Tuesday, May 16, 2017

URSP Student Stephanie Kortchak Analyzes Host-Based Kinase Inhibitors

My name is Stephanie Kortchak and I am a senior working on a biochemistry degree and a minor in biology. After being exposed to microbiology and vaccine development in elective classes, I grew interested in the biomedical technology development field. I started volunteering at a biomedical research laboratory for Dr. Aarthi Narayanan at the start of the Fall semester (2016). After graduation, I plan to gain more experience through work or internships before applying to biomedical graduate programs.

Currently, we are working on analyzing host-based kinase inhibitors and their effect on diverse viral agents, with the intent of developing inhibitors that can have more than one application. To support these studies, we work with Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus (VEEV), Rift Valley Fever Virus (RVFV), and Zika Virus (ZIKV). We work with attenuated strains of VEEV and RVFV so that the research can be performed in a BSL2 laboratory in a safe manner. Our first candidate ZIKV inhibitors were NFkB inhibitors as these have demonstrated efficacy in the context of VEEV and RVFV.  However, our experiments revealed that the inhibitor candidates we were working with were not capable of inhibiting ZIKV. We have therefore expanded our net to include additional classes of inhibitors that have prior history of working with at least one of the three target viruses and are evaluating the broad spectrum applicability against all target agents. During the school year, I come in twice a week for lab meetings and providing technical support for various techniques such as plaque assays to determine infectious viral load or performing quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (q-RT-PCR) to figure out the amount of viral genetic material. Proper cell maintenance is another aspect that resonates throughout the project since each lab technique requires different types of confluent cells. At this point, we have supported our initial hypothesis that these inhibitors have a significant effect on VEEV infection at several nontoxic concentrations. We are in the process of extending this effort to RVFV and ZIKV now and anticipate to have supporting data in the next few weeks.