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Cal Lutheran Students Present Bio Research

Six California Lutheran University students presented at a biannual research symposium Oct. 12, including biology majors Kayla Cross and Eliana Goncuian. The students spend the summer in the lab, with the help of professor mentors, to further research of interest to them. Local biotech companies, such as Amgen Inc. in Thousand Oaks, have provided summer research fellowships for Cal Lutheran students presenting at the symposium. Some have even traveled to Amgen to give presentations on their research to relevant product development staff, according to Karin Grennan, media relations manager for the university. The Community Leaders Association, in a broader sense, connects students and the business community, investing in student research with grants and scholarships. Nearly $2 million has been donated through the association toward research, equipment, technology and academic departments at Cal Lutheran. For Cross, a Bakersfield native and senior at Cal Lutheran, all those hours at the lab were devoted to studying legionella pnuemophila, the bacteria known to cause Legionnaires’ disease. This is the second summer Cross has worked on legionella. “We’ve had previous outbreaks, and it affects immune-compromised patients. If we understand the mechanisms in which Legionella is able to infect these patients, we can work toward developing different treatments,” said Cross. Outbreaks in Disneyland and Flint, Mich. garnered the most attention. In Flint, at least 12 were killed and 87 sickened by the outbreak according to a report from NPR, caused by low chlorine levels and linked to the city’s broader water crisis; 22 cases in Disneyland were linked to cooling towers on site. “Since legionella is able to live in aquatic environments such as hospital plumbing systems, the water misters you see in amusement parks, any type of aquatic environment, this legionella is able to grow,” Cross explained. “If we can figure out how to prevent that growth or develop treatment and protocols, we can move forward with trying to prevent these infections from happening.” Cross’s project this past summer was hyper-focused on a protein called novel type two A, or nttA, found in legionella, and the end goal for her research would be to “crystallize” the protein, or isolate it and figure out exactly how it operates. If Cross is unable to crystallize nttA, the endeavor will fall to another student. Undergraduate projects stay with undergrads, Cross said, and will give other chemistry majors the chance to further studies. Those that move on to graduate have different labs and professors to pick from for similar research projects. “I think there’s something really special about that,” added Cross. “I can, with (Paloma) Vargas’ help, get this project to a point where the next student ready to take it on is equally excited about it as I am and can contribute their ideas to this project. It’s a big project. I don’t want to be the only one working on this because there’s so many people that can add different ideas and different contributions.” Fellow biology major Goncuian went a more kinetic route, studying chemical reactions of a protein in staph infections that may lead to new antibiotics, specifically for MRSA, a type of staph infection. This is the Calabasas native’s second summer studying staph infection proteins, and as a junior she plans to devote one more summer to the research before graduating. Her professor mentor, Katherine Hoffman, has been conducting the same research for 6 years now, with students at Cal Lu and Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. “My specific part of this project is, I’m the first one to study the kinetics of the enzyme. I’ve been the first one to do that, but we have done binding experiments as well as structure experiments on (the proteins) already before me,” said Goncuian. Hoffman is currently trying to renew a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation for $195,116 and get more funding to pay for an ITC machine, which is what Goncuian does all of her research on. Another grant specifically for research instruments is on Hoffman’s radar.

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