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Student Highlights: Zahraa Hotait (NHS '22)

Zahraa Hotait is a junior in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. She is majoring in human science and minoring in psychology.

Involvement in Research

Hotait had a passion for healthcare ever since she was young. During college her interest in healthcare expanded to encompass not only the clinical aspects of medicine but also the biological research elements of health. During one of her Human Science courses, Dr. Shepard gave a talk about olfactory receptors in metabolic organs like the kidney and liver, which inspired Hotait. She then reached out to Dr. Shepard to learn more about G-protein coupled receptors. She joined Dr. Shepard’s lab during the spring of her freshman year. Here, she had the opportunity to develop critical biological bench research techniques and spearhead her own project.

Hotait’s research project is centered around olfactory receptors in the murine livers, which may provide important insight for understanding and developing treatments for disorders including diabetes. Specifically, she applies gene specific PCR to cDNA synthesized using RNA isolated from mouse liver samples where she was able to identify several olfactory receptors that are present in the murine liver. After identifying these key olfactory receptors, she was able to ask questions about differential diabetic expression patterns of specific enzymes that affect sodium glucose cotransporters. So far, her results have been promising. Her preliminary analysis of quantitative PCR and Western blot data suggests potential trends towards decreased gluconeogenic enzyme mRNA and protein expression in Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus mouse models. She also reports decreased expression in olfactory receptor 1393 knockout mice as compared to wild-type mice. Furthermore, she has observed a decrease in protein expression of certain gluconeogenic enzymes in empagliflozin-treated and untreated Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus female mouse models as compared to male counterparts. She hopes that future research will help elucidate patterns of differential glucoregulation in order to further researchers' understanding of glucose metabolism under conditions of altered sodium glucose cotransporters, providing insight into diabetic phenotypes related to hyperglycemia. 


Hotait’s time working in Dr. Shepard’s lab has been pivotal to her undergraduate growth, allowing her to expand her skillset of research techniques and gain invaluable problem-solving skills and an investigative mindset. She values the collaborative and supportive nature of her lab environment while she and her lab colleagues work to further the current understanding of renal and hepatic physiology. She feels so grateful to have an amazing mentor and group of peers throughout the past two years in her lab. Working alongside Dr. Shepard to conduct research has given Hotait the opportunity to perform hands-on work and collect her own data to address fascinating questions about glucoregulation. She feels that this opportunity has been one of her most valuable learning experiences, motivating her to not only practice medicine in the future but also continue to contribute to science through working to deepen the current understanding of human physiology.


Written by Danya Adams