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Ouachita Baptist University
School of Natural Sciences

Student Applications for Summer Research

If you are interested in doing summer research at OBU in summer 2014, you must complete an application:

  • Faculty research interests can be seen by clicking on the faculty name below. Please read through them to see which projects you are interested in.
  • Contact the faculty with whom you would like to work to arrange brief interviews to announce your interest, get information about projects in their labs, and let the faculty members get acquainted with you.
  • Submit an application to the Natural Sciences office by 5:00 p.m., Friday, February 28. The contents of the application should include:
    • Your name, major and minor
    • Any courses relevant to the projects you are interested in
    • Prior research/lab experience, if any
    • The names of up to three mentors (rank order) with whom you would like to work and why you would like to work with each one
    • Other research opportunities for which you are applying, including application dates and notification dates

We will make every effort to announce the matches by Friday, March 7 .

If you are accepted:

  • Confirm your plans to work at OBU this summer with your mentor.
  • Discuss with your mentor the requirements for your funding- e.g., start date and end date, contract, etc.

Professors with INBRE-Funded Research (Summer 2014)

Dr. Lori Hensley – Biology

Cannabinoids as Novel Therapeutics for Pediatric Cancers

Ewing’s Sarcoma is a pediatric bone cancer that is highly aggressive, leading to a five-year survival rate of only 30% even with multi-modal treatment protocols.  Improved therapeutic options are desperately needed.  Our research has focused on the ability of non-psychoactive cannabinoids to induce death and inhibit metastases in cells from members of the Ewing’s sarcoma family of tumors and other solid pediatric cancers.  Our data demonstrate these compounds can successfully kill Ewing’s sarcoma cells and related tumor cells in vitro through the induction of apoptosis. Our data further suggest we can limit the migration of tumor cells and endothelial cells (required for new blood vessel formation to feed the tumors), potentially reducing their ability to spread throughout the body.  In order to test the efficacy of our drugs in a more realistic model of human cancer, we developed a novel bioluminescent mouse model of Ewing’s sarcoma in which engineered tumor cells are injected into the tibiae of mice, and the growth of  tumors in control and treated mice can be tracked using specific imaging techniques.  For summer research, we will be further investigating the effects of our compounds on metastatic potential and angiogenesis, and a larger mouse study is currently being planned. Also central to our summer research will be experiments to identify the receptor and subsequent cellular signaling pathways these cannabinoids are using to exert their effects. Students involved with this project will learn and use techniques such as tissue culture, cell viability assays, western blots, PCR, migration and invasion assays, and immunohistochemistry.

Dr. Marty Perry – Chemistry

Engineering cytochrome P450s for enantioselective oxidative reactions

The overall aim of this study is to determine the molecular basis for enantioselective oxidations by CYP2C9 as a step toward engineering biocatalysts for environmentally friendly or “green” applications. CYP2C9 is a member of a large class of oxidative enzymes called cytochrome P450s (CYP for specific isoforms). The attractive properties of these enzymes has led to their use in the synthesis of bulk and specialty chemicals in industry and medicine, development of biosensors, and bioremediation of environmental pollutants. Despite these advances, the inherent high regio- and enantio-selectivity of P450 reactions have not been tapped for meeting the rising demand for chiral chemicals. It is hypothesized that the location ofspecific CYP2C9 residues in the active site are “hotspot” contacts in enantioselective binding and catalytic processes for the enzyme. CYP2C9 is one of the most enantioselective P450 enzymes, and thus the active site residues are likely optimized for chiral interactions. In following, those residues are sensitive to mutations of functional residues and make CYP2C9 an excellent target for identifying and validating enantioselective “hotspot” residues. In this study, a novel strategy is employed to identify contact residues that distinguish between enantiomeric substrates through computational studies and then assess their importance by mutating those residues and determining theeffects on binding and catalysis. Preliminary studies have already corroborated previous reports of critical residues and identified new leads for study. The completion of the project will ultimately provide a critical foundation for engineering improved or novel P450 biocatalysts that are capable of addressing demand for chiral chemicals using “green” chemistry. We will accomplish these efforts through a multi-institutional collaborative project involving computational (in silico) and biochemical (in vitro) approaches. Specifically, we will test our hypothesis through the following specific aims:

►Aim 1: Identify enantioselective “hotspot” residues involved in CYP2C9 complexes through computational docking studies.

►Aim 2: Validate enantioselective “hotspot” residues involved in CYP2C9 binding of molecules using mutant enzymes.

►Aim 3: Validate enantioselective “hotspot” residues involved in CYP2C9 catalytic reactions using mutant enzymes

Professors with Patterson-Funded Research (Summer 2014)

Dr. Detri Brech

Comparison of the Pre- and Post-Assessments of Height, Weight, BMI and Nutrition Knowledge of Children Participating in a Nutrition/Physical Activity Program to Children in a Control Group

The OBU student chosen to work with this project will assist with each phase of the research.  Time spent in the research will be extremely rewarding.  The following is a brief description of the project.  The research project will consist of the student developing age-specific nutrition education materials to be presented weekly to the children ages 4 – 12 years in the treatment group.  Prior to the beginning of the program, the student researcher will assist me in weighing and measuring each child, calculating the child’s BMI, and assessing nutrition knowledge of each child in the treatment and control groups.  The months of June and July will be spent in running the nutrition/physical education program with the treatment group.  Upon completion of the program, post-assessment measurements will be made of the treatment and control groups.  The student researcher will then collate the data and calculate results comparing pre-test and post-test within and between each group.  If you enjoy working with children, this project will impact your life.

Dr. Tim Hayes

Improved Compounds  for Photodynamic Therapy of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) was devised to circumvent many of the side effects of traditional chemotherapy.  In PDT, the agents that are used are non-toxic until exposed to certain wavelengths of light.  One of the most common forms of cancer for which there is currently no satisfactory treatment is triple-negative breast cancer.  We would like to test the efficacy of our PDT agents against breast cancer cells that are triple negative.

Several series of modified porphyrins have been synthesized in the lab of Dr. Joe Bradshaw.  These were designed to enhance their water-solubility and, in one case, to add a side chain that may enhance transport across the blood-brain barrier.  My lab has been testing these porphyrin derivatives for phototoxicity and other properties that may affect their suitability as PDT agents.

The purpose of this project is to test these porphyrin derivatives to characterize their utility as agents for photodynamic therapy, focusing specifically on triple-negative breast cancer.  We will test the toxicity of these compounds with and without light exposure, the dependence of phototoxicity on light dose, and how well the compounds are taken up by cells.  Each porphyrin will be tested on a triple-negative breast-cancer derived cell line.  We will use this data to determine the conditions under which the porphyrin derivatives may be most effective as PDT agents while producing the least side effects.

Dr. Sara Hubbard

Analysis of bis-phenol A in canned tomato samples using standard addition fluorescence spectroscopy

 Bis-phenol A (BPA) is a chemical that is used in the manufacture of plastics and resins.  Experiments have shown that BPA can bind to and activate estrogen receptors in the body.  Suspected effects of this interaction include reduced fertility, altered development and cancer, particularly in infants and children.  In 2012, the United States banned BPA from products designed for infants.  However, BPA remains one of the highest produced chemicals by volume worldwide, with over 3 million tons produced each year.  One example of a common source of BPA is in the epoxy lining of canned tomatoes.  How can we determine if, and how much, BPA is present in a sample?

BPA is a fluorescent compound, which means after absorbing light energy, it will emit a different color of light than what was absorbed.  This emitted light can be measured and directly correlated to the concentration of BPA present in a sample.  Fluorescence is a very sensitive and selective technique, which makes it possible to determine very low concentrations of BPA. This summer in my lab, we will utilize fluorescence spectroscopy to work toward a better understanding of the behavior of BPA as it leaches into the water in which canned tomatoes are stored.  We will mimic warehouse conditions to explore the effects of time, temperature, and pH on the leaching of BPA from the epoxy lining of cans into the tomato samples.

Dr. Nathan Reyna

The Elucidation of Human Disease in Relation to Cellular Oxidative Stress

Programmed cell death (PCD), induced by oxidative stress,  is an essential cellular process characterized that leads to the selective elimination of cells and has been reported to play a major role in cystic fibrosis, oncogenesis and other disease occurrences.  At Ouachita Baptist University we have created genetically modified plants that serve as a model system for understanding the role oxidative stress plays in human disease development and prevention. Interestingly, our system was originally created to help Arkansas agriculture and is also used to study how crops respond to disease in the field.  While one may think plants and animals are very different, a recent study found that almost 70% of the genes related to cancer and disease in humans were also found in plants.  The similarities between plants and animals are especially strong in relation to how their cells respond to oxidative stress.  As a result of these similarities we have expanded our research to include aspects of human health. Through funding by the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium/NASA and AR-INBRE program, we have begun to identify new signaling pathways associated with relieving oxidative stress and the prevention of cell damage. Once identify these pathways become targets for new drug discovery.  In the context of understanding areas of importance to human health and agriculture, students at OBU are given the opportunities to participate in intensive training activities in molecular biology, physiology, and biotechnology. Students will be expected to present their finding at off campus events.

Dr. Jim Taylor

The Development of Arabidopsis and Various Salad Species in Hypobaria

Development of the parameters necessary for long term plant growth in a space craft or on the surface of another planet is something that has been investigated for some time.   This study will investigate the development of Arabidopsis thaliana seed and salad crops seed (i.e., tomato, lettuce, radish, etc.) in conditions unnatural to earth.  Determining how these plants respond to conditions emulating space travel is critical to NASA’s ultimate goal of travel to other planets.  These experiments will utilize hypobaria (10-100% of atmosphere) along with varying light qualities using a clinostat.  Wildtype Arabidopsis with light and gravity sensitive and insensitive mutants and various salad plant species will be utilized in this study.  This research will not only help determine morphological development in a hypobaric scenario but will also aid in determining how a plant responds to varying energy inputs by varying the wavelengths and intensities of the illuminating LED lights utilized.  The use of a clinostat will also give insight into a plant’s response to an altered perception of gravity.  The response of Arabidopsis and other species to these altered conditions of pressure and light qualities will give insight into how a plant may respond to the conditions found in long term space travel.

The response of Arabidopsis to these altered conditions of pressure and light qualities will give insight into how a plant may respond to the conditions found in long term space travel.

The response of Arabidopsis to these altered conditions of pressure and light qualities will give insight into how a plant may respond to the conditions found in long term space travel.

Dr. Joe Bradshaw

Microwave Synthesis of Novel Photodynamic Therapy Agents

The primary problem to be addressed by this research project is the development of effective photodynamic therapy (PDT) agents for use in humans.  PDT is a technique that is used to identify and treat tumor cells using light energy.  The overall goal of this project is to develop a series of coupled porphyrin-chalcone adducts and fluorescein-chalcone compounds.  Chalcones are model compounds for a compound isolated from the African willow tree, Combretum caffrum, called combrestatin A-4 (CA-4).   CA-4 has demonstrated activity against multi-drug resistant tumors.  The first step is to synthesize adequate quantities of porphyrin starting materials for subsequent reactions.  Next, an attempt to use microwave synthesis to form four new chalcone derivatives will be carried out and then the student will characterize these new compounds. After this synthesis and characterization, students will then attempt the coupling of the four novel chalcones to both fluorescein and porphyrin.  Finally, students will determine whether the fluorescein-chalcone and porphyrin-chalcone adducts are taken up by cells and have cytotoxic effects.

Chem Draw