Archive for March, 2011
One of the most popular television shows on the Discovery Channel is Mythbusters. Their crew of special effects experts, engineers, and scientists look at myths and popular science through the eyes of controlled experimentation for the purpose of “confirming” or “busting” rumors and myths. It is not surprising that such a show would be a hit, as the origins of modern experimental science include the reports of the Royal Society of London in their journal “Philosophical Transactions” where amateur and professional scientists from around the world reported on their putting nature to the test. Can spiders run out of a circle made from powdered unicorn horn? That’s where you would go to find the answer! In many ways, the Royal Society, with members like Newton and Boyle and Hooke and others, was the first “science club” and gave us the blueprint for the way modern experimental science is done.
In our BIMS 1300 Introduction to Scientific Research class we are looking at the efforts of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters crew to see whether their experimental approaches to testing nature in past episodes can be improved upon. Four teams of students will be watching Mythbusters episodes this weekend and presenting cases from the Mythbuster files and then improving upon the science – identifying and accounting for additional variables, improving upon the controls, etc. – for the purpose of demonstrating their knowledge of how science is done. What good is learning about how experiments are set up without actually setting some up? How better than to analyze and improve upon the experiments of others!
So what will it be: the exploding outhouse? the five-second rule? We’ll see which of the hundreds of clips and stories from the Mythbuster archives are chosen for presentations and re-thinking in the lab during the next few weeks.
We’ve entered into that mid-semester respite known as Spring Break. It came none too soon this year! After a couple of months of digging into our courses and working around a week of snow and ice, now we experience the equivalent to “hump day” and start the downward slide toward summer. For some, it means the end is coming too soon to get their course performances up to snuff. For others, it means the end of the semester is a mirage on the horizon – a moving target that never seems to get closer.
So what does all that mean when it comes to our semester grounded in reality? It means we are past mid-term grades. It means we start the thoughts of pre-registration for next fall. It means things like academic awards banquets and end-of-school accolades take center stage. It means we work hard to recruit our incoming students and prepare ourselves to bid farewell to graduating seniors. Such things are never on our radar screens in August or September, but cannot be overlooked when the calendar reads “March”.
For all who are already part of our BIMS program, rest up this week and be ready for “finishing well” – the mark of outstanding students. For those looking to join our program, “finish well” where you are. We look forward to walking through your college careers with you to prepare you for meaningful careers in biomedical science – research, employment, patient care, forensics.
Sheena Banks, McMurry class of 2006, presented aspects of her graduate research on HIV Mediated CD4+ Cell Depletion. Ms. Banks completed a Master’s degree in Immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and currently works as a Research Associate at the Texas Tech School of Pharmacy in Abilene, Texas.
An understanding of the retroviral replication process is very important in the successful treatment of HIV. The HIV virus infects a variety of immune cells expressing a surface protein receptor called CD4. These cells are central to the immune system’s mounting a specific response to a variety of infections, and their destruction effectively renders the patient void of a functioning immune system. Many times, treatment appears to be successful for a time, but later AIDS develops as the body is compromised by secondary infections. HIV infected cells persist in the body through a variety of mechanisms–latent periods with a resurgence and rapid mutation rates that render specific immune responses to foreign agents incapable of reining in and defeating an HIV infection.
Sheena worked on a project using mice to find ways to encourage infected cells to “home”, or seek the lymph nodes where they might undergo apoptosis – the natural cell death process used to remove damaged cells from the body. During the course of an HIV infection, CD4 cells migrate from the blood to lymph nodes, where 90-95% are destroyed by infection. The fate of the remaining 5-10% CD4-bearing cells was not known. Her work determined that these cells are actually T-regulatory cells whose role is to slow down the immune response once an infection is over and to recruit CD4 cells to lymph nodes. She found that the presence of T-regulatory cells promoted an environment within the lymph nodes that favored HIV proliferation, rather than apoptosis – normal programmed cell death processes that remove damaged cells from the body. Such a ”sorting out” of the roles and activities of T-regulatory and CD4 cells
during the course of an HIV infection is an important step in finding new strategies for treatments vs. HIV infections, something Sheena says is the goal of HIV researchers right now.
Sheena graciously fielded a great many diverse questions on HIV infections and research, and offered McMurry students opportunities to work in the labs at TTU School of Pharmacy-Abilene – participating in research on cancer, viral infections, developmental biology, and many other ongoing projects guided by TTUSOP faculty.