Baboon Behavior

I particularly enjoyed Colby’s talk about his work in the Alberts lab, which deals with variations in baboon social behavior. I have always found animal behavior to be a very interesting topic, so I was excited to learn about one of the ways in which this type of research is conducted. 

I was somewhat surprised to find out that his work deals mostly with models, which I have very little experience with. Because of my lack of familiarity in this type of work, I was interested to hear about the years of compiled data and the many models that are involved in studying animal behavior.

I was also interested in learning about some of the challenges that come with conducting this type of animal research. For example, I was particularly fascinated by the fact that there are many years worth of data regarding the roles that genetics play in establishing baboon social structures, but there is relatively little data regarding the roles that environmental/non-genetic factors play in determining these social structures simply because it is difficult to control for their natural environment. All types of research have different limitations and I think it is interesting to hear about how different researchers work around these challenges.

The Biodiversity of Plants

As I am working with plants too, Ali’s chalk talk on pitcher plants stood out to me.  Ali’s project involves looking at different species of pitcher plants that grows in different regions. Her lab is analyzing going in these different regions affected the composition of their digestive fluid. They are looking at three different species in particular, one that has a little lid and one that has no lid Lastly, they are looking at a species of pitcher’s that are formed from by these two species of pitchers hybridizing with a little lid off to the side. These different structures change what can get into the liquid.

I think the science behind Ali’s project connects a lot with mine even though they are looking at different things than my lab. Plants are amazing model organisms to look at evolution, adaptation, and speciation. There is so much diversity within the plant world. Just the fact that you can see the diversity of pitchers plants traveling from the north to the south is amazing. I liked the fact that her project shows  that diversity is not just found in brightly colored flowers in the greenhouse, but something as nuanced as the percentage of microorganisms in digestive fluid.

Nano-Particles!

This week’s “chalk talks” were very entertaining and it was exciting to see how my peers took ownership and pride in each of their respective projects. Last week, over the course of three days, each of the individuals in the BSURF program had to do an 8-minute presentation on the work they are currently doing in their labs and on their projects. At the whim of random pulling of names from a bucket, aided only by a whiteboard and an expo marker, we each took turns presenting in front of the whole program. 

One of the chalk talks that caught my attention was the one done on the topic of nanoparticles by Joe Laforet. He and his mentor are currently working on using self-aggregating nanoparticles to use as a more efficient drug delivery system than the ones currently used. The contemporary design of nanoparticles is based on enveloping a drug of interest in a metallic shell at the molecular level. There are some major issues with this design though. It’s difficult to design and has a very low drug-carrying capacity (only ~5%). Additionally, the metallic envelope is toxic in high doses and affects solubility. A low solubility is bad because it is difficult for the body to dissolve and absorb the drug of interest. 

Joe and his mentor are coming up with new designs for nanoparticles and have been using the tendency for some molecules to form nano-scale aggregates to their advantage. The drug of interest is paired with a molecule that serves as a natural vector that can target an organ or tissue of interest. It may sound simple but these nano-clusters of drug and excipient pairs have a drug loading capacity of 95% (remember the 5% of contemporary nanoparticles). 

Joe works with machine learning algorithms to help generate simulations that he then analyzes to predict whether a drug and its excipient pair will form a nanoparticle. His mentor can then go ahead and test this nanoparticle in the lab. The simulations he’s created look great and are very satisfying to watch unfold. Additionally, this work has great potential in the medical field and seems very exciting. Nice job and best of luck Joe!

High Fashion

We have proof of concept that our RNA trans-splicing technology works in vitro. We’ve shown that we can efficiently edit pre-mRNA by transfecting and transducing Human Embryonic Kidney cells (HEK293) and are planning to move into patient-derived cardiomyocytes (human heart cells) which we have differentiated from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These two in vitro models, HEK293 and cardiomyocytes, provide a testing platform through which we can spend time increasing the efficiency of our proposed pre-mRNA editing tool. The goal is to increase efficiency as much as we possibly can before we go on and test the technology in humanized mouse models (in vitro). The current experiments we are running are done in a controlled environment and simply cannot accurately model the numerous cell types and molecules that are present in an actual organ. So we know that once we begin in vivo testing, the efficiency of our tool will drop in magnitude because of the many unpredictable variables that come into play in mouse models.

I felt this update was needed to give context to the things I do on a day-to-day or weekly basis. As I previously mentioned, our general aim is to increase the efficiency of our technology in vitro by running transfection and transduction experiments on HEK293 and differentiated cardiac cells. This means that I am in charge of keeping these cells alive and well so that we have plates of cells available to repeatedly run experiments on. The HEK293 cell lines are quite resilient and fairly easy to maintain, the stem cells are not. We cannot culture stem cells with antibiotics because it inhibits their proliferation and so we must be very careful to not contaminate them with bacteria and kill them. Whenever I deal with the stem cells I wear a lab coat, nitrile gloves, and protective sleeves. Also, 75% ethanol spray is a good friend of mine. You can never use too much ethanol spray to disinfect the items you work with within the cell culture hoods.

In addition to cell culture, I do transfections and transductions of the genetic material necessary for our technology to work. This means that I am responsible for introducing the technology into cells while also keeping them alive and well. A couple of days after introducing our tool into the cells, I am also responsible for extracting the RNA from each of the wells in the plates, synthesizing DNA from that RNA, running PCR amplification on the synthesized DNA, and then submitting that DNA for sequencing. This is roughly the entire pipeline, and the process of seeding cells all the way through submitting for sequencing can take 4 days in HEK293 cells and up to 19 days in our stem cells. The extra 15 days are included in the case of stem cells because that’s how long it can take to fully differentiate a place of stem cells into cardiomyocytes. On any given day, I could be working on any time point in this process. 

In the future, my work will also include working on a directed evolution model to have the power of molecular evolution aid us in finding our prime construct.

(Here’s a pic of me with my stem cell drip)

Neica’s talk on Recovering from Ischemic Stroke

As someone who had no prior exposure to biomedical engineering, this week’s chalk talks were especially enlightening. Out of the engineering related talks, Neica’s talk on developing drugs for ischemic strokes stood out to me because the methods used to test the drugs seemed to be similar to the methods used in the neurobiology labs that I knew of.

Ischemic strokes are strokes caused by blood clots forming in the capillaries of the brain, and leads to significant brain damage due to excitotoxic glutamate release. The brain’s natural defenses causes further damage; microglia leads to increased inflammation, meanwhile astrocytes causes scarring. An ideal treatment needs to stops these mechanisms in the affected area, and bring the neural progenitor cells close to the damaged site of the brain for regeneration. The Segura lab utilizes hydrogels to treat ischemic strokes, and thereby increasing the treatment efficacy from the current 5%. The concoction of hydrogels contain MAP gel and the CLUVENA. The Map gel recruits the neural progenitor cells. while the CLUVENA suspends the microglia and astrocytes in the damaged site. The design of the experiment, which aims to test the efficacy of the hydrogels, reminds me of the CRE-loxP system in neurobiology labs, where reactivating a gene in the knockout animal rescues the animal brain perturbation. Both methods need to damage the brain function in order to testify whether the treatment works or if the gene has a role in behavior, but they both ultimately links back to future clinical applications so that it could help people with abnormal neurological function.

Biodiversity in Watersheds

Throughout my experience in B-SURF prior to this week, I have been immersed in engineering approaches to various biological issues. However, this week, I was exposed to multiple different topics through the Chalk Talks, and I was amazed by how wide the scope of the study of biology really is. I was especially interested by Lali’s presentation, as her research is so different from mine and serves such an important purpose.

Lali’s research looks into the impact of urban development on the biodiversity of aquatic insects. Her lab focuses on the the watersheds of two creeks in the Durham area: Ellerbe Creek, which has a lot of urban development, and New Hope Creek, which has much less development. She is taking samples from two points on Ellerbe Creek with 90% urban development and 75% development, as well as one point on New Hope Creek  with 9% urban development. She is using sticky traps to gather bugs and count the amount and type of bugs at each point and then comparing them. Her hypothesis is that Ellerbe Creek will have less biodiversity and more resilient insects than New Hope Creek, as when it rains, the water in Ellerbe Creek rises much more and causes sand to form , resulting in there being no rocks for the insects to hold on in turn making it more likely for them to die. New Hope Creek rises much less following rain due to less development, resulting in there being more rocks for the insects to hold on to.

I loved Lali’s talk because even without being an expert in biodiversity, I feel like I very clearly understand the methods and purpose of this research. I also enjoyed how she talked about the way in which this research could be used to apply to humans and our everyday lives. I found it cool how this research could be used to look into socioeconomic inequities in resources used to improve the environment and how its results could have effects on the Raleigh population, as this population drinks water that comes from Ellerbe Creek.

I’m happy that I was able to learn a lot from all of the Chalk Talks, and I feel that I learned a lot from Lali’s in particular.

Cells on the Move

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the different projects everyone was working on this summer, and was pleasantly surprised to see a large variety in the topics. One such presentation that interested me was Ben’s talk about cell migration. He explained how cells can use force on actin filaments to communicate to each other, effectively causing the cells to move together. Specifically, he is looking into how vinculin can play a part in cell migration, and if it can be used to control cell movement in the future. This topic specifically fascinates me due to its similarity with my project, in which both of us look at unique characteristics in certain materials and try to optimize them for medical purposes.

Ben explained that cell migration could potentially be used for wound healing and tissue regeneration, which is actually similar to applications of ELP’s. ELP’s can also be used in damaged joints or tissue and become a solidified deposit to protect certain areas. It was exciting to learn of other possibilities in tissue engineering that share a lot of similarities with my work! Ben’s engaging and detailed talk makes me look forward to the future work his lab and others will do in the field of tissue engineering and biomaterials, as well as other possible solutions that will arise as research continues.

The Importance of Water

I found Lali’s talk on her summer project very interesting, not only for the content, but also for the practical applications of her work. Water is an essential aspect of life, for both humans and other animals, and the quality of it has huge implications for everyone. I haven’t studied ecology much at all, but Lali broke her project down into something that was easy to understand by clearly outlining each component of it. While every project presented and discussed was important and had fairly clear benefits, I felt like Lali’s was one of the few that were centered on the Durham-Raleigh area, which made it really interesting to learn about. Her work incorporated ecology, environmental conservation, and social issues into a cohesive whole as it explored the water quality of two streams, one of which leads directly into a drinking water reservoir.

I also really liked that Lali’s project included fieldwork, and I enjoyed its innovative method of using semi-aquatic insects to indirectly measure the impact of urbanization and development on water and soil quality. Overall, I’m very interested in the long-term results of this project, and how its findings will be utilized in further work, whether that work is environmental research or reform. It certainly addresses a very important question and potential local issue.

Watershed Issues of Watersheds

I really enjoyed Xitlali Ramirez’s talk, which focused on her research regarding the effects of urban development on local watersheds and their capabilities to act as insect habitats.

What drew me to her research was how much it stood out from a lot of what other people were working on. I’d heard about several genes in different species and lots of microtechnology from my colleagues’ other talks over the week, and hers was very different.

While listening to her describe the issues of rainfall runoff in developed watersheds because of concrete cover and the intricacies of the sedimentary effects of drainage pipes on creek beds and the possible contaminants causing ecological issues in the creeks themselves and their watersheds (she covered a lot!), I was reminded a lot of my APES class in high school. While in my class we mostly talked about theoretical issues and the possible effects of different forms of industrial activity or policy on the environment, Xitlali’s talk made these less-concrete (hahah) ideas seem more relevant to all of us; we live here, next to Ellerbe Creek and New Hope Creek!

It also reminded me of an issue Dr. Susan Alberts, the PI in my lab, was talking about in our last lab session. At he ABRP Camp in Kenya, which is quite remote, the well broke. While going without water for a time is something some of us might have experienced in our lives (whether through hurricane or a strong storm breaking a line), it’s a much more serious issue an an area that doesn’t have access to easy water replacements like bottled water. It’s easy for us, I think, to forget about all of the critical infrastructure that supports our research (and our modern lives!) until it breaks. I love that Xitlali was working on helping to repair some water systems that, if they did “break” would probably become huge problems for North Carolinians.

Diversity in Future Directions

This week, I really enjoyed seeing what everyone was working on in their labs.  There was an impressive amount of variety, and everybody’s topics were incredibly interesting.  8 minutes is not a lot of time to capture one’s project, and while there are many people I would love to follow up with and learn more from, I found myself particularly drawn to the chalk talks that were most closely aligned with my own project.  In particular, listening to Bryan talk about the development of HaloTag.

Through my own project, I was aware that HaloTag technology was recently developed at Duke.  However, my focus has centered around the applications juxtaposed to the creation and engineering of the ligands.  Hearing Bryan talk about the development of multiple types of HaloTag, each with its own cell-specific applications, opened my eyes to how powerful this technology could be.  The notion that they could design a ligand to specifically bind to thereby manipulate any type of receptor is insane and has seemingly endless pharmacological applications!  The work he is doing in determining the optimal ligand-receptor pairs was incredibly interesting.  It made me realize the diversity in future directions of research which is exciting and one of the facets I love about it!

Cam’s Drug Delivery

This past week in BSURF, we had chalk talks all week. What this meant was that every single BSURFer stood up in front of the rest of us and explained what they are researching this summer while drawing helpful diagrams on a board. As nerve-wracking as it was for everyone, I really enjoyed learning about what everyone was doing this summer.

One chalk talk in particular that stood out to me was Cam’s. Cam’s talk was titled “ELP in Drug Delivery.” I’ve always been very interested in how drugs work in the body, and would love to take classes about these mechanisms in the future. Cam explained how an issue that exists with many drugs in today’s medicinal world is that they require a large dosage because they do not stay in the body for very long. Her research involves trying to create a system that will address this issue to make drug therapy more effective.

She’s doing this through the use of ELP’s or elastin-like polypeptides. ELPs are large and can change solubility, which means they can last longer in the body. She explained how at higher temperatures, ELPs are insoluble, and at lower temperatures they are soluble. This characteristic makes them an interesting target for research because scientists have the potential to modify conditions in a way that will allow ELPs to change solubility in such a way that the drug will last in the body. So, her research involves obtaining, purifying, and using these ELPs to attach proteins to them to hopefully increase the amount of time that these proteins can thus last in the body.

Overall, I think this is such an interesting topic of study and I really enjoyed Cam’s chalk talk! I can’t wait to hear more about how her research is progressing by the end of the summer!

Misaki Mapping Mitosis

Because Misaki Foster and I have been friends since we met last fall, I was bound to know something about her research before the chalk talk. While I knew she was working on mitosis in caterpillars, I didn’t fully understand her research until her chalk talk. I’ve always seen her passion for science, but to see her in action giving her talk blew me away! In addition to her passion and effective explanations, Misaki’s research in the Nijhout lab caught my attention.

When she said she worked with imaginal discs, I became even more excited about her research. I had seen them under the microscope in some of my first larval fly dissections, and they caught my attention as the spiral structures fluoresced red. In fact, I hadn’t heard of them before that moment when I asked Dr. Sherwood what they were. However, when Misaki mentioned that she was dissecting imaginal discs, I put together that these are a common structure among larval insects. Imaginal discs are small structures that begin inside the larva and emerge as a part of metamorphosis to become external structures. In fruit flies, there are multiple imaginal discs that will transform into the eye/ antennae, the legs, the wings, and more. Misaki studies the discs in caterpillars that will later become butterfly wings! 

She explained how her lab studies development from the imaginal disc to the wing, asking the question, how is organismal growth regulated? To answer this question, she is measuring how much mitosis is happening in the wing at a given stage of larval development! While it makes sense that mitosis would directly relate to development, it’s something I had never thought about in that way. Once she dissects, fixes, and dyes the disc, she looks at it under a microscope to score each instance of mitosis. Misaki uses the chromosome positioning to identify cells in which mitosis is occurring, watching out for the different phases, like anaphase. Once she has these numbers, she puts them into a program that identifies hotspot regions of mitosis, and this is how they will find areas that are growing the most during different stages! The idea of mapping out mitosis is a new concept for me, but it’s one I find intriguing. 

While Misaki’s project introduced me to new concepts, her explanations were logical and her presentation was amazing. As someone who uses flies as model organisms and sees the value of understanding larval development, I find Misaki’s project exciting and can’t wait to see where it leads! 

 

Biodiversity and Development with Bugs!

While my research occurs in a lab, it was very interesting to learn of our other peers’ research that happens in the field. I was particularly fascinated by Xitlali’s project and its intersection in the broader efforts of environmental nonprofits. 

Xitlali’s project looks at the effects of urban development on the environment, by studying biodiversity in different areas of watersheds by their level of developed land. New Hope Creek’s watershed, located within Duke Forest, is barely developed, whereas Ellerbe Creek’s watershed is located in a highly developed area. The level of biodiversity between these two differing locations is thought to be affected by urban development, and its role in facilitating the drainage of storm surge. Rainwater is able to slowly drain into New Hope Creek following a storm surge because it is rich in soil, while Ellerbe Creek receives rainwater at high rates because of pipes and drainage infrastructure. The timing of these processes is thought to affect the biodiversity of the two creeks. The hypothesis is that New Hope Creek will likely have more biodiversity due to its soil-rich watershed, in comparison to Ellerbe Creek. This will be measured by looking at different species of aquatic insects in the watersheds. Insects are also thought to be better able to stay on rocks on New Hope Creek. However, there are thought to be more “resilient” species in Ellerbe Creek, to withstand harsher water upheaval. 

It was great to witness the huge range of interests within BSURF, and Xitlali’s, in many ways, felt like a huge contrast to mine (minus the bugs). I could not imagine having to go out to rivers to do my work! Moreover, while many of our projects have clinical applications or contribute to tool-building, Xitlali’s has great implications for studying the effects of neighborhood and class divides, a topic I would normally study outside of my realm of biology courses. While I must admit ecology has never been a major interest of mine within biology, I found this chalk talk super interesting, and I can’t wait to see where this project goes!

Tech X: Elucidating Cells of the Brain!

This week I wanted to take the time to shout out the work being done by George in the Mooney Lab! George’s talk stood out to me for two different reasons. The first is the fact that he gets to perform bird surgery this summer (wow) and the second is the potential impact on the field of neurobiology.

The fact that George performs surgery on zebra finches is mind-boggling to me. For context, I work with single-celled budding yeast (nowhere near a whole bird). When I need yeast for an experiment, I take a colony and inoculate a tube. When I need to dispose of a yeast culture, I spray some bleach. When I want to tag a protein, I can use PCR and an antibiotic plasmid. Due to the ease of growing them as well as their highly conserved metabolic pathways, yeast are wonderful model organisms for understanding molecular biology. In turn, zebra finches are a wonderful model organism for the Mooney Lab, which works primarily to understand neural mechanisms behind language. That being said, performing surgery on a living bird and then having to “sack” that bird is in a whole other league to spraying bleach in a flask. It is crazy how different our days in the lab look!

Now, onto the project. To summarize, George’s project is to test whether a new technology, dubbed Tech X, is functional in the dopaminergic neuron cells of zebra finches. The specific mechanisms of Tech X are unknown to me (for proprietary reasons of course), but what George divulged was that Tech X binds to specific RNA and fluoresces using green fluorescent protein (GFP). What’s so cool about this is that (if it works) Tech X will allow neurobiologists to make specific neurons fluoresce and therefore study them! Another part of George’s talk that I found interesting was that he’ll be targeting dopaminergic neuron cells. Dopaminergic cells, as the name suggests, make the neurotransmitter dopamine! For the Mooney Lab, dopamine is important because of its role in the language pathways of zebra finches. Beyond language however, dopamine’s most famous role is in that of reward. Drugs, from caffeine to cocaine, act in the mesolimbic pathway to essentially prolong the time dopamine is in the synapse of the neurons in the nucleus accumbens. Hopefully, the success of Tech X in making dopaminergic neurons fluoresce will reach beyond language and into other important avenues of neuroscience!

This goes without saying, but the brain is an incredibly complex organ to study. Developing technologies like Tech X help neurobiologists further understand how cellular interactions form complex networks that enable us to think, regulate our bodies’ metabolism, and perceive the world. Neurobiology is so so cool (at least I think so) so I really enjoyed hearing the many neurobiology talks this week!

Strong Muscles + GRFT

At the Bursac lab, Anuj is working on engineering muscle cells by differentiating human iPSCs (as well as primary cells) into cardiac and skeletal tissue. These cells generate forces that model actual human tissue, which is pretty cool! In one of our core BME classes, we did a lot of work with muscle cells, action potentials, various muscle models (i.e Hill’s model), and a myriad of other things related to the work of Bursac lab. What gets me the most, though, is that this is Tissue Engineering. Can you imagine scientists growing an arm for you (well, not really, but really)? Vasculature, muscle, skin grafts, and even organs can be replicated! You name it (cue Thanksgiving grandma song)!

Anuj will also look into co-culturing endothelial cells & skeletal tissue together to better model human tissue. Another side project will study the use of Apelin 13, a peptide expressed largely in the heart, liver, and kidneys, and may have an angiogenic effect on vasculature. The lab is studying Apelin 13’s impact on endothelial and muscle cells, as well as its role on the cardiovascular system. Of course, the Engineer says that they liked an Engineer’s presentation the most! I mean, he speaks my language…To take second place, James Zheng’s research on the antiviral lectin GriffiThsin’s role in recognizing the spike proteins on the COVID-19 virus takes the cake for me. He’s also an Engineer. Maybe I listen harder to those who endure the struggles of P-reqs? Nonetheless, it was a great joy to listen to everyone’s chalk talk and find out more about their research. I’ll look forward to the poster presentations!

A Small Piece of the Never Ending Puzzle

During his summer with BSURF, Zach is working with the McClay lab (which actually shares a space with the Wray Lab where I am working this summer). Dr. McClay is known for dedicating his career to mapping the gene regulatory network (GRN) of the model organism sea urchins. GRNs are very complex, specific, and intricate; many genes may be influencing the expression of one gene, and one gene may be influencing the expression of many genes. Zach is taking up a small part of the sea urchin embryo GRN, specifically looking at the gene Astacin-4, expressed in immune cells in the sea urchin. Very little is known about Astacin-4, but Zach is dedicated towards figuring it out – asking questions such as what genes are upstream, what genes are downstream, when it is activated, how long it takes to become activated, and what its primary function is. What is known about Astacin-4 is that it is expressed in cells known as blastocoels, located on the left side of the early developing sea urchin embryo. Establishing a GRN is a long and tedious process that includes continuously conducting a protocol known as in situ hybridizations. In simple terms, in-situs are conducted by throwing a cocktail of antibodies and G markers together with the developing embryo to see where and when Astacin-4 is expressed. By manipulating the system through gene inhibition or upregulation, the GRN of Astacin-4 can slowly be uncovered and mapped. Once the GRN for Astacin-4 has been defined, it may have applications in all types of other organisms, such as humans.

Fly, Fly, Butterfly!

I knew going into the chalk talks that Misa Foster’s would be one to look forward to. From our previous conversations, I knew she was studying butterfly wing development. But even with my high expectations, she still managed to wow and amaze me, not only at her skill in speaking, but at the objective coolness of her research. Though it will be nowhere near as fascinating as her talk, I would like to relate to you all why I was so astounded and fascinated.

Misa is working in the Nijhout Lab studying the developmental biology of caterpillars, specifically their wing development. Biology 101 says creatures grow by cell division. Yet, while this is true, it doesn’t capture the whole picture. If cells were just to divide randomly in every direction, then every living thing would be a circle or a sphere. And yet, as evidenced in the magnificent beauty and architectural design of the butterfly wing, we know this is not the case. So, how do cells know when and where to divide? It is this fundamental question of developmental biology that Misa is trying to help answer.

To do so, she is extracting the imaginal disks (the precursor of the fully developed butterfly wing) from knocked out caterpillars. After staining these disks, she has to manually note and mark every mitosis event occurring in the cells. Then, with a little bit of programming, she can actually analyze where major trends of mitosis are happening in the wing. This addresses the “where” of cell division. By looking at disks in various stages of development, she can study the “when” by seeing how those spatial patterns of division change over developmental time. In addition, she can stain the wings with a different chemical to highlight DNA synthesis and see how this relates to mitosis patterns. Then, with a different program, she can map the patterns of DNA synthesis in the disks and see how they relate to mitosis trends at various stages of wing development. In total, this allows Misa to elucidate how cells grow and spread during wing development, unlocking another piece of the puzzle of how single cells can grow and develop into beautifully designed pieces of living art!

All in all, this is pretty cool! Misa is doing great work in developing our understanding of developmental biology and she did an outstanding job on Thursday presenting this radical science to all of us. Keep chugging along, Misa!!!

Chalk Talks: An E(L)Pic Time

For those of us working on developing next-generation therapies, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals, it’s easy to take the actual mechanism of drug delivery for granted. While the molecules we purify and test against pathogens and/or tumors may do perform quite well on a cell culture plate, ensuring that the actual administration and delivery of these drugs goes smoothly in live tissue is just as important. That’s what makes Camila’s work on pharmacokinetics at the Chilkoti lab so important.

Traditionally, when a drug is administered to the body, it has very little time to do what it needs to do before it gets excreted. This leads to multiple doses of highly-concentrated drug being used, which can yield additional negative side effects. A drug delivery mechanism that allows for more sustained, controlled release could substantially mitigate these challenges.

The Chilkoti group does a considerable amount of work on so-called elastin-like polypeptides, or ELPs. Derived from naturally-occurring elastin, these proteins undergo significant temperature-based solubility changes, becoming insoluble at body temperature and forming a slow-dissolving deposit within the target tissue. Any drugs attached to the ELP would then have much more time to act, resulting in sustained chemical release.

One of the biggest obstacles to the systematic usage of lectins like griffithsin as antivirals has been their high inherent toxicity in tissue. Given the strides being made by Camila and her colleagues in the Chilkoti lab, we may soon have the means to control just how much lectin gets released at one time, mitigating the adverse effects that would otherwise occur. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about her research and found her presentation of such a complex topic (just count the syllables in pharmacokinetics) super clear and interesting. Keep doing great things, Camila!