VERMILLION, S.D. – Three undergraduate students in the University of South Dakota’s College of Arts & Sciences received stipends to perform medically significant research with their faculty mentors as Nolop Research Summer Scholars.
These scholarships are annually awarded to undergraduate students and are a part of the Nolop Institute of Medical Biology, which was endowed in memory of Keith Nolop, M.D., a 1975 USD alumus who had a successful career in research and pharmaceuticals.
The 2021 Nolop Summer Research Scholars include Kylie Christiansen, Morgan Eikanger and Emily Eisenbraun.
Christiansen, a native of Rapid City, South Dakota, is a medical biology major. With faculty mentor Bernie Wone, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, Christiansen is examining protein-protein interactions and identifying the genes associated with flight muscle aging and aging (senescence) in hawk moths. These insects serve as important models that give insights into similar processes in humans and other organisms. Muscle senescence increases the likelihood of muscle related injuries and a large range of other illnesses and Christiansen’s work aims to help better understand that process.
Eikanger, a New Ulm, Minnesota, native, is a medical biology and English major. Eikanger is working with Khosrow Rezvani, Ph.D., associate professor of basic biomedical sciences, to test whether a plant-derived anti-cancer molecule can suppress cancer stem cells that play a key role in colorectal cancer in humans. Specifically, Eikanger wants to determine if smart nanoparticles can effectively target and induce cell death in these stem cells. Smart nanoparticle delivery systems carry and release the anticancer molecules only at the site of the tumor in the colon, which reduces harm to other sites in the body.
Eisenbraun, a Rapid City, South Dakota, native, is a medical biology major. Professor of Biology Jacob Kerby, Ph.D., is directing Eisenbraun’s research, which focuses on understanding the impact of the mineral selenium on the immune system of wildlife. Selenium is a heavy metal that occurs in low concentrations in the environment but can be harmful when it increases in concentration in animals, including humans. Tile drainage helps mobilize selenium locked in soils and then delivers it to streams and wetlands where it can play a role in wildlife disease outbreaks and cause reproductive issues. Eisenbraun is conducting experiments exposing a commonly occurring wetland species (the painted turtle Chrysemys picta) to elevated levels of selenium and then evaluating their immune response. Tile drainage systems are extensively used in South Dakota exposing both wildlife and humans to elevated levels of selenium. Her research has important implications for understanding the impacts of such selenium exposure for disease susceptibility in wildlife, and potentially for those that consume fish and wildlife.