Tag: Texas Tech School of Pharmacy
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.
One of the key elements of the BIMS program and its approach to giving students an experience-rich education was the intent to have all students complete a capstone experience. We felt many students would opt for on-campus projects with faculty but that some would take advantage of opportunities with summer research programs and biotech companies to apply their skills and knowledge in different settings. With the resources of the TTU School of Pharmacy’s graduate program in Abilene and biotech firms like Receptor Logic settling in here, it was only a matter of time before a student would complete their capstone work at one of those two venues. However, with a program only two years old, we felt it would be at least another year before this happened. Biology major Gina Ortiz surprised us all by choosing a BIMS capstone experience and working with TTU School of Pharmacy scientists this spring. She thereby becomes the first BIMS capstone student, and the first to complete the work in collaboration with an outside agency.
Ortiz, a Nevada resident, is headed for a career in medicine or biomedical research and used this experience to further hone in a direction to follow once she graduates this May – a year early. Her work was done at the School of Pharmacy in the lab of Dr. Jon Weidanz with direct supervision from his doctoral student Bhavna Verma. Her project was entitled “Biodistribution of RL4B TCRm antibody in mice models”. In her work, Gina became proficient in conducting enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) to screen whether therapeutic T-cell receptor mimics (TCR-m) used for fighting cancer tumors might target and bind healthy mouse tissues. Such information would be valuable in completing an overall picture of how TCR-mimics impact the biology of a patient when used in treatment.
Gina explained her research on Friday, April 30th before a group of students and faculty. Among them was McMurry’s president, Dr. John Russell, who was impressed by the quality of work and polish of her presentation. On behalf of all in BIMS, congratulations Gina on a job well done!
We’re now about a fourth of the way through the semester, and I thought I’d give an update of what’s going on in our BIMS courses and program.
BIMS 1300. Intro to Scientific Research. Dr. Benoit has students looking at contemporary issues in science and explaining the science and processes and research to students in the class via formal presentations. Ever wonder what they’re talking about with stem cells, how DNA fingerprinting is done, how ethical breaches impact biomedical research? Stop by and you just might find your answers!
BIOL 1301. Unicellular Organisms. Dr. Benoit has had the unfortunate luck over the past few years of seeing every book chosen for this course taken out of print. He’s decided to take things into his own hands and has go with a custom published book that draws only the chapters central to his course from a larger textbook. The course is taking a decided cell anatomy and physiology focus to help prepare students for their sophomore level classes.
BIOL 3410. Microbiology. Dr. Wilson has his students screening fresh vegetables for E. coli and other enteric organisms. Next up will be their screening of the campus population for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Real science here conducted by lots of sophomores and juniors from Biology, Nursing, Biochemistry, and Biomedical Science majors.
BIOL 3460. Genetics. Dr. DiFrancesca will be missing class in mid-October to attend the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in San Diego. By then, the students will have isolated their own DNA and will be in the midst of PCR and analysis. While she’s gone, the students will have a guest lecture by Dr. Jon Weidanz of the Texas Tech School of Pharmacy in Abilene (and the founder of the biotech firm Receptor Logic) discussing the genetics of biotech research. Amazing things going on in here!
BIOL 4320. Molecular Cell Biology. Students are getting a great foundation in the fundamentals of molecular structure and control of eukaryotic cells. This course represents the content capstone for BIMS juniors, where knowledge from previous semesters is integrated into a full understanding of how cells work. Dr. DiFrancesca has got it going on in here!
BIMS 4120. Molecular Cell Biology Lab. Here, Dr. DiFrancesca builds on skills learned in Genetics the year before to provide a deep experience in molecular biology techniques. Students have not begun working with cancer cells yet but will embark on that journey before much longer. Imagine the conversation around the dinner table at Thanksgiving – “Sonny, what are you doing in your classes at McMurry?” “Well, grandma, we’re studying and trying to find cures for breast cancer.” Is that the type of thing you’d hear from average students from average schools?
So, its business as usual in the BIMS courses, all geared toward giving students real experience solving real problems. When you compare this approach to education to those from other colleges and universities, you see very quickly that we take a different approach and give our students a different experience because the futures of our students depend on doing so.