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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Biochemistry Major Sets Sights on Becoming a Pediatric Surgeon

By Tiffany Whitfield

When Paige Royal walks across the stage at Chartway Arena in the Ted Constant Convocation Center on Dec. 14 to receive her Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry, she will be one step closer to becoming a pediatric surgeon.

Her journey at Old Dominion University started because of her own doctor.

"My pediatrician actually told me that there was a good science program at ODU," Royal said, "and the curriculum looked rigorous enough to challenge me. I knew it was going to be hard - everyone told me - but I like it."

The first-generation student who graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, Md., has excelled academically and in undergraduate research. This year, she was a Summer Undergraduate Research Training (SMART) student at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"They pair you with a mentor based upon your interest," said Royal, describing the three-month program. "Mine is cancer and pediatrics. My grandmother passed away from cancer and I love kids."

This passion to help people fuels her research. At Baylor's Daniel Lacorazza Lab she focused on Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in pediatric patients, which is a blood and bone marrow cancer.

"It's very common in pediatric patients and can affect your T-cells or B-cells, but my research focused on T-cells," she said.

The lab previously found a pathway that was highly activated - which produced leukemia cells after someone relapsed following chemotherapy. Royal conducted three experiments - first on the toxicity of a drug, second "to see if the drug was killing the cells and how quickly," and third an "immunoblot to see if there was a reduction of signal in the pathway to determine if the drug was actually working."

Her diligence paid off, because "the drug was working, and the Lacorazza Lab can take over and further those steps to hopefully find an alternative therapy for those pediatric patients who suffer from T-ALL."

Her research experience was eye-opening. "Everything I learned in classes and labs at ODU helped me in during my research," she said.

Royal credits her professors, advisors and even classmates for her success. She's been able to multi-task her time between being an Honors College student, president of the student health advisory committee, Omicron Delta Kappa member, a student support services student and tutor to mentoring at G.I.R.L.S. Club.

"A lot of resources here at ODU helped me personally," Royal said. "Before I became a tutor, I was getting tutoring at the Math and Science Resource Center (MSRC), and then I stepped outside of my comfort zone and I became a chemistry tutor."

Royal plans to take a gap year before moving on to medical school. She would like to do a fellowship with the National Institutes of Health or volunteer outside the country.

"I've received the best of both worlds in the College of Sciences," she said. "My major has all of the elements I need to become a doctor."

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