Student Spotlight: MEPN Student Kathy Lien's Research Dedication Results in Achievement

Kathy Lien

Five long years of research examining the potential effects of HIV on certain epithelial cells has yielded Kathy Lien, a student in the School of Nursing’s Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN), an impressive achievement.

Lien published her research in the peer-reviewed journal, PLOS ONE, as the study’s lead author. Learn how the MEPN program is impacting Lien’s skill set and her career trajectory, and why working with immigrant populations is important to her.

Age: 24

Hometown: Oakland, California

Program: MEPN

Specialty: Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care

Regarding the study you recently authored, what were you attempting to investigate?

Our study attempted to find out if HIV induces a process called “epithelial mesenchymal transition” (or EMT). The surfaces of our body are covered by epithelial cells, which prevents transmission of viruses like HIV. However, we observed that introducing HIV or HIV’s proteins to epithelial cells we grew in the laboratory caused them to migrate, grow, and stop adhering to one another.

The reason this pattern occurs wasn’t well understood, but we speculated that it may be because of EMT. We already know that EMT is seen when cells develop in the embryo and during metastatic cancer. However, EMT has not yet been shown to occur in response to HIV. In this paper, we were trying to investigate if EMT occurs when we introduce HIV and HIV proteins to oral and genital epithelial cells.

Ultimately, our results supported that it does. This is clinically important, because disruption of epithelial cells facilitates the spread of viruses and other pathogens. Also, the incidence of HPV associated cancer is higher in HIV-infected people, which we believe may be because of EMT. Our research helps us better understand the molecular mechanism that leads to HIV transmission and, in the future, this understanding can help advance treatment.

What’s the most challenging part of being a lead author on a research article?

Juggling multiple experiments at once – versus just my own – while working on a research team. I think that’s what made it rewarding too. I had the opportunity to take on a few undergraduate students as mentees, and it was fun being able to teach.

How rewarding was it to see your research article appear in a peer-reviewed journal, especially as the lead author?

Incredibly rewarding. I started working on this project when I was a sophomore in college. So, it has been five years and it’s great to finally see the result.

You’ve spent the past 3.5 years working at UCSF Medical Center’s Division of Infectious Disease. What drew you to this focus?

I studied molecular and cell biology as an undergraduate, which was how I was initially exposed to infectious diseases. I was drawn to it because infectious diseases tend to affect vulnerable populations, and I wanted to make a positive impact with the work I do.

What inspired you to apply for the MEPN program? How has the experience in the MEPN program been so far?

I enjoy the intimacy and find it incredibly rewarding to work with patients in a clinical setting. So far, the experience has been humbling. I honestly love the program. I’ve had great clinical instructors, and my peers come from such diverse backgrounds and are so passionate about what they do. It motivates me.

What are your career plans? How will a master’s degree from the School of Nursing enable you to reach those goals?

I plan to work in pediatric primary care in a setting where I can work with immigrant populations. A problem I really want to address is the challenge of providing health care to patients facing language and cultural barriers. UCSF is a great place to receive training for this. I just joined a new research team, so this quarter I’ll start working on more clinical research under the UCSF School of Nursing.

What do you to do relax in your spare time?

I like to keep active. I swim and run a lot.


(Date posted: Jan. 8, 2020)