This summer I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Silveyra and her research team at the Penn State College of Medicine investigating the mechanisms behind adult asthmatic females being more susceptible to air pollution than males. Research has shown that upon exposure to an air pollutant like ozone, females that already have a respiratory disease, such as asthma, are much more likely to develop worsening asthma as well as other respiratory problems. I believe this study is very important in today’s world, where the majority of ozone can be found in cities and industrialized areas that have very high populations. Therefor a female with asthma living in a populated city risks the possibility of her asthma worsening or developing other complications. When people think of asthma, they usually think of shortness, of breath, trouble breathing, and wheezing. These symptoms are all due to a person’s airways becoming inflamed and an air pollutant like ozone could trigger this. The body expresses proteins called cytokines and when certain types of these cytokines are expressed, they can lead to inflammation like we see in asthma. In recent years a special type of RNA called microRNA (miRNA) has been found to play a key role in regulating the expression of these inflammatory cytokines. My research team and I were particularly interested in miR-712, which is a miRNA known to play a role in regulating inflammatory cytokines. Our idea was that if this miRNA is expressed differently between males and females, this could explain why asthmatic females are more susceptible to air pollutants than males. This study could lead to the development of treatments specific for males and females.
Realities of Research
This was the first real research project I had ever participated in, so it was pretty intimidating in the beginning. However, as time went on I learned new techniques and began to understand the project and why it was important and that got me really excited to be doing research. The part that surprised me the most is how things that are so small like miRNA can play such a huge part in disease and keeping us healthy. Along the way I had to learn new techniques like how to extract the miRNA’s and how to determine how much was being expressed. In the end the results were a little surprising. Yes, we saw higher levels of miR-712 expressed in asthmatic females that had been exposed to ozone, but we also saw even higher levels of it in asthmatic males that had been exposed to ozone. This may have been due to the fact that male mice typically react quicker to the asthma model we used and that it may take females longer to actually “develop” asthma. I think in the future this model may need to be changed a little bit, but that is all a part of doing research.
Life of a Scientist
I found day-to-day life in the lab to be very exciting. There was always something to be doing and it was nice to know that everything you were doing in a day was for a purpose. One thing that surprised me was how long some procedures can actually take. Procedures I would read about in textbooks always seemed like they were quick and then you have your results, but there is actually a lot of hours that go into some procedures. The worst part was exposing the mice to ozone, because it was a three-hour long exposure and it would get pretty boring. The absolute best part was getting to work with my research team. Every single one of them was so helpful and knowledgeable and I am so grateful for them.
- Fuentes, N., Roy, A., Mishra, V., Cabello, N. and Silveyra, P. (2018). Sex-specific microRNA expression networks in an acute mouse model of ozone-induced lung inflammation. Biology of Sex Differences, 9(18).