Research Projects Give Midwestern University Students Experience, Knowledge

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September 19, 2023 | Midwestern University

Midwestern University students have a plethora of opportunities to participate in research projects.

Research projects at Midwestern University offer a number of growth and development opportunities for students going into healthcare fields. This experience also assists students in becoming well-rounded healthcare providers and fully prepared for a variety of challenges in their careers.

Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine student Alexis Orr (CCOM ’26) is studying the Heat Shock Protein 70 (HSP70). “This protein is most known for its role as a chaperone protein, however; we are trying to understand its effects in preventing diet-induced obesity (DIO). Previous studies have shown that by overexpressing this protein in the whole body of the mice, they are protected from weight gain when fed a high-fat diet. Further, when specifically overexpressing this protein in the intestine, they are still protected against DIO when fed a high-fat diet. This has led us to question the mechanism of why this may be the case, as it could be utilized in the future as a weight loss therapeutic for those who are unable to make lifestyle changes or have tried other interventions to lose weight and were unsuccessful.”

Alexis said, “I have received support from the Kenneth A. Suarez Fellowship to study the impact of HSP70 intestinal overexpression on lipid metabolism. I studied how the expression of proteins that are responsible for lipid metabolism may change with the HSP70 phenotype. I will also try to understand how absorption of lipid changes through various stool analysis methods.”

She added, “I have always been fascinated by the multifaceted influence of diet on an individual's health. Engaging in this project has provided me with a unique opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of this dynamic relationship from a contrasting standpoint. By comprehending the intricate mechanisms involved in the body's handling of macronutrients, I have acquired a robust knowledge foundation that will enable me to best educate and enlighten my future patients about their nutritional needs.”

Alexis’s research was conducted under the mentorship of Kristina Martinez-Guryn, Ph.D., RD, Associate Professor Biomedical Sciences, and Mae Ciancio, Ph.D., Professor, Biomedical Sciences. “The lab of Dr. Martinez-Guryn has been instrumental in granting me the opportunity to contribute to their scientific endeavors this summer. Dr. Ciancio and her lab have proven to be an invaluable resource readily providing assistance, samples, and the project's development. Moreover, the Core Facility has played a vital role in my research, offering access to essential equipment without which my project would not have been possible. I am grateful for the gracious utilization of various equipment within the facility, which has greatly facilitated the successful completion of my project,” she said.

Alexis said her academic experience prepared her well for this research. “My education at Midwestern University has provided the essential foundational knowledge that I have needed to understand and advance my research project.”

Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine Mitchell Rentschler (AZCOM ’26) is working on a research project involving the cardiopulmonary bypass circuit. “Cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) allows the surgeon to operate on a motionless and a bloodless heart. When blood comes in contact with a foreign surface, like the CPB circuit tubing, platelets begin to activate leading to coagulation (liquid undergoing a process to change to a solid or semi-solid state). When the activated platelets are pumped back into the patient it can lead to life-threatening complications like systemic inflammatory response syndrome (body defense response to a stressor such as an infection). The companies that produce the CPB circuit tubing have developed special coatings that they claim prevents platelet activation and lowers the chance of CPB-induced complications like systemic inflammatory response syndrome. The two main coating types are heparin and poly-2-methoxyethyl acrylate (PMEA) which both prevent platelet activation through slightly different mechanisms.”

Mitchell continues, “The goal of our research was to figure out if one circuit coating was better than the other, or if they have similar results. We did this by designing a laboratory CPB circuit using bovine blood. The blood was diluted to simulate human blood and then ran through a closed circuit for 90 minutes. We drew samples at 5, 45, and 90 minutes and then isolated the plasma. The plasma was used to measure platelet biomarkers which indicate platelet activation. We ran an ELISA assay (which measures the proteins, glycoproteins, antigens, and antibodies in samples) for the biomarkers platelet factor 4 and glycoprotein IIb/IIIa. We are currently analyzing the ELISA results and conducting statistical analysis of the data.”  

Mitchell credits his education at Midwestern University to prepare him for this project. “The education we receive at Midwestern is phenomenal. Many of the techniques that are required for various research projects are taught to us in class. We have a solid foundation to build on when we enter the lab. Once we get into the lab, the professors are amazing at showing us the proper techniques, teaching us how to use new equipment, and everything in between to ensure that we know exactly how to complete a project. The labs at Midwestern have the equipment for all types of experiments, and it is run by professors who will take their time to ensure the success of the project. The labs and professors are what make Midwestern a special place. All the professors are willing to take time out of their day and truly care about the success of the students.” 

College of Health Sciences student in the Cardiovascular Science Program, Zeyu Song (CVSP ’24), also works on this project. “This research endeavor is closely aligned with my aspirations for a future career in this field. As such, my education serves as a foundational pillar that underpins the success and significance of this project.”

Mitchell and Zeyu also credit Hamid Darban, Ph.D., CP, Assistant Professor, College of Health Sciences and Weidang Li, M.D., Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine for their assistance. “Dr. Darban has an amazing setup in the cardiovascular perfusion lab that has everything we need. When we needed to run the ELISA assay Dr. Li graciously allowed us to use his lab and supplies. Dr. Li even walked us through a practice ELISA so that we would know exactly what we were doing,” Mitchell said. Zeyu added, “I draw my inspiration from the exceptional work of Dr. Darban in the Cardiovascular Science program. I am immensely grateful for his gracious invitation to collaborate on this project. The insights and guidance he has provided have been invaluable to the progress of my research.”

Midwestern University emphasizes the importance of research in the healthcare field and provides numerous opportunities for students in all academic programs to enhance their skills by participating in research projects. Advanced research facilities are an important part of the Downers Grove and Glendale campuses.