L Vr NI\'[, rP.S F LO'RI Featured Scholar
Undergraduate Waleeh Irfan
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2006 - 2007 University Scholar
University Scholars Program Mentor: Dr. Li-Jun Yang
Undergraduate Research College of Medicine
ResourceAs the son of two physicians, Wajeeh Irfan was exposed to the world of medicine at a
Search: very early age. But it wasn't until he began volunteering for the Arts in Medicine program
at Shands Hospital at UF that his desire to become a doctor truly cemented.
Enter Search Terms "Interacting with the same patients week in and week out, I developed strong
interpersonal connections with them that make me enthusiastic to return each week,
regardless of my hectic college schedule," Irfan said. "I was strongly influenced by
observing individuals' persevere through the experience of losing a loved one or enduring
intensive medical treatment, which strengthened my belief that compassion is essential
in supporting patient needs as a physician."
Now in his first year of medical school at the University of Florida, Irfan is putting to work
the skills he learned as an undergraduate in the University Scholars Program in 2007.
Under the guidance of mentor Dr. Li-Jun Yang, Assistant Professor of Pathology, his USP
project focused on finding a better way to manage and treat diabetes. The autoimmune
disease prohibits the body from producing or properly using insulin due to damage to
pancreatic B-cells. Irfan said if these B-cells could be restored or replaced, a cure for
diabetes could be achieved and patients would no longer need outside sources of insulin,
since their bodies would begin to produce it in quantities similar to those of healthy
Irfan investigated the possibility of creating insulin-producing cells from adult rat liver
stem cells with the capacity to respond to glucose challenges. The transdifferentiation of
these liver stem cells was conducted by examining the role of transcription factor
expression, particularly Pancreatic duodenum homeobox protein 1 (Pdx-1) and
Neurogenin3 (Ngn-3), which were shown to be essential in activation of the insulin gene,
leading to insulin expression.
The research found that Pdx-1 and Ngn-3 is required to turn on the insulin genethrough
an insulin reporter gene coupled with the expression of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP).
Reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction was conducted to observe insulin gene
expression by testing for endogenous expression of various transcription factors including
Pdx-1, Ngn-3, MafA, and insulin. The positive bands noted after electrophoresis for these
transcription factors showed that the insulin gene was indeed being activated.
The study shows that functional insulin-producing cells may be generated from liver stem
cells in-vitro by transdifferentiation and thus may provide a new perspective for B-cell
replacement therapy. Irfan said this research may be used as a template for similar in-
vivo studies and can aid in the management and cure of Type 1 diabetes.
"The USP gave me the opportunity to conduct real, meaningful research which I believe
can be the basis for work in the future that can change the lives of millions of people
around the world," Irfan said. "The chance to take part in research with such global
appeal, while gaining an appreciation for how research can translate from the bench top
to the bedside, was extraordinary. My USP research prepared me tremendously to be a
successful medical student at the UF College of Medicine, which encourages students to
be active in discovering new knowledge and applying it in the community. I am confident
that the foundation I learned from participating in the USP will not only help me in
medical school, but also throughout my professional career."
Irfan graduated from UF with highest honors in spring 2007, earning a B.S. in
biochemistry and molecular biology. As an undergraduate he served as director of the
pre-health honor society Alpha Epsilon Delta, coordinating the Students Against
Destructive Decisions program and working with organizations such as Gainesville Area
AIDS Project and UF Healthy Gators 2010 to promote healthy lifestyle decisions among
the local and campus communities. He also volunteered as a science tutor at Westwood
Middle School and volunteered in the emergency room at Shands Hospital at UF.
As a medical student Irfan continues to be active in the Arts in Medicine program at
Shands. Though he's not sure which area of medicine he will practice, he is certain to
return to applied research in the future. "An ever-increasing interest in medicine and
research have been one of my strong sources of motivation throughout my life," he said.
"I believe that my USP experience gave me an appreciation for how scientific research is
conducted and used to make a change in society through medical implementation."
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