Wednesday, October 17, 2018

OSCAR Student Maria Cowen Researches the Effect of Virally Infected Exosomes on CNS Cells

Hi! My name is Maria Cowen and I currently work in a molecular virology lab on the Prince William County Mason campus (my second year in the lab). My summer 2018 OSCAR project involves seeing how virally infected exosomes impact different types of cells in the brain. A little bit about my project: exosomes are small nanosized extracellular vesicles that are normally made from a cell. They carry all sorts of things, such as RNA, DNA and proteins, to other recipient cells. There’s an awareness of neurocognitive disorders in virally infected patients and many believe that exosomes have an important impact in these disorders. The reason why I am doing this project is to further clarify and potentially identify a mechanism for how the exosomes from these virally infected cells impact central nervous cells. 
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 experiences, like submitting a grant, time management, and working with fellow lab mates, all of which is an integral part of scientific research (which is also the career route I want to take). What I have been doing in the lab involves growing millions of virally infected cells, monitoring them in the microscope, several calculations, treating the cells with drugs, isolating and treating the exosomes onto CNS cells, and doing assays for characterization and functional analysis. One thing I discovered this semester was the importance of time management, especially when working with biological materials.