My Journey in Biomedical Research - Part 4
Skyline of Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
I began working in the Department of Biology at UNCC in August of 2004. I was hired to investigate the effects of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) on the immune system. Better known as ecstasy or molly, MDMA is a psychoactive drug primarily used for recreational purposes.
We studied the immune response to gammaherpesvirus, the mouse model for Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), which causes mononucleosis. EBV, also known as the "kissing disease", may cause symptoms in teenagers and young adults. The virus goes latent, or dormant, in memory B cells and epithelial cells. It is estimated that more than 90% of the US population is harboring this virus. We wanted to better understand how this virus could be reactivated by recreational use of MDMA.
Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) spreads most commonly through bodily fluids, especially saliva. However, EBV can also spread through blood and semen during sexual contact, blood transfusions, and organ transplantations. - Epstein-Barr Virus and Infectious Mononucleosis
We published 6 papers during my time at UNCC on this particular project. We shifted our interest to viral induced cancer metastasis during my last year, before the grant funding my position ended.
Expression of Neuronal Trace Amine-associated Receptor (Taar) mRNAs in Leukocytes - Journal of Neuroimmunology. 2007 Dec; 192(1-2): 21–30.
Ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) limits murine gammaherpesvirus-68 induced monokine expression - Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2008 Aug; 22(6): 912–922.
Interleukin-27 expression following infection with the murine gammaherpesvirus 68 - Cytokine. 2010 Aug;51(2):184-94.
3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) alters acute gammaherpesvirus burden and limits interleukin 27 responses in a mouse model of viral infection - Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2011 Jul 1; 116(1-3): 211–221.
Murine gammaherpesvirus-68 expands, but does not activate, CD11b+ gr-1+ splenocytes in vivo - Journal of Inflammation. 2012 Apr 16; 9:14
An expanded myeloid derived suppressor cell population does not play a role in gammaherpesvirus-exacerbated breast cancer metastases - Infectious Agents and Cancer . 2012 Sep 4; 7(1):22
What does all this mean? Certain chemicals or drugs, including MDMA, may cause a latent virus to be reactivated, especially if an individual is immunocompromised or unhealthy.
While working in the lab at UNC Charlotte, I also helped with the preliminary results for SoyMeds, Inc. There was an annual conference called Five Ventures that is hosted by the Office of Technology Transfer at UNCC. Each year a grand prize of $5000 is awarded to researchers based on business viability, knowledge of their industry, communication skills and quality of the management team. SoyMeds won the award at the April 2006 conference. My former boss at UNCC is Chief Scientific Officer of SoyMeds, Inc.
The idea for SoyMeds Inc. sprouted when a plant biologist and an immunology specialist, both Ph.D.s working on research at UNC Charlotte, wondered what would happen if they combined their disciplines. - Giving vaccines a shot in the arm - UNCC researchers develop method to produce oral vaccines that could sharply cut costs
For proof of concept, we targeted the antigenic subunit of E. coli to the chloroplasts of transgenic soybean. I ran all the Western blot analysis and PCR for this project as well as gavaged all the mice for this and subsequent studies. I also took care of all the transgenic soybeans in our grow rooms. Making sure the plants were cared for properly was the highlight of my day!
We eventually moved on to targeting antigens to the soybean seed. I gavaged mice with a soybean seed based vaccine against Staphylococcal Enterotoxin B. The team moved on to piglets later on after I left the lab at UNCC. I was only included on one paper published for this project.
It turned out there was a conflict of interest since I was hired to work on the MDMA grant. I never received any compensation for my contributions to SoyMeds, Inc. However, I enjoyed every minute of my participation in this lab at UNC Charlotte! My favorite part was helping teach students in the lab and growing transgenic soybean.
I became pregnant with my third child my last year at UNCC. The grant funding my project ended in 2011 and I decided to take time off from my career and take care of my family. I would return to biomedical research at Davidson College in the Department of Biology. During my break from research, I worked part-time as a Biology lab instructor at Pfieffer University in Misenheimer, NC. I really liked teaching too!
More next time when I share my research at Davidson College where I worked on a project to fluorescently label T-cells with Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP). Eureka!!