January 29th, 2019
The Fascinating Relationship Between Inflammation and Respiratory Plasticity

Research Project

I am grateful to say that this summer I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Irene C. Solomon at Stony Brook University, in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, as an awarded fellow from the American Physiological Society’s Short-Term Research Education Program to Increase Diversity in Health-Related Research (STRIDE) Fellowship. Under the mentorship and guidance of Dr. Solomon, I was able to explore the scientific field of neuroinflammation and the underlying neural mechanisms controlling our central respiratory system.

Figure 1. Intermittent Hypoxia (IH) can induce respiratory motor plasticity, by increasing phrenic motor neuron and diaphragm activity

Acute Intermittent Hypoxia (AIH), also known as the delivery of low levels of oxygen in repetitive bouts, has been demonstrated to alter neural ventilatory control, and therefore, elicit different physiological changes within the respiratory system that can persist into normoxia (also otherwise known as normal O2/CO2/N2 levels).[1] These alterations are more formally known as neural plasticity, which is the nervous system’s response to varying, natural stimuli and/or the initiation and progression of diseases, injuries, and pathology.[2] What that means is that the nervous system attempts to compensate for the lower levels of oxygen by increasing the expression of neurotransmitters like serotonin and adenosine, which then affects the upregulation of specific growth/trophic factors within the Gq and Gs pathways involved in eliciting neural plasticity. More specifically, the G protein coupled receptors (GPCR), serotonin 5HT2 receptors and adenosine A2A receptors, are being targeted within the Gq and Gs, respectively.[3] Although there seems to be some interplay between these two pathways, the Gq pathway and the activation of the serotonin 5HT2 receptors appear to play a larger role in stimulating the physiological changes found during and after AIH.[4] The physiological changes that follow (i.e.increased phrenic motor neuron and diaphragm activity), are utilized within the central respiratory system to essentially breathe “better,” or in other words, consume more oxygen, in such hypoxic conditions.

Additionally, recent evidence from rodent studies, which have implemented different protocols/models for the acute administration of bacterial endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS) — a toxic substance bound to bacterial cell wall, usually causing inflammation in different regions of the brain when

Possible mechanism, including the growth/trophic factor, BDNF, for motor plasticity following AIH in rats and humans

released via bacterium rupture or disintegration[1] — indicates that inflammatory processes can also alter ventilatory control, and subsequently, affect the level of respiratory plasticity that can be achieved. The interactions between LPS-induced inflammation, and accompanying neuroinflammation, and various aspects of ventilatory control, however, are not well understood. It is important to understand how LPS affects the respiratory system since LPS-induced neuroinflammation remains to be a compounding factor of many diseases, such as sepsis, acute lung injury (ALI), and/or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)[2], and serves as a cause of mortality across a wide variety of respiratory malfunctions (e.g. previously mentioned, OSA). Therefore, the fundamental hypothesis guiding this study is that inflammatory processes can impair multiple aspects of central respiratory neural control, resulting in a reduced ability to adequately and appropriately compensate for disease/pathology. The overall goals of my study are to (1) characterize and quantify the effects (basal ventilatory and respiratory-related neural activities) of moderate (11%O2) AIH in spontaneously breathing male rodents to the 2-hit LPS-induced neuroinflammation model, in which the rats will endure 5 cycles of 3 minutes of 11% O2, 2% CO2, and 87% N2 on and off, and (2) to characterize and quantify the chemical control of breathing via immunohistochemical analyses of various elements from collected tissue samples (e.g. respiratory brainstem cytokines expression, along with neural markers from the Gq pathway). 

Realities of Research

In the beginning of my fellowship, I spent a great deal of my time acquiring new methodological techniques and learning surgical procedures often used in conducting the physiological experiments that are run in lab. Some of the essential skills included establishing EMG signals using tongue and diaphragm electrodes, which is short for electromyography and is an electrodiagnostic medicine technique for evaluating and recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles and the nerve cells that control them (motor neurons)[1], giving intraperitoneal injections (IP), intratracheal injections (IT)., and subcutaneous (sc) injections, conducting femoral and jugular cannulations, administering i.v. drug/saline supplements, and collecting tissue samples that were stored in liquid nitrogen. After acquiring the necessary skills, I was able to spend some time developing a thorough protocol that would help outline the experiments I would be running, and determine what my main hypothesis would be based off of previous findings from the lab and publications I read. I was also given the opportunity to develop my presentation skills as I would prepare and give a presentation on a paper during our bi-weekly lab meetings with the Collins Lab, who we extensively work with, and engage in meaningful conversations on new insights my fellow peers would bring up. I am currently going the data analysis of the rats’ BPM frequency and cyclic height (amplitude) for signs of either an increase or decrease in respiratory motor plasticity post-hypoxia. Immunohistochemical staining of the tissue samples collected will be used to further analyze respiratory brainstem cytokines expression for signs of neuroinflammation and potential decreases in neuroplasticity.

Life of a Scientist

Throughout my experience at the Solomon Lab, I have come to realize that the strange and mysterious world of scientific research is not one of only cut-throat competition and solitude, but a juxtaposition of individualized responsibilities and teamwork. There is something about research that, oddly enough, reminds me of my favorite childhood cartoon show, Scooby Doo. Just like how the Mystery Gang goes around in their fruity van looking for clues to solve the case and figure out the culprit of the crime, a research lab — surprisingly — works in a similar manner. See, being a part of the journey in trying to solve the big mystery is a team effort, unlike the stereotypical image most people conjure up in their minds of an old, crazy gray-haired scientist mixing chemicals together in an underground lab. Just as every member in the Mystery Gang was important to cracking the case, all members in a lab must be willing to cooperate and take on the smaller assignments in order to contribute to the larger picture and find the missing clues to the puzzle. And that’s what I love so much about scientific research: the camaraderie that forms among peers in a lab — sometimes even extending beyond the doors of your very own lab and with the people of the lab across yours. Overall, I am not only grateful for receiving the opportunity to delve deep into the world of physiology and neurobiology research, but also for the opportunity to meet such fantastic people who have helped me grow as a scientist and as an individual.

References

  1. Moya EA and Powell FL. (2018) Serotonin and Adenosine G-protein Coupled Receptor Signaling for Ventilatory Acclimatization to Sustained Hypoxia. Front. Physiol. 9:860. 06 July 2018. DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00860
  2. Fuller, D. D., & Mitchell, G. S. (2017, January). Respiratory neuroplasticity – Overview, significance and future directions. DOI: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2016.05.022. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27208699
  3. Figure 1. Dale, E. A., Mabrouk, F. B., & Mitchell, G. S. (2014, January 29). Unexpected Benefits of Intermittent Hypoxia: Enhanced Respiratory and Nonrespiratory Motor Function. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4073945/figure/F3/
  4. Figure 2. Dale, E. A., Mabrouk, F. B., & Mitchell, G. S. (2014, January 29). Unexpected Benefits of Intermittent Hypoxia: Enhanced Respiratory and Nonrespiratory Motor Function. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4073945/figure/F5/
  5. Moya EA and Powell FL. (2018) Serotonin and Adenosine G-protein Coupled Receptor Signaling for Ventilatory Acclimatization to Sustained Hypoxia. Front. Physiol. 9:860. 06 July 2018. DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00860
  6.  Moya EA and Powell FL. (2018) Serotonin and Adenosine G-protein Coupled Receptor Signaling for Ventilatory Acclimatization to Sustained Hypoxia. Front. Physiol. 9:860. 06 July 2018. DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00860
  7. Britannica, T. E. (2014, November 18). Endotoxin. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/endotoxin
  8. Hong Chen, Chunxue Bai & Xiangdong Wang (2010). The value of the lipopolysaccharide-induced acute lung injury model in respiratory medicine. Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine, 4:6, 773-783, DOI: 10.1586/ers.10.71
  9.  Electromyography (EMG). (2018, May 05). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/emg/about/pac-20393913

Rashi Bhatt is a sophomore majoring in Computational Neuroscience and Public Health, with a minor in Computational Medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. She is a Short-Term Research Education Program to Increase Diversity in Health-Related Research (STRIDE) Fellowship working in Dr. Irene C. Solomon’s lab at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, NY. Rashi’s fellowship was funded by the APS and a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (Grant #1 R25 HL115473-01). After graduation, she plans on attending Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to receive her MPH and hopefully go on to attend medical school, and specialize in neurosurgery and neuro-imaging.

January 25th, 2019
Is Sodium Nitrite Supplementation the Solution to Aging Blood Vessels?

Research Project

With a quickly aging US population, research to help us live a longer life is on the forefront. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality in the US, so finding ways to decrease cardiovascular disease risk could be the answer. At the Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory (IPA Lab) at the University of Colorado Boulder, we focus our research on finding ways to decrease this risk. A recent 5 year clinical research trial tested the effects of a sodium nitrite supplement on cardiovascular disease risk in middle aged and older adults. Sodium nitrite provides the body with a very important signaling molecule called nitric oxide, which specifically targets the blood vessels allowing them to dilate and increase blood flow. Nitric oxide production can decrease as a person ages. Past studies in the IPA Lab indicate that increases in nitric oxide are associated with improvements in the function of the blood vessels, thereby decreasing cardiovascular disease risk (1).  Now that the 5-year study is complete, myself and a team of researchers are analyzing endothelial cells collected from subjects. Endothelial cells are found, on the innermost layer of blood vessels and control dilation and constriction of the blood vessels. We are hoping to find mechanisms that sodium nitrate may be acting through to decrease cardiovascular disease risk in middle age and older adults.

Realities of Research

In a perfect world, research would flow without any issues. There would be no problems, no set backs, and no recollecting data. The reality is that this is impossible. There are always mishaps along the way, but the key is overcoming and problem solving these mishaps. Working in the IPA Lab over the past summer, I’ve learned that imaging endothelial cells is an imperfect art. Even if you complete the procedure correctly there are still some slides that don’t stain as well as others or have no cells on them to analyze. Our research team is constantly trying to improve our technique with endothelial cell staining and we have recently made changes to the collection procedure hoping to provide better staining images for the future.

Life of a Scientist

Over the past summer I have also gained insight on what the real life of a physiology researcher is. At times it can be frustrating if your procedure doesn’t work or you don’t receive the results you were expecting, but that’s part of the job. As a researcher it is essential to develop problem-solving skills to work past these frustrating times and to work as a team of researchers helping each other solve problems in the lab. At the same time though it can be one of the most rewarding careers. When you finally finish a paper and publish in a journal, you feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and feel as though you and your team of researchers have made a true impact on the future of science.

After staining the endothelial cell slides, I use a microscope to visualize the immunofluorescence of the cells.

References

  1. Seals DR, Jablonski KL, Donato AJ. Aging and vascular endothelial function in humans. Clin Sci 120(9), 357-75 (2011)
Kayla Woodward is a senior majoring in Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO. She is a 2018 Undergraduate Research Excellence Fellow (UGREF) working in Dr. Doug Seals’ Integrative Physiology of Aging Lab at the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO. Kayla’s fellowship is funded by the APS. After graduation this spring, Kayla plans to apply to medical school pursuing a career as physician and researcher.
January 22nd, 2019
Stem Cell Summer Research

Research Project

Throughout our lives we accumulate damage naturally in our day-to-day activities. Thankfully, our bodies have an incredible potential for repair. Damaged tissues might follow a sunny day at the beach without sunscreen or the micro-tears in muscles resulting from a hard workout, are repaired by our bodies via the orchestration of numerous cellular processes. In response to tissue damage, various proteins will signal to specific cells in the damaged tissue that have the potential to differentiate and repopulate damaged tissue, inducing a regenerative response. These specific cells are known as stem cells .

My research this summer focused on a protein complex that has reported roles during aging and in mediating repair in particular tissues: mTORC1. In muscle, mTORC1 has been shown to be crucial to the activation of muscle stem cells, which are normally dormant, so that they may repopulate the damaged muscle by replacing injured cells with new, healthy cells. Although the role of mTORC1 in tissue regeneration is well understood in muscle, its role during repair is unclear within many other organs, particularly the intestine. The inner lining of the intestine, known as the intestinal epithelium, experiences tremendous damage on a daily basis, in part, as a result of the mechanical stress to the intestinal cells from the passage of food. As such, the intestinal epithelium is one of the most proliferative tissues in the human body, having the capacity to turnover every 5-7 days. My research this summer aimed to understand the role mTORC1 in repairing the intestinal epithelium after injury, and also to understand how this role may differ from its activity in an uninjured context, during homeostasis. We hope that the results from this work will help us better understand the intestinal regenerative process in order to someday have the capability to pharmacologically enhance regeneration in injured individuals, or prevent it, in conditions such as cancer where tissue grows excessively quickly.

Realities of Research

One of the aims of my research project was to focus on the role of mTORC1 during homeostasis. I hypothesized that if the activity of mTORC1 was inhibited, stem cell activity in the intestinal epithelium would be impaired. After genetically manipulating mice so that mTORC1 activity was only depleted in the intestine, we saw that mice lost a dramatic amount of weight and became sickly. We also expected a change on the cellular level. For instance, we anticipated changes in the number of cells actively dividing in the intestinal epithelium as well as changes in the architecture of intestinal epithelial cells. In order to better visualize the number of cells actively proliferating within the intestinal epithelium, I used a cell staining technique called Edu staining which allowed me to visualize each cell undergoing division. Once imaged, I could then quantify the exact number of cells undergoing division within a set amount of time and compare the number of proliferating cells in mice in which mTORC1 was depleted, compared to control mice with normal mTORC1 activity . The Edu staining showed a decrease in the number of cells proliferating in mice depleted of mTORC1 activity, further supporting my hypothesis. In order to further characterize the changes that occur after obstruction of mTORC1 activity, I plan to determine whether intestinal stem cell number is affected following genetic mTORC1 depletion. I also plan to analyze the general structure of the epithelial tissue using a staining technique called H&E staining and quantify the number of cells undergoing programed cell death using cleaved caspase 3 staining.

Life of a Scientist

This past summer, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to do research. Primarily, I’ve discovered the necessity of having keen attention to detail. Prior to working in Dr. Samuelson’s lab, I hadn’t realized how many steps need to go correctly in order to obtain data from an experiment. For instance, to complete a Western Blot, which is an experimental technique used to separate and identify a specific protein from a sample containing hundreds or even thousands of proteins, each step in the process must be executed with acute accuracy and precision. First, the mice had to be treated with the proper experimental treatment. Following the harvesting of the tissue, the protein within had to be extracted and quantified extremely accurately. Finally, the Western Blot could be run, which also has potential for error. If even a single step within the entire time intensive process was completed inaccurately or improperly, the Western Blot likely wouldn’t work and the entire process would need to be redone.

As I near the end of my summer in Dr. Samuelson’s lab, one of my biggest takeaways from working in the lab is that a scientist is never done learning. Sitting in on lab meetings with a team of experienced scientists and PhD students has shown me that even experts in certain fields don’t have the answers to every question. During my ten weeks in the lab, each week was entirely different. While there were several core skills that I learned and expanded upon through practice throughout the whole summer, each week also came with new scientific techniques and new ways of thinking and approaching problems. This constant exposure to new information and lifelong learning is what excites me as a scientist.

Yasmine Abushukur is a senior at the University of Michigan studying both French and Bimolecular Science. This summer, she worked in Dr. Linda Samuelson’s lab thanks to funding from the APS Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship. This upcoming school year, she plans to continue working under Dr. Samuelson’s guidance, studying gastrointestinal physiology. After graduation, she plans pursue a career as a physician-researcher.
January 11th, 2019
The Effect of Acidic or Neutral Environment on the Mitochondrial Morphology of Human Kidney Cells

This summer, I had the opportunity to investigate the effect of environmental acidity on the mitochondrial shape of human kidney cells.

African Americans have a much higher chance of getting kidney disease than European Americans because they frequently carry risk mutations in a gene called APOL1. Two mutations, termed as G1 and G2, have been discovered only in African American populations. Those who carry two copies of G1 or G2 variants are more likely to develop chronic kidney disease (CKD). Thirteen percent of African Americans carry two copies of APOL1 variants, and these two variants contribute to at least 70% of CKD in this population (Science, 2010). However, only 20% of African Americans with two copies of APOL1 gene variants eventually develop CKD. Therefore, we believe there must be a “second stressor” working together with the APOL1 variants to cause CKD. Prior studies at Wake Forest School of Medicine have concluded that APOL1 G1 and G2 variants induced malfunction of the mitochondrion, a critical organelle providing energy for normal cell activity (Ma, JASN 2017). An acidic environment may have additional negative effects on cells carrying defective APOL1 G1 or G2 variants, for two reasons. The first reason is that the protein encoded by the APOL1 gene variants is sensitive to acid and an acidic environment affects its function (Thomson and Finkelstein, PNAS 2015). The second reason is that kidney tissue accumulates more acid than other tissues in the body and presents an acidic environment that may affect the function of APOL1 protein or potentially be that “second stressor”.

This mitochondrial network image was taken with confocal microscopy during the 2018 APS undergraduate summer research program

Therefore, we investigated how the difference in environmental acidity level, defined by pH value, affects the mitochondrial shape of cultured human kidney cells — that is whether the mitochondrial pattern is normal or fragmented in the cells exposed to environments of different acidity (=different pH). We performed confocal microscopy to scan serial images of mitochondria from human kidney cells expressing normal APOL1 G0 and G1/G2 variants, and used Fiji software to measure the relative mitochondrial length. These experiments were done when APOL1 expression levels were comparable among cells of different APOL1 genotypes, and the cell viability was intact when APOL1 was moderately expressed. We found that an acidic environment enhanced the negative effect of APOL1 risk variants on the mitochondrial pattern of kidney cells. According to these preliminary experiments, an acidic environment appears to elicit more mitochondrial fragmentation, which typically suggests that mitochondria may not be working properly.

Our preliminary studies suggest that the effect of environmental acidity in the kidney may be important for understanding how APOL1 variants pose a high risk for CKD in the African American community. Understanding why products of APOL1 gene variants, which are expressed around body, damage only the kidney and how and why kidney disease develops in those individuals who carry G1 and G2 variants of this gene will have a huge impact on the African American community and help in the fight against kidney disease. This study is also a part of the larger project to identify other possible “second stressors” to APOL1 gene associated kidney disease, and relatively high environmental acidity of the kidney may be one of those.

 

Realities of Research

When I first came into the lab, my mind was filled with awe and admiration because I saw how dedicated the lab members were every day. I have found that scientific research is such a complex process. In order for a research project to be successful, every step of the experiment should be planned ahead of time and in minute detail. My mentor and lab instructor have been so considerate. They discussed every aspect of the experiment, such as when to seed cells, when to add doxycycline, when to purify and extract RNA from cells, etc. This allowed me to perform the experiments efficiently and saved me a lot of time so that I would not make too many mistakes and have to start all over again. Without their instruction and guidance, I cannot imagine how I could have done the cell culture (including doxycycline controlled gene overexpression), taken images on the confocal microscope, isolated RNA from cultured cells, and run RT-PCR all in a short period of ten weeks. The procedures were overwhelming to someone like me who had no previous experience with cell experiments. After the first two weeks of “playing” with cells, I realized it is delicate work requiring patience and fine motor skills. For example, I struggled opening and closing the cap of the falcon tube only with one hand or pipetting minute amounts of fluid for PCR experiments. After several rounds of practice, I felt comfortable performing the task. Now, I have a true understanding of “practice makes perfect”. To analyze the mitochondrial patterns, we used a new technique called Fiji/MiNA software to measure the length of the mitochondria of kidney cells. Based on literature, Fiji/MiNA software was used to measure the length of mitochondria in neuron cells. We adopted this software and successfully adjusted the settings to apply to mitochondrial lengths in kidney cells and accurately captured the small fragments of mitochondria, which made the measurement more precise. Thanks to my mentor and lab instructor, their dedication and precision greatly influenced me. From time to time, my mentor praised me for my contributions to the study. As a team, we have been able to complete the study and obtain our results as we expected.

 

Life of a Scientist

Doing scientific research has always been my passion. Since my high school years, I longed that someday I could make new discoveries, which would eventually change people’s lives. Working in the lab, I have been so excited to learn new techniques needed to complete my project. I never get tired of tedious repeats of 200 scans of images. The best part of the fellowship is that I have a tremendous amount of guidance from my mentor to successfully complete the project in the time limit and obtain the results we are expecting. I have realized that scientific research not only requires patience and proper time management, but also requires thorough knowledge from a variety of disciplines such as physiology, anatomy, molecular/cell biology, etc. This is quite challenging for me as an undergraduate. I shared the frustrations of other fellows, whose experiments did not go as planned. They had to rely on trial and error, and were even unfortunate to find out that there was not enough knowledge to do the study in their lab and started moving in another direction. The worst part of my research project was that I had to spend days measuring and recording the mitochondrial lengths of human kidney cells after treatment with different pH solutions using software and manually enter the data first in Word, then into an Excel spread sheet. But overall, being a scientist especially working as a team member of this lab filled me with joy and pride as we were rewarded with a successful project.

 

DengFeng Li is a junior majoring in Biology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is a 2018 APS Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow working in Dr. Snezana Petrovic’s Lab at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Li’s fellowship is funded by the APS and a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
January 8th, 2019
STRIDE, Statins, and Scientific Research: The Perfect Way to Spend Summer Vacation

After googling the definition of the word science, one will find that it means “the intellectual activity encompassing the study of the structure and behavior of the physical world through observations and experiments.” In simpler terms, science is about being curious and learning all that one can about something in order to better understand it. That is exactly what I have had the opportunity to do this past summer under the APS STRIDE fellowship program.

 

Research Project

 In scientific research, to start designing a project, one must first come up with or ask a question that nobody really knows the answer to. With that, something many people don’t know is that high cholesterol has no symptoms; therefore, many people do not even know they have high cholesterol levels. And those who are being diagnosed are being prescribed medication to lower their risk for developing heart disease and decreasing their chances for having a stroke (2). These medications being prescribed, called statins, are one of the most effective cholesterol-lowering drugs available. However, approximately 10-12% of patients taking statins develop muscle pain and dysfunction, which can be intensified with exercise (1). It is unclear as to how exercise and statins work in combination to yield these side effects. Yet, it is important to gain a better understanding as to how they work together to affect one’s health. Therefore, I have been currently researching the effects of the mixture of these two treatments in ApoE-/- mice, whom genetically have high cholesterol, in hopes of generating new insight as to how statins and exercise impact the health of individuals with hypercholesterolemia to contribute to the development of the most successful treatment options that decrease the severity of complications (3).

 

Realities of Research

This fellowship has allowed me to develop not only a greater understanding for the science behind the subject of the project itself, but also for the process and effort to perform and accomplish the project as a whole. What is fascinating about conducting research is that each day presents something different to be accomplished or overcome. I was most surprised by how much planning, preparation, and practice must be done prior to the actual start of a project. Whether it is acquiring supplies, matching up schedules, or deciding what types of experiments to conduct, it all takes time and dedication to ensure that the project runs smoothly. With that, I also had to learn and practice new techniques, such as injecting the mice with statin medication, training the mice, performing muscle dissections, and developing tissue samples to analyze protein levels. With what we’ve accomplished so far, there is no specific data that indicates a major difference between the effects of exercise alone and exercise in combination with statin in mice with high cholesterol. However, we hope to see some difference in muscle force between the two groups after we finish our experiments, in which we then plan to determine if there is a cellular basis that is being affected by the statin medication that is causing a difference. And if there’s no variance, then we know that this specific model doesn’t support our original theory. We would next look at a different element of force, such as endurance instead of strength. But the reality and beauty of research is that you never know what you’re going to find.

Life of a Scientist

Not knowing what to expect is one of the best and worst parts of the life of being a scientist. It is not a typical Monday through Friday 9:00am – 5:00pm job where you do the same thing every single day. You’re constantly learning new things and applying what you have learned to something new; you make connections from the past to the present to try and understand how concepts are related yet different. But even with these enlightening moments, there can be downsides, too. Challenges are thrown at you every day, whether it’s scheduling conflicts, flooding issues, or the results don’t turn out like you expected. Again, that’s where the art of science comes along, in that one must learn how to overcome these obstacles by becoming adaptable to every situation, thinking creatively to find a new route or how one can stay on their original path, and collaborating with others to share ideas as how to approach each step.

This summer has been about STRIDE, statins, and scientific research all of which have inspired me to never stop learning, to never stop questioning, and to never stop searching for an answer. It doesn’t matter if one is titled as a scientist or not, these are actions everyone should implicate into their lives to learn about themselves and their passions and to learn more about the world around them.

 

McKenzie Temperly is a junior majoring in Health Sciences – Clinical & Applied and minoring in Chemistry at Drake University in Des Moines, IA. She is a 2018 Short-Term Research Education Program to Increase Diversity in Health-Related Research (STRIDE) Fellow working in Dr. Kimberly Huey’s lab at Drake University.  McKenzie’s fellowship is funded by the American Physiological Society and a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (Grant #1 R25 HL115473-01). After graduation, McKenzie plans to attend medical school and pursue an M.D./Ph.D. degree. She is currently interested in specializing in general/orthopedic surgery or emergency medicine intermixed with biomedical research within her chosen field.
January 4th, 2019
Ozone: Protector or Pollutant?

We usually hear that we want more ozone in our atmosphere to protect us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, but ozone isn’t always a good thing. That protective ozone is found in the stratosphere, while ozone on ground level is a harmful air pollutant caused by emissions from cars and factories. Ozone can do a lot of damage to human lungs, causing shortness of breath, coughing, inflammation and damage to airways, aggravation of lung diseases like asthma, and permanent lung damage. In response to ozone-induced injury, macrophages (immune cells which eat and break down viruses, bacteria, and dead cells) accumulate in the lung and contribute to inflammation and toxicity. Inflammation is important to get rid of any dangerous invaders or cell debris, but macrophages can also have damaging effects in the lungs.

We want to find out what can be done to reduce that inflammation and toxicity, so we are investigating valproic acid. Valproic acid is a fatty acid which has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. My research project involves testing our hypothesis that valproic acid will reduce lung inflammation and toxicity caused by ozone-induced injury. To evaluate the effects of valproic acid on inflammation and toxicity, I stain thin slices of lung tissue by immunohistochemistry. In immunohistochemistry, the goal is to determine if alveolar macrophages are expressing markers of inflammation or toxicity – the more expression of a certain marker, the darker the macrophage should be stained. We expect that the lungs of mice treated with valproic acid will be less stained than the untreated if inflammation and toxicity are mitigated.

https://www.edf.org/health/why-smog-standards-are-important-our-health

Caption: Smog over LA. Ozone is the main component in smog.(1)

 

Realities of Research

Like the bad and good faces of ozone, doing a research in the lab is slow-going, but also rewarding. The pace is slow because I dedicate a lot of time to troubleshooting the immunohistochemistry process. For each marker of interest, the protocol needs to be optimized. This is time-consuming because it means going through the immunostaining process repeatedly, changing small details each time. It was especially frustrating when the results were not what we expected. When our controls were repeatedly turning out different from how they had looked in previous experiments, we had to figure out if it was the fault of the sample, a detail in the protocol, or the antibody. I’m currently still working on figuring out the discrepancy by testing samples from other labs and different antibodies. If it’s the samples that are faulty, we will put a hold on the immunohistochemistry until we can use the samples from an animal exposure we have planned in a couple of weeks. If the antibodies are the problem, we will order new ones. If I’m doing something in the protocol incorrectly, my research mentor will watch me go through the steps and find out. This complication has been slowing down our progress, but it’ll be rewarding to finally figure it out and get data.

Life of a Scientist

Even excluding the satisfaction of getting data, I feel like I’ve grown a huge amount working as a scientist this summer since it was completely new for me. It’s my first experience working full-time, in addition to taking place in the unique environment of a research lab. I was happily surprised by the amount of flexibility in schedule – each person comes in and leaves when they need to, depending on the work they need to get done that day. Some days are a typical 9 to 5, some might be much shorter, and some might go late into the night. It can become overwhelming meeting new people, catching up on literature, and learning new lab techniques. However, it’s also satisfying to soak up so much new information so quickly and see myself developing as a scientist and a student every week. In my experience so far, the best part of working full-time is the people I have been able to get to know. Seeing the lab tech, the faculty, the grad students, the undergrads, and the high school students every day gives me the chance to really learn about what they do inside and outside the lab. Because of them, coming into the lab every day is welcoming and exciting, which makes all the difference when I’m frustrated with my experiments. Working with them is easy and most of all, fun, and I’m grateful I was able to do research with such encouraging and friendly people.

 

References:

  1. Why smog standards are important for our health. (2018). Retrieved July 27,2018, from https://www.edf.org/health/why-smog-standards-are-important-our-health
Jordan Lee is a junior studying molecular biology and biochemistry at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. She is a 2018 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow, funded by the APS. Jordan is working in Dr. Debra L. Laskin’s lab at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers. After graduation, she plans to continue doing research and exploring her interests in healthcare and science.
December 18th, 2018
Apoptosis! How Endoperoxides Could Be a Difference

Artemisinin – also known as Qinghoasu – is produced by the sweet wormwood tree Artemisia annua. For hundreds of years, unaware of its potential in treating cancer and malaria, the sweet wormwood tree was used in ancient Chinese medicine to treat fevers, which we now know were caused by the Malarial parasite. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Chinese scientist Youyou Too and her collaborators isolated the active anti-cancer and anti-malarial ingredient from Artemisia annua, Artemisinin. The active portion of Artemisinin is an oxygen-oxygen bond that forms free radicals when exposed to iron. These free radicals then disrupt cellular function, thereby inducing cell death. In the case of cancer cells, research has shown that most types of cancer cells have increased intake of iron compared to non-cancerous cells. As a result, iron reacts with Artemisinin, producing free radicals, inducing apoptosis, and causing cell death. Therefore, Artemisinin may also be effective when treating cancer. However, despite Artemisinin’s effect on cancer and malaria, there are disadvantages to its usage. Since Artemisinin constitutes less than only about 1% dry weight of the sweet wormwood plant it has limited availability in developing countries and it is very costly to extract. Additionally, the original Artemisinin molecule has trouble reaching its target due to its limited bioavailability. Therefore, we have synthesized analogues of Artemisinin that have the same oxygen-oxygen bond as the original Artemisinin molecule but are smaller and inexpensive to make. This Summer, my lab and I have been testing the novel analogues on A549 lung cancer, MCF7 breast cancer, BEAS-2B normal lung, and MCF10A normal mammary cell lines to see the effect of the analogues on inducing cell death. We have witnessed an increase in cell apoptosis in cancerous cells and not in normal cells and will continue testing the various analogues to find the one with the greatest efficacy at the lowest dose. 

Realities of Research

In my journey as a researcher, I have learned a lot about the advantages and downfalls of researching. Before entering Benedictine University, there was a stigma in my mind towards researching. I couldn’t imagine myself sitting in a lab because the idea of this sounded monotonous and unpleasing. Once I began researching, I realized the importance of it, making me love what I do now. Witnessing the novel drugs killing cancer cells was fascinating and exciting because I was able to make useful discoveries. Furthermore, I have gained knowledge on how to maintain various cancer and normal cell lines using proper cell culture protocol. I have seen just how easily cells can become contaminated and the headache involved with sterilizing everything and starting over. I have learned to follow safety protocols better to prevent future contamination. Additionally, I have become fluent in the usage of various lab equipment and techniques including the flow cytometer, absorbance reader, fluorescence microscope, Western Blotting, and protein assays. Having to perform some of these experiments multiple times due to errors I’ve made has helped me better my technique. Although not all the experiments I completed turned out how I wanted due to human error, the experiments that went correctly supported my original hypothesis.

Life of a Scientist

The day in the life of a scientist begins early in the morning. I wake up, get ready, and am in the lab by 9:00 am daily. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I begin the day by placing media to feed the cells in the water bath. While the media is warming up, I check confluency of the cells to determine whether I need to split them or just feed them. From there, I feed or split cells, clean the hood, and continue with the rest of the day. I then go to my research mentor’s office to determine which experiments need to be completed first, conduct those experiments, and end the day discussing the results. The best part of being a student researcher is the flexibility. I can do so many unique experiments with the cells I am growing, allowing me to test various things simultaneously. Additionally, I have a phenomenal research team and we enjoy conversing with one another. The worst part of researching is the long hours spent in the lab. It does get exhausting to be in the lab all day, however, with my great research group I find ways to help the time pass by. Researching has shown me the importance of interdisciplinary work with the collaboration between the organic chemistry lab and my lab, as well as the importance of effective communication.

 

Mohammed U. Haq is a senior majoring in Health Science at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL. He is a 2018 Undergraduate Student Research Fellow (UGSRF) working in Dr. Jayashree Sarathy’s physiology lab at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL. Mohammed’s fellowship is funded by APS. After graduation, Mohammed plans to pursue a career in medicine with an interest in conducting research in medical school.
December 14th, 2018
Detrusor, Urothelium and Mitochodria – Oh My!

The summer of 2018, I worked under Dr. Johanna Hannan at Brody School of Medicine in order to study sex differences in bladder dysfunction and study the impact of obesity-induced bladder dysfunction. With one-third of Americans, aged 40 years or older, reporting to have some level of urinary incontinence, we know that bladder dysfunction is a common condition.1 Both males and females experience bladder dysfunction, but they can experience varying degrees of stress or urge incontinence, overactive bladder, and obstructed bladder. Overall, females experience greater urinary incontinence compared to males.1 Our other interest, obesity induced bladder dysfunction, is pertinent because an increased BMI correlates with a higher risk of urinary incontinence. The mechanism that obesity-induced bladder dysfunction occurs is poorly understood. Specifically, we looked at the urothelium, the inner lining of the bladder responsible for signaling, and the detrusor smooth muscle, which contracts the bladder to dispel urine. Our interest within these tissues were mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, responsible for creating ATP; mitochondria is a model indicator of cell health. To study the health of mitochondria, we measured mitochondrial respiration within mice urothelium and detrusor smooth muscle layers of the bladder. Different substrates were added to promote or inhibit certain pathways within oxidative phosphorylation so that differences in mitochondrial metabolism could be studied. We believe that impaired mitochondrial function is contributing to the decreased contraction and inflammation that leads to bladder dysfunction in obese men and women.

Realities of Research

Working within a research lab is an experience you never forget. Life as a research scientist is different than what I had previously thought. It was not every day that I was running experiments; there were days where I read papers in order to understand and apply the results from the experiments. While we had originally believed that females would have decreased mitochondrial respiration because they had a higher prevalence of bladder dysfunction, the data obtained from an oxygraphy-2K (it measures oxygen within a chamber) showed that males actually had lower respiration. These results were found in the presence of a fatty acid which seems to impact male bladder metabolism. Though our hypothesis was proved wrong, our results are significant because they uncover novel information related to males having an impaired fatty acid metabolism.

The best part of working in a research lab was contributing to the field of science. Though our hypothesis was proved wrong, the data still had relevance to bladder dysfunction and how it impacts the population. Before our research, there was little to no information on bladder mitochondria in males and females. On the other hand, the worst part of research was when a machine would malfunction during the experiment. It not only compromised the results, but the tissue that was in it was also rendered compromised. Whenever this happened, there was always someone in the lab that I could ask for help. Also, this experience demonstrated that is it okay to ask for help – especially from people within the lab! They probably experienced the same problem and had their own tips and tricks to prevent it from happening again. Collaboration and discussion were encouraged in the lab; it is something I hope to continue to practice as I continue a career in science.

 

 

References

  1. org. (2018). American Urological Association – Bladder Health. [online] Available at: https://www.auanet.org/advocacy/bladder-health.

 

Hanna Kosnik is a junior at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC working towards majors in Biochemistry and Chemistry. She conducted research under Dr. Johanna Hannan in the Department of Physiology at Brody School of Medicine in Greenville, NC. Hanna is recipient of the 2018 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship (UGSRF) funded by the American Physiology Society (APS). After graduating, Hanna plans to pursue a career in medicine.
December 11th, 2018
My Summer of Science with the Ts65Dn Mouse

This summer I worked in a lab that studies the Ts65Dn mouse, which is an animal model for Down syndrome. Previous studies have shown that people with Down syndrome suffer from sleep apnea during the night, which exacerbates some of the cardiovascular and neurological deficits that are already associated with the disease.  My role this summer was to collect breathing and metabolic data from an older cohort of this strain as they were exposed to various gases that stressed their respiratory system. Other members of the lab collected data on the muscular and neurological functions of these mice. The overall goal of our work is to identify the causes of the deficits found within this strain of mouse. In the long run we are hopeful that the work we are doing could eventually lead to therapies for people with Down syndrome who suffer from sleep apnea.

 

Before my summer research started I had already been working in my current lab for about two semesters. I did not really have to adjust to much about the lab besides the fact that I was going in all day, every day. I was conducting my experiments using a barometric plethysmography technique. This technique involves placing mice in a chamber that records several respiratory outputs as air is pumped into and out of the chamber. Even though I was familiar with the technique that I used to collect breathing data, there were a few calibration issues that required some troubleshooting when I first began collection. Once those issues were fixed data collection went smoothly. In addition to conducting plethysmography experiments, I was working with the rest of my lab to harvest and freeze organs that were dissected from our mice in order to look at the specific proteins related to muscle function. We are currently working through analyzing and interpreting our data, but so far have found interesting results that lead us to believe that there is a neurological component that is modulating the deficits found in the Ts65Dn mouse.

Over the course of my summer, I realized that the life of a scientist varies every day. I was on a strict schedule during plethymosgraphy data collection because the mice needed to be tested during specific hours and within days of each other in order to attain accurate results. On the days that I was helping with harvesting and freezing organs, the work moved quickly because organs needed to be removed in a timely fashion in order for them to be viable for further testing. Once all of our mice were euthanized the work calmed down a bit and I was able to take my time analyzing my data, running stats and working through interpretation of statistical outputs. I really enjoyed watching the older members of our lab work through their experiments. I have learned a lot from them and it is helpful to be able to see what my life could look like if I continue down this path. I did struggle a bit at first with learning new techniques and how to run some statistical tests, but having to work through issues and figure those things out for myself has already made me a better scientist. I think that learning how to troubleshoot and work through experimental/statistical/interpretational issues on my own has been the most valuable part of my summer research experience.

 

Brianna Eassa is a senior Biology major at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. She is a 2018 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow (UGSRF) working in Dr. Lara DeRuisseau’s lab at Le Moyne College. The UGSRF award is funded by the APS. In the future, Brianna hopes to continue to work in a lab setting in order to get more experience to learn what direction she wants to go towards when entering graduate school.

 

December 7th, 2018
Protecting the Miracle of Childbirth

The spectacular process of human reproduction is complex, time consuming, and, above all, fascinating! Much has been learned over the years dealing with the mechanisms of pregnancy in many of Earth’s lifeforms. The research on genetics, like uncovering the entire human genome, makes incredible strides toward fully grasping why certain physiological processes happen. However, there are still numerous question marks, specifically speaking about women’s health during pregnancy and after, that require research and understanding. Full efforts are being undertaken that aim to ultimately lead to safer pregnancies, better means of treating diseases, and developing new techniques.

Research Project

Preeclampsia is a disorder during pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and excess protein excretion. Because the condition is not entirely understood, treatment options are far and few between for women suffering. Currently, the only remedy is a low-dose treatment of aspirin. The effects and mechanisms of this aspirin treatment is not completely understood either, so the purpose of my study is to attempt to demystify the workings of the treatment. Specifically, I am targeting human trophoblast cells, the major cell type involved in the development of the placenta, an organ that provides nutrition to the developing fetus. By varying different doses of aspirin, I am examining the changes, or lack of change, in the trophoblast DNA. If changes are observed, we will have knowledge on how and if aspirin will help women suffering from preeclampsia, which will ultimately lead to a safer pregnancy for both the mother and child.

Realities of Research

It has been an exciting experience working in a research lab. Not only have I learned valuable techniques, but I am directly impacting the future of medicine, even if it is in a seemingly small way. I have been surprised by the level of attention and precision that is addressed when conducting research. I always knew that attention to detail was important, but the extent to this precision that I have been performing has shocked me along with how these techniques were practiced. For example, RNA isolation is a delicate, yet simple process that requires attention and a good grasp on how to pipette well. If a step is skipped, such as forgetting to add the homogenate additive, then the RNA yield could be put at risk. It is too early in my research stages where results and conclusions can be made. Typically, one trial of cell growth requires one full week, so multiply one trial by the many that we are attempting and the overall experiment becomes lengthy.

Life of a Scientist

The day-to-day life of a young scientist has been exciting. While not all of the parts of my day are groundbreaking and entertaining, it is still a rewarding process. I usually begin my day with notebook entries, planning, and reading up on current events in my field. My research involves a fairly strict time schedule, so in the afternoon, the experimenting and cell ‘farming’ as I call it, can begin. I was surprised by the equipment that I have at my fingertips.  Nothing is more thrilling than looking through a $45,000 microscope or running a 6 well plate through a machine that you can’t even pronounce. The best part so far for me has been the adjusting to a real life laboratory. I have begun to entertain the idea of having my own lab in the future, and becoming familiar with how a lab is run has been a wonderful experience. The worst part has been the waiting that is required between experiments. It makes me wish I had a magic wand that would make the cells grow and be ready for testing at the flick of my wrist. It has been so wonderful working with everyone in my lab. I love the feeling of having an independent project, but still being under a larger umbrella of research with my coworkers where we can discuss information and findings.

 

Brandon Cooley is a junior at the University of Iowa where his is studying biology. His future plans involve graduation with his degree and enrolling in an MD/PhD program where he can further develop his researching skills while being present as a clinician in a hospital!