Tuesday, May 3, 2016

URSP Student Sean Windle Researches E-Cigarettes and the Oral Biome

I first contacted my mentor, Dr. Fabsitz, showing interest in epidemiology and research studies.  When he discussed what kind of research he was currently considering, he mentioned research regarding e-cigarettes.  This also happened to be something I was intrigued by, as very little studies have been done regarding e-cigarettes, and they are becoming more and more common.  I had essentially no experience with health measurements, but as a Biology major, I had spent a lot of time in labs, and had done plenty of DNA extractions and PCRs (polymerase chain reactions).  And in the past few years, findings have shown that the microbes that live inside us are very much a factor in our health.  So, I came up with the idea of bringing those two together, and looking at how e-cigarettes might affect the oral microbiome, or the microbes living inside our mouth. 

Not only will the project help to provide new insight on both e-cigarettes and our microbiome, but I am also curious about how the results will turn out.  As this all is still fairly new to me, I am gaining a lot of experience with research studies.  Being able to contribute to an active and new field is also very exciting, and understanding the intricacies of health is what I ultimately plan to do for a career.  I plan to pursue a PhD in epidemiology and pathobiology, making this project a great hybrid between health studies and biological research.

On a weekly basis, I work to recruit participants and gather samples.  This involves coming into contact with eligible participants, and collecting a swab sample, along with having a small survey filled out. Working with Dr. Gillevet, at the Microbiome Analysis Center (MBAC), I am also getting experience doing DNA extractions in the lab, and learning the types of analytic techniques for these types of data.  This week, I was able to learn some new laboratory techniques that will be useful for working with my own samples.  Learning new techniques in the lab provides experience and also helps to understand what is really going on in biology.  I find that knowing where the data come from and how is an incredibly important part of research, and especially so in health studies.  So being able to experience all aspects of the research process is pretty awesome.