Friday, August 31, 2018

OSCAR Student Robert Spaine Quantifies Micropollutant Levels in Organisms

I have been participating in research, which seeks to quantify micropollutant levels in organisms in local river communities, and to test the capabilities of the KABAM (Kow (based) Aquatic BioAccumulation Model) model to predict the bioaccumulation of micropollutants in different trophic levels of these communities. Those of us on the chemistry team received samples of river water, zooplankton, sediment, clams, submerged aquatic vegetation and three species of fish from the field. The first step of our laboratory methods was to use an organic solvent to extract micropollutants from these samples using a method known as QuEChERS (Quick Easy Cheap Effective Rugged Safe). The extractions were then analyzed using an LC-MS/MS instrument. To analyze the data obtained from this instrument, researchers on the Chemistry team of the project were divided into two groups, one to quantify the concentrations of endocrine disrupting compounds and the other to quantify the concentration of other micropollutants found in pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). I belong to the group quantifying the concentrations of endocrine disrupting compounds.

Quantifying the concentrations of endocrine disrupting compounds from chromatograms has not been as easy as I expected from previous experience with gas chromatography. Because the analyte chemicals (in this case, endocrine disruptors) are at very low concentrations, the electronic signal which they produce is often very difficult, if not impossible to distinguish from electronic noise produced in the instrument. Even when a signal is found, poor signal resolution makes it difficult to use them to calculate an accurate concentration. In many cases, we can tell that an endocrine disrupting compound is present in river water, sediment, or one of the organisms, which was sampled, but the exact concentration of the compound is to some degree indeterminate. Some of the compounds commonly detected so far include atrazine, diclofenac, several species of parabens, and certain sunscreen ingredients.

These preliminary results indicate multiple sources of endocrine disruptor pollution in the Potomac watershed. Atrazine is a common herbicide and its presence is almost certainly a result of runoff from agricultural land; on the other hand, diclofenac is an NSAID drug and parabens are commonly found in cosmetics and both likely entered the Potomac watershed through inadequate treatment of human wastewater. So, for our research to be useful, further research will need to be completed to find more efficient means of managing wastewater pollution and developing agricultural solutions, which avoid releasing endocrine disruptors into local waterways.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

OSCAR Student Tamia Shazer Works with Genetic Analysis

Before the summer started I knew that I wanted to be a part of something more, doing something that mattered and that applied to what I wanted to be doing later in life as a career. What mainly got me interested in this project was the Biology embedded into the tasks and skills required for the job. I was also first interested in this job, because of its link to genetic analysis. The summer previously I had worked on genetic analysis, and I thought this would be a good part two of the research that I had previously conducted.

I see this opportunity fitting into my long-term goals because as a career I would like to be conducting research. This opportunity allows me to get the feel for what an actual research environment is like and what its like to do research while working on a team who are also interested in the project or goal at hand. This is also related to my long-term goals because this opportunity allowed me to expand on my capabilities in the workplace, working with a team as well as having relevant information to apply to my resume.

On a weekly basis, my day to day workload consists of analyzing large data sets from normal control patients from articles on NCBI. Geo as well as analyzing data from patients with IPF diseased data. As a biology major, I have discovered that using programming sites such as R Studio to be able to produce different plots and graphs. This is something I can say that I learned in-depth skills this summer. Using R Studio is not something that I had suspected to have learned, but this discovery if anything is a useful one. Overall, I have enjoyed working on this summer project as well as working with my team. And I look forward to our next conference/poster presentation later in the semester.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

OSCAR Student Yadav Timilsina Encapsulates Cancer Lysate's

My interest in cancer research was fueled by an incident where one of my relatives was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having dealt with those circumstances, I became more interested in the mechanisms behind cancer progression, inhibition studies and immunotherapy treatment methods. I had seen the effects of chemotherapy on the physiology of a cancer patient. After being exposed to principles of immunotherapy, I found myself leaning towards pursuing a career in the cancer field. During my senior year at Mason, I was looking for an opportunity to work with cancer and found out, after talking to Dr. Nitin Agrawal during the Tissue Engineering class, that he was planning a new experiment to trap cancer antigens into lipid bilayer vesicle to present to the memory cells. Instantly I felt like I found a perfect project match and started the project with enthusiasm. I believe that a deep understanding of cancer immunotherapy and hands-on experience with this research opportunity carries a great value for continuing further advanced studies and future endeavors.
The goal of the project is to encapsulate the cancer lysate (proteins) obtained from lysing cancer cells into lipid bilayer vesicles called liposomes. The project has several steps and for the summer I am working on preparing cancer lysate, synthesizing liposomes and try to encapsulate those lysate into liposomes along with several assays and testing procedures. My daily activities in the lab included but are not limited to cell culture, making buffer solutions, synthesizing liposomes of different lipid ratios, preparing cell lysate and performing protein assays, literature reviews on the subject matter and learning new stuff from the graduate students’ project. From this experience, I have learned the daily life of a researcher and graduate students.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

OSCAR Student Sabrina Barkat Investigates the Fate of Emerging Contaminants in Gunston Cove

My name is Sabrina and I was involved in the summer 2018 OSCAR program. My work is about the investigation and fate of emerging contaminants in Gunston Cove of Potomac River in Alexandria. We extract micropollutants from water, sediment and fish samples and then use the liquid chromatography-mass spectrum (LC-MS/MS) method to analyze the extracts. We use solid phase to extract the micropollutants from water samples and QuEChERS to extract them from sediments and fish and then run the extracts in the LC-Ms/MS instrument and then we analyze the results. After that, we apply the KABAM model to predict the bioaccumulation of chemicals in organisms’ tissues. More interestingly, the work is collaborative, and this gives me a good opportunity to interact with people of different backgrounds as well as being more involved in teamwork. This research is the best experience in my academic pathway because I feel that I absorbed a lot of information related to my field and I am surrounded by a huge, friendly, and experienced team working with me in the lab. Moreover, this research involves a lot of data analysis and uses a lot of literature resources where I learn about my research and related topics as well as develop skills in data analysis and time management. I learn from every single step I process, I'm strengthening my experience in lab work, interacting with people with high experience and I've learned to work under the pressure of time which I can apply in my daily life. I also should admit that after what I've learned about the potential risk of micropollutants on the aquatic environment and human health, this search is a guide for me to pursue my graduate program in the same field of study.