During an eight-week research program in summer 2022, I mentored four undergraduate biology students representing Native American tribes from California, New Mexico, and Arizona in a project focused on utilizing natural products as anti-parasitic compounds against a neglected tropical disease called visceral leishmaniasis. For this project, we cultured Leishmania donovani, which is one of the parasites that leads to visceral leishmaniasis, with different concentrations of two natural products: deoxyalpinoid B and sulforaphane. We used a fluorescent viability assay (CellTiter-Blue® Cell Viability Assay) to determine toxicity, and these data were used to submit a manuscript to Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry. The students learned about experimental design, data analysis, and techniques including flow cytometry and spectrophotometry. This research program was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Diversity Supplement (SC3 GM141838), the NIH BLaST Program (RL5 GM118990), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) PREM program for functional nanomaterials (1827847), as well as the SOT Undergraduate Faculty Research Grant funds administered by the SOT Faculty United for Toxicology Undergraduate Recruitment and Education Committee.
SIDEBAR: Student Reflection by Kai Brantley
This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to work with Dr. David Blake, studying how different compounds affect the parasite Leishmania donovani. We focused primarily on how our compounds of interest affected autophagy within infected human macrophage cells. In addition, we studied their effects on the Nrf2 pathway and reactions to reactive oxygen species.
This was my first time working in a research laboratory, and the experience convinced me that biomedical research is where I want to build my career. Dr. Blake did an excellent job teaching us how to perform the experiments, but more importantly, he spent so much time teaching us how to design experiments, ask questions, and think critically. Prior to this experience I didn’t know what toxicology was. I now plan to take the upper division course offered by Dr. Blake in the spring semester and make it a key focus in my future academic pursuits. I could not have asked for a better experience or mentor.