My name is Eva Nee, and I will be starting my third year at Penn, majoring in biology with intended minors in chemistry and Asian American studies. I am also following the pre-med track. Since July 2021, I have worked in the Blair Lab with my mentor, Dr. Clementina Mesaros. In the STEER program, I had an amazing opportunity to continue working in the lab and start my own research project.
What is your summer research project?
This summer, I explored the connection between exposure to pesticides and neurodegeneration. The aim of my project was to work towards a therapeutic approach for neurodegeneration by analyzing the lipid levels in cells. Previous studies have shown that environmental exposures— specifically pesticides— are strongly associated with Parkinson’s disease, although the exact intracellular mechanism by which this occurs remains unknown. In my experiment, I cultured human neuroblastoma cells that are commonly used as a model for Parkinson’s disease. Then, I exposed these cells to the pesticide rotenone. After 24 and 48 hours, I quantified and analyzed the lipids extracted from the cell samples, and I compared these results with the control cell samples.
What are the implications of your research?
Neurodegenerative diseases affect millions of people across the world. However, not much is known about the environmental mechanisms that may lead to neurodegenerative disease. After Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease. Because Parkinson’s disease has been associated with pesticide exposure, some cases of Parkinson’s disease may be preventable, and there may be new avenues for therapeutic approaches. Also, the pesticide rotenone is a commonly used insecticide, herbicide, and fish toxin. Based on the results of this study, we may be able to apply these findings to other neurodegenerative diseases and pesticides.
What new skills have you gained through your research?
Through my research this summer, I learned many new technical lab skills. For example, I learned how to conduct Pierce protein assays; plate, culture, and split cells; and use the lab’s high resolution-liquid chromatography mass spectrometer. I also had the opportunity to further refine my everyday lab techniques, such as pipet work, using the sonicator, and managing the nitrogen evaporator. Outside of the lab, I learned several new data processing systems. I became familiar with the programs that the lab frequently uses to analyze samples, specifically lipid and mass spectrometry software. Finally, I became more educated in neurodegenerative diseases as I read through numerous journal articles for background information and experimental design ideas. Overall, the STEER program helped me develop and strengthen crucial research skills.