Hello! My name is Maria Cowen and I currently work in the laboratory molecular virology lab on the Prince William County Mason campus. My Fall 2018 OSCAR project is an extension of my Summer 2018 OSCAR project. This research involves examining exosomes from virally infected cells impact different types of cells in the CNS and researching potential cellular pathways to prevent damage normally made from a cell. A little bit about my project: exosomes are small nanosized extracellular vesicles (EVs) that are normally made from a cell. They carry all sorts of cargo, such as RNA, DNA and proteins, to other recipient cells. There’s an awareness of HIV associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) in virally infected patients and many believe that exosomes have an important impact in these disorders. In my previous summer OSCAR, we discovered that there were significant changes in brain cells when treated with EVs released from infected cells treated with antiretrovirals. The reason why I am doing this project is to potentially identify a way to mitigate cellular death.
What got me interested in this project was my role in the lab and research that I was working on previously, which involves HIV, antiretroviral drugs and exosomes. There’s a need for knowledge in the growing field of extracellular vesicles and that thirst for knowledge kept me excited to learn more things. I see this project as a fundamental part of my life; I have learned several new research techniques and practiced other skills, like submitting a grant, time management, presenting at scientific research conferences, writing manuscripts and working with fellow lab mates, all of which is an integral part of scientific research. What I have been doing in the lab involves growing millions of virally infected cells, monitoring them in the microscope, several of calculations, treating the cells with drugs, isolating and treating the exosomes onto CNS cells, doing assays for characterization and functional analysis, and impacts on the recipient cells. One thing I discovered was this semester was the importance of time management, especially when working with biological materials and the importance of the depth of research concepts.