When Brett Alldredge submitted a research paper to a scholarly medical journal last year, the Brigham Young University neuroscience major was competing for space with university and medical school professors from around the world.
The editor of the Journal of Clinical Pathology was unaware of Alldredge's undergraduate credentials when he reviewed his paper. "Not that that would have impacted my decision to accept his valuable contribution," said Runjan Chetty, who is also the director of surgical pathology at University Health Networks in Toronto.
Alldredge, who graduated last month, is the sole author on the study of connectors between cells and their role in human diseases, which will be read by hundreds of physicians and researchers when it is published later this summer.
"It is most unusual to have undergraduates publish on their own," Chetty said. "This is an important area of research. Brett's contribution will be widely read, as it will interest several who are working in the field."
Alldredge, a native of Magna, Utah, credits his unique undergraduate research feat to BYU's tough neuroscience program and support from several professors.
"The nature and rigors of my major contributed to my ability to write this paper by helping me learn principles of biology and increasing my critical thinking," he said. "I've met with my professors often; they have been very encouraging and helpful to me not only with my paper but also regarding my goals and future opportunities."
David Busath, professor of physiology & developmental biology, mentored Alldredge for his last two years at BYU, encouraging his independent scholarly work.
"Brett has been one of those very unique students who works wholly independently on his undergraduate research project," Busath said. "He made a huge impression on me when he gathered and read some 100 scientific articles on cellular gap junctions during his first six months in the lab. You expect this of an advanced graduate student, but not of a junior-level undergraduate."
Alldredge's paper explores connectors between cells known as "gap junctions" that are found throughout the body. These pathways affect heart contractions, neuron communication in the brain, hearing, sight and many other functions. Irregularities can cause mild to severe medical problems.
In the review article, Alldredge outlines nine biological disciplines from cancer research to reproductive medicine that are influenced by the behaviors of gap junctions. The paper synthesizes research findings on diseases and syndromes that can occur when gap junctions malfunction.
Alldredge will be attending Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in the fall. He'll continue biological research because he believes it creates real solutions to relevant problems. He hopes his paper will raise awareness in the research and medical community concerning the important role gap junctions play in human physiology.
"[They] are found in nearly every tissue and playpivotal roles," Alldredge said. "My paper is meant to inspire gap junction research to continue in those directions aimed at providing people with novel, effective treatments."
Writer: Chris Giovarelli