Ansley Ulmer ’18 is going to Hawaii the week before graduation.
But she’s not getting an early start on celebrating. Ulmer is traveling to present at the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
She’ll be sharing her research on a treatment for uveal melanoma – or cancer formed in the middle layer of the eye – which she completed in summer 2017 during an internship in Memphis. Ulmer shadowed Dr. Matt Wilson ’86, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Tennessee and the St. Jude Chair in Pediatric Ophthalmology, and worked in the lab with which he’s connected.
Next fall, she’ll be in Charleston, her hometown, to begin her studies at the Medical University of South Carolina.
While she doesn’t intend to pursue a Ph.D. and settle into research, her lab experiences will make her a better clinician, said Victoria Turgeon, Ulmer’s academic adviser and director of Furman’s neuroscience major.
“For her to be able to see both of those separately and then how they’re dependent on each other was really pivotal,” Turgeon said.
Ulmer loved that the research was tied to Dr. Wilson’s clinical practice.
“We were working with cells that are from real human beings,” she said. “The responsibility of that is huge.”
Uveal melanoma can metastasize quickly and viciously. Ulmer was helping research a chemotherapy that would target the secondary diseases.
Students who work with Wilson – Ulmer is the second to have the opportunity – must be performing at a graduate-school level, Turgeon said. Ulmer’s summer in Turgeon’s lab, working on a tedious cell-identification project, had prepared her for the challenges.
“It also required her to develop some techniques on her own, that we didn’t have available in the lab yet,” Turgeon said. “She was very patient and methodical.”
She’s also motivated: Ulmer wrote her own grant to secure funding for her summer in Turgeon’s lab. She applied for and won a travel grant to participate in the Hawaii conference this May, where she’s eager to share her research with others in the field. Turgeon said Ulmer earned the privilege to interact on that level.
“She played such a pivotal role in the outcome of this project,” she said.