Biotechnology Senior Capstone Projects
Students in the KU Edwards Campus biotechnology program must complete a senior capstone project that challenges them to apply their technical and research skills gained through their studies. Read below to learn more about what our students are working on.
Biotech Seniors 2019 - 2020
Cancer Therapy:Is Ellagic Acid, a micronutrient found in fruits a vegetables, a cancer fighting agent?
Ellagic Acid is a micronutrient found in fruits and vegetables, described as a polyphenol antioxidant, with a purported ability to induce apoptosis and reduce cellular proliferation of cancer cells. My capstone project is focused on assessing the anticancer potency of Ellagic Acid. My research will characterize Ellagic Acid’s cytotoxic potency and antiproliferative effects on a cervical cancer cell line, HeLa. Additionally, I seek to determine the natural abundance of Ellagic Acid in select fruits and beverages. Ultimately, this research could provide evidence that supports further investigation into Ellagic Acid’s potential as a cancer fighting therapy.
Animal Health: Is CBD an effective therapeutic treatment for reducing anxiety in dogs?
Like humans, many dogs suffer from debilitating anxiety. Recent hype surrounding cannabidiol (CBD) and its therapeutic potential for treating anxiety has inspired me to design a study to test this claim. My research focuses on developing an assay capable of detecting cortisol, a physiological biomarker of stress/anxiety, in the saliva of dogs. Once this assay is validated, a single-animal crossover study will be performed in which baseline values of anxiety will be assessed using both observational data and quantitative cortisol levels found in saliva. Following baseline assessment of anxiety, a veterinarian-prescribed regimen of CBD will be administered and assessment of anxiety will continue to the end of the study. Ultimately, this data could provide evidence to support further investigation into CBD as a routine and effective treatment for managing anxiety in canines.
Cancer Therapy: Can the sweet drinks we enjoy also fight cancer?
Sweeteners are commonly added to our food and drinks. What if some of these sweeteners also had cancer-fighting properties? Monk fruit is a common sweetener that naturally contains mogroside V which has been suggested to have anticancer properties. Although mogroside V’s mechanism of action is not fully understood, it is thought to limit cancer cell growth by increase the expression of p53, a tumor suppressor. My capstone project aims to measure two key aspects of mogroside V’s impact on a cervical cancer cell line (HeLa): its cytotoxic potency and its impact on p53 expression-levels. Ultimately, this research will provide evidence to support further investigation into mogroside V and its potential to serve as an anticancer therapy.
Environmental Biology:Induction of Escherichia Coli (E. Coli) to Degrade PET Plastic, an environmental pollutant.
Accumulation of plastic waste in our natural environment is becoming a serious threat to wildlife and the health of Earth’s ecosystems. Plastics accumulate in our environment because there are limited number of organisms capable of degrading them, i.e., they are not biodegradable. Until recently, scientists were not aware of an existing natural mechanism capable of biodegrading plastics. However, a strain of bacteria was recently discovered that shows the ability to degrade polyethylene terephthalate, or PET plastic. These bacteria, named Ideonella sakaiensis (I. Sakaiensis), were found in sediments near a plastic bottle recycling facility in Sakai, Japan. Although I. Sakaiensis biodegrades PET plastic, it does so rather slowly and is only found in sediment and is therefore cannot effectively be used to degrade all plastic pollution. My project aims to exploit the genes I. Sakaiensis uses to degrade PET and insert these genes into Echerichia coli (E. Coli). Once established, these modified E. Coli could potentially be used as a tool to remediate environments polluted with plastics.
Vaccine Production: Can a toxoid-vaccine for strep throat be created from s. pyogenes toxin?
Streptococcus pyogenes is an extremely morbid bacteria, causing over 10 known diseases in humans including strep throat. A common mediator of the diseases caused by this organism is the toxin, streptolysin O. Streptolysin O is a protein secreted by streptococcal bacteria capable of directly injuring host cells and lysing red blood cells. Although widely researched, there remains no vaccine against s. pyogenes. My research aims to clone this toxin and inactivate it in order to generate a safe and effective vaccine.
Drug Delivery: Development and testing of novel peptides to improve drug deliver to the brain
Diseases of the brain can be difficult to treat with pharmaceuticals due to a unique anatomical barrier called the blood brain barrier (BBB). The BBB is a collection of cells that encapsulates all the capillaries entering the brain. These cells are bound together by special proteins called VE-cadherins. VE-cadherins keep the cells of the BBB tightly linked and this limits drugs’ ability to slip into the brain. One promising method of increasing drug delivery through the BBB is by modulating (reducing) the tight binding of VE-cadherins. My research seeks to test two linear peptides’ (AVAIDK and KVFRVDAETGDVFAI) ability to modulate VE-cadherin binding and thereby increase drug penetration into the brain. VE-cadherin binding will be assessed using native PAGE (polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis). While changes in endothelial cell permeability will be observed by measuring TEER (trans-electrical endothelial resistance) values. Ultimately, this work will lay the foundation for follow-up work focused on developing adjunct therapies that improve the efficacy of brain-targeting drugs.
Immunology: Cloning and characterization of an immune signaling protein
When the immune system turns against itself, a variety of disease states arise. Many of these conditions exhibit a vicious cycle leading to increased severity of symptoms. In the last two decades, a new class of immune cells has been characterized as secreting a powerful signaling protein. These cells and the protein they secrete, interleukin – 17 (IL-17), have been linked to inflammation associated with the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases, including the skin condition, psoriasis. In order to better understand the pathology of psoriasis, my research seeks to clone and characterize IL-17 and the signals it elicits in receptive cells.
Environmental Survey: Development and validation of a rapid, onsite test-kit to detect toxic algal blooms in local bodies of water.
Harmful algal blooms (HAB) are a growing concern for water supplies in the United States and around the world. These HABs are increasing in prevalence and produce toxins that negatively impact the health of humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife. Currently, there is not a wide selection of cost-efficient, on-site methods for testing water samples for HAB toxins. My research focuses on creating a simple test kit that can detect one of Kansas City’s most prevalent HAB toxins, microcystin. The design of the test-kit will exploit the natural inhibitory effects of microcystin on protein phosphatases to create a colorimetric assay that will generates signal proportional to microcystin concentration. This kit will enable users to perform a quick, on-site test of water supplies and determine if local bodies of water are contaminated with microcystin. Ultimately, this research will provide a proof of concept study that can potentially be used to launch a startup company focused on developing test-kits for public use.
Drug Delivery: Overcoming drug delivery barriers through the use of liposomes
Drugs can only be effective if they are able to reach their intended drug target. To reach these drug targets, they must traverse biological environments. Unfortunately, these environments present many anatomical and chemical barriers that limit drugs’ access to their intended target. Liposomes are tiny lipid-containing particles that hold the promise of overcoming many drug-delivery barriers. My project focuses on producing a variety of liposomes using different formulations and then testing their effectiveness of overcoming an antibiotic drug’s limited cellular permeability. This research project will lay the foundation for me as a scientist entering the scientific field of drug delivery.
Pharmaceutical Science: Are nutraceuticals truly what they say they are?
A nutraceutical is a food, fortified food, or supplement that is purported to provide medical benefits, boost performance, or prevent/treat disease. Nutraceuticals are available over the counter and do not require any medical supervision or oversight to use. Additionally, nutraceuticals often make audacious claims that “suggest” a myriad of health benefits resulting from the active ingredient; however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not oversee the production and safety of these products. This ultimately creates a situation whereby nutraceutical company’s can sell a product without actually proving the active component is present or proving the active component is present at the stated concentration. My research project is focused on analyzing glutamine supplements, testing for both the presence and abundance of glutamine and comparing that to the specifications defined on the packaging. This project ultimately aims to raise awareness of regulatory compliance of pharmaceuticals and their role in our society.
Stem Cell Therapy: Can insulin-producing cells be generated to treat diabetes in dogs?
Is the time for daily insulin injections for the treatment of diabetes coming to an end? Everyday thousands of pets are subjected to insulin injections to treat their diabetes. This puts a major strain on both the animals and their owners. I have the privilege to collaborate with Likarda, an animal health company seeking to find a better treatment for type 1 diabetes in companion animals. Our goal is to develop and optimize an effective and cost-efficient way of transforming stem cells into insulin producing cells that can be stably infused into animals. My project specifically examines the growth signals required to generate these cells in culture. Ultimately, this would serve as a long-term treatment for animals suffering from diabetes and thus eliminate the need for daily injections.
Biotech Seniors 2018 - 2019
Cancer Biology: Human cancer cells metabolize sugar in an aberrant way. Can this be reversed to remediate the cancer?
Cancer cells can display an array of aberrant cellular behaviors. One of these behaviors, termed the Warburg Effect, describes cancer cells that overproduce lactate through anaerobic metabolism. My research aims to design and validate a lactate quantitation assay. This assay will be used to characterize the Warburg Effect in various cancer cell lines. Additional studies will be performed to reduce the expression of Lactate Dehydrogenous, a key enzyme that produces lactate, and assess the antiproliferative effects of this modification. Ultimately, this lactate quantification assay could potentially be used by other cancer research labs to characterize metabolism of their cultured cells in an inexpensive way.
Cancer Therapy: Is Lychee fruit a cancer-slaying super food?
My project involves utilizing an extract, called kuromanin, from lychee fruit to treat breast cancer cells. The treatments have shown promise in other studies and I would like to build on those by not only testing extracts made from fresh fruit, but by also testing extracts from frozen and canned lychee because they are more widely available. From this project I hope to further investigate whether or not kuromanin could be used as a viable treatment for cancer in the future.
Antibiotic Resistance: Does Manuka Honey contain our next-generation antibiotic?
Concerns have grown rapidly about antibiotic resistance in the recent years. Scientists are working to create and discover novel antibiotic drugs to combat this resistance. My project focuses on this area of scientific inquiry. Specifically, I am fascinated by the potential antimicrobial ability of honeys, especially Manuka honey. Methylglyoxal is the major antimicrobial component found in Manuka Honey. In my project, I am going to use the Kirby-Bauer method and microbial viability assays to measure the antimicrobial effects of Methylglyoxal against gram-positive, gram-negative and multidrug-resistant bacterial strains.
Drug Delivery: Can that diet soda really affect your brain? An in vitro study of aspartame permeability across the blood-brain barrier.
My capstone focuses on the design and validation of an in vitro blood-brain barrier assay. I would like to see if aspartame can pass through the blood-brain barrier using the neutral amino acid transporter (NAAT), which is expressed in the hCMEC/D3 human endothelial blood-brain barrier cell line. I will use high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) to measure the permeability of the aspartame into the brain in vitro.
Gene Editing: Using CRISPR to make bacteria glow
I am doing my project on gene editing. Specifically, I will be using CRISPR-Cas9, a gene-editing tool derived from bacteria, to incorporate a fluorescence gene (GFP) into a specific region of the E. Coli genome. This experimental work will serve as a training experience as I seek to master the CRISPR-Cas9 tool. My follow-up studies will use CRISPR-Cas9 to specifically edit a gene within mammalian cells grown in culture.
Disease Biomarkers: Creating an in-home test for PSA, a protein correlated with prostate cancer
PSA (prostate-specific antigen) is used as a biomarker to screen for prostate cancer in men. For my project, I want to develop an at-home test strip to assess PSA levels. The test strip will be designed to detect blood levels of PSA that exceed 3 ng/mL (the established threshold for a positive result in clinical testing). The broader goal of this project is to make it easier and cheaper for men to screen for prostate cancer. The increased ease and accessibility of this at-home test will hopefully decrease the number of deaths caused from delayed clinical testing.