Every 65 seconds someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s disease, while anywhere from 7 million to 10 million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease. Drug resistance, particularly to antibiotics,is another health crisis that according to the World Health Organization is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today.
Junior Jennifer Houser has looked at both these issues during her time at Bradley. Beginning in her first year, the Dunlap, Ill., resident spent 18 months guided by biology professor Craig Cady determining if the drug Simvastatin, commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol, could prevent those diseases at the cellular level.
“Dr. Cady mentored me by helping me design the project,” said Houser. “He taught me a lot of the techniques (needed) to do that research and continued to give me advice.”
The experiment involved pre-treating adult mouse neurons with the drug to see if it would shield the cells from substances used to mimic the diseases’ effects. The drug proved ineffective, which Houser explained by noting the physiological differences between someone taking a drug versus adding it to a cell in the controlled lab environment but that didn’t stop her from winning second place in the cellular and molecular biology division at the Illinois State Academy of Science Conference last spring.
Her current project, with Brad Andersh, chemistry chair, and Naomi Stover, biology professor, looks at drug resistance as it relates to gene expression. This happens, for example, with antibiotics when they are overprescribed or when patients fail to take the necessary amount. Houser said the bacteria might flush the drug out of the cell, change how the cell reacts or break down the drug so it’s no longer toxic. When that occurs, it’s up to the pharmaceutical world to come up with new drugs that will kill that bacteria without harming the patient.
Whatever the outcome of this research, Houser believes it’s important for people to support such efforts.
“Research like this is so relevant,” she said. “It helps train future medical professionals in an important way (so we can) treat members of our communities. It also prepares us for our careers by giving us the groundwork we need.”
ABOVE: Photo by Duane Zehr