Bri has been part of the Seton Hill community all her life. She remembers taking “Mommy-and-Me” swim lessons in the old pool in Sullivan Hall, dance classes in St. Mary Hall, piano lessons at the Performing Arts Center, and homecoming and senior pictures in the Grotto.

“I've practically grown up at SHU,” Bri said. 

After visiting LECOM and Seton Hill while in high school, Bri  “applied, interviewed and was accepted, and I have never looked back.”

“All of the faculty at Seton Hill, especially my advisors for the LECOM affiliation program, are so encouraging and helpful,” she says. “It has just been incredible to experience not only the educational gains from these experiences, but the interpersonal relationships that I have gained and the team building that I will take with me for the rest of my life.” 

Bri’s Next Steps

Currently, Bri is working with Dr. Fornsaglio to optimize a protocol for Western blotting from start to finish for use at Seton Hill. She will graduate from Seton Hill in May 2022 and begin medical school at LECOM in July. 

“After graduation from LECOM, I hope to pursue a specialty that I feel a strong calling to, but it is hard to say what that will be,” Bri said. “I really would like to be an oncologist, but that can change, and I am going into LECOM with my mind open, especially knowing that doors can open at any moment.” 

Photo, above: Bri presenting her research.