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Kaitlyn Nemes looking into microscope

Kaitlyn Nemes ’20

"Will an Antioxidant Decrease Bacterial Burden in an Infection Model?"

Major: Biology / Pre-Medical
Hometown: Northampton, PA
Project Advisor: Dr. Kara Mosovsky

Briefly describe your project.

Our lab studies the bacterial pathogen, Burkholderia thailandensis and its ability to invade a white blood cell in the immune system—the white blood cells that are typically involved in eliminating bacterial threats. B. thailandensis, which is easy to work with within a lab and does not cause severe infections, serves as a model organism for studying its very close relative, Burkholderia pseudomallei, which can cause severe, life- threatening disease. Our previous work has identified a certain combination of antibiotics and immune system activators that work well to clear the bacterial infection in this cell culture model, and we are starting to understand the mechanism behind that effect. We have extensive data showing that a particular dietary antioxidant can help clear bacterial infections, but we have very little data (from the early, preliminary studies) that show that a particular cellular antioxidant could impose the opposite effect and interfere with bacterial killing. Therefore we collected and analyzed data to determine the effects of N- acetylcysteine (NAC), a cellular antioxidant, on the bacterial infection model. No one has yet studied the role of this antioxidant to alter the bacteria in this infection model, and if our findings confirm now a second antioxidant that can help to reduce the bacteria in our infection model, then we would have a good basis for trying to determine if antioxidants, in general, all have a similar broad effect. 

Describe the origin of your project.

I have always had a close relationship with Dr. Mosovsky. She was my professor for my First-Year Writing Seminar and she has been my advisor ever since. Last fall, I took her Immunology course and I absolutely fell in love with the material. I instantly asked her about working with her for SOAR that semester, and I am glad I did. I knew briefly of the projects she was working on and when she mentioned working with macrophages (white blood cells) I was instantly hooked. 

What’s the best part about working with your faculty mentor? What valuable insights have they brought to your project? 

Dr. Mosovsky has been a role model of mine at Moravian College. She always has valuable information to share to help better my laboratory skills and improve my knowledge! I absolutely enjoyed spending the summer doing research with her. We had many breakthrough moments and plenty of laughing matters. Dr. Mosovsky is not only my mentor in the classroom but a fellow researcher and friend in the lab. 

What has been your biggest obstacle so far?

My biggest obstacle so far has been the waiting time. I always get so excited to see my results and sometimes I have to wait two days before I can see how our experiment went. I also definitely had to improve on my pipetting skills. Accuracy and precision are important and make a difference! 

What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?

My biggest take away is how much I fell in love with doing research. I love the thrill of performing the experiment and then seeing my results. I also enjoyed going to our weekly meetings and seeing all the other students' presentations. It is amazing to learn about something that someone is passionate about. 

What was the result of your project?

From the results we have received so far, we determined that our antioxidant kills B. thailandensis by itself at high concentrations. We also discovered that although our antioxidant kills the bacteria outside of the white blood cells, it does not kill the bacteria inside the white blood cells. We think our antioxidant is blocking programmed cell death from occurring. Now that we have this speculation, I want to continue on with more research! 

In your own words, how do you feel about being awarded this opportunity? Why should other students take advantage of the SOAR program at Moravian College?

I absolutely proud of myself for being awarded this opportunity. It is rewarding to have all my hard work pay off. I worked very hard throughout my college career and this opportunity was definitely worth it. I definitely think all students should apply for the SOAR program. This program teaches you hard work and discipline with your project, and confidence while you present. This program helps shape you into a better leader and prepares you for your future! 

Now that SOAR is over, do you plan to expand upon your research? If so, how?

I absolutely do plan on expanding upon my research! I am doing an Honors project this upcoming year, and I will be continuing on with my experiment but with a different antioxidant! 

Have you, or do you plan to present this research outside the SOAR presentations?

I presented my research at the Landmark Conference this past summer. I also plan on presenting my work at the annual conference for the American Society for Microbiology next summer.