Tag Archives: Sex

Take My Breath Away- A Summer of Asthma Research

Research Project

Pathology of asthma.

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.



  1. 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).
Ashley Weaver is a rising senior at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania majoring in immunology and infectious disease. She is a 2018 Short-Term Research Education Program to Increase Diversity in Health-Related Research (STRIDE) fellow working in Dr. Patricia Silveyra’s lab at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Her fellowship is funded by APS and a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (Grant #1 R25 HL115473-01). 
After graduating, Ashley plans to pursue a career in clinical lab work for government organizations and then to pursue her masters in immunology.
Post Spinal Cord Injury Female Mice have a Higher Concentration of Glial Cells

In the laboratory this summer, I studied one of the myriads of cell responses that occur in the spinal cord post-injury. The cells that I studied were microglia, which play a role in cleaning up debris and acting as an immune response. It has been found that post-SCI (spinal cord injury) female mice have better functional recovery than their male counterparts. Scientists studying SCI’s are currently researching possible causes for this difference in healing. My project focused on whether male or female mice have a higher microglia response post injury. The tissue I analyzed was collected from male and female mice 42 days post-moderate SCI. I first had to stain the spinal cord sections with eriochrome cyanine, which shows the degree of degeneration the spinal cord underwent post injury. Immunohistochemistry was then performed on the tissue, which is a form of staining that binds fluorescent antibodies to the cells you are looking for. Because of the fluorescence that is attached to the cell, you can then use light to illuminate the microglia and then image the cells. To get the most accurate comparison, I selected a portion of the spinal cord that I could identify in every animal and quantified the cells in just that area. My data concluded that female mice have significantly (p: .0187) less microglia.

Realities of Research

This was my first time taking part in research in a professional lab setting and there were a few things that surprised me, but for the most part I knew relatively what I was getting into. I think the most surprising thing was that there was a lot of sitting around and waiting for either results or for my slides to dry. As a student that works better when pressurized, I feel that this aspect will be the biggest barrier keeping me from going into a research career. There were also a lot of issues that I had with the tissue itself and aspects that hindered my ability to analyze my results.

My responsibilities changed from day to day, whether I was sitting at a desk and reading for hours straight or doing a stain. I also spent a lot of time learning about lab equipment and how to safely complete an experiment. I think the best part was when I was able to work by myself and take ownership of my own project. However, there were many times that I was lost or confused and really needed help. The worst part of this research was all of the down time that I had. Working as a lab team was very interesting because there were always people around that had something interesting to contribute to my project. However, there were also issues with finding the specific person that could help you with a part of your project.

Julie Wilson is a senior majoring in Biology and Chemistry at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, OH. She is a 2017 Integrative Organismal Systems Physiology (IOSP) Fellow working with Dr. John C. Gensel at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY. Julie’s fellowship is funded by the APS and a grant from the National Science Foundation Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) (Grant #IOS-1238831). After leaving Baldwin Wallace University, Julie plans to attend medical school and pursue a career in pediatrics working with queer and diverse youth.