Each of these faculty guide undergraduate research with support from K-INBRE. But, more than just guiding research, these faculty are active mentors with each student.
Dr. Virginia Rider
We are interested in understanding the action of female sex hormones in normal target cells and disease. A major focus of our research is to clarify the mechanisms involved in preparing the uterus to accept an embryo. The maternal cells that interface with the fetal placenta are of particular interest. The proliferation (increase in number) and differentiation (conversion of stromal cells to decidual cells) is regulated by progesterone and estradiol. We are studying how these hormones stimulate two different but related processes in the same cells.
The autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) occurs 10 times more often in women than men. Ongoing research in our laboratory suggests that the female sex hormone, estradiol, alters the mechanisms involved in maintaining self-recognition in adults. Loss of self-recognition leads to the development of autoimmunity. Identifying the targets of abnormal estradiol action in lupus T cells is the focus of our research. Understanding why estradiol has this affect in lupus T cells will enhance our knowledge of gender bias in some autoimmune diseases and lead to the development of novel treatments to improve patient’s lives.
Current Students: Samantha Meneely, Anuradha Bhusri, Austin Price, Brady Steinbock.
Contact Information: phone 620.235.4739 / fax 620.235.4194 / e-mail
Dr. Peter Chung
We have been interested in understanding how activated macrophages discriminate between normal and tumor cells and what is involved in that discrimination. Our approach has been to study the response of simian virus 40 (SV40)-transformed mouse fibroblast cells to activated macrophage-mediated cytotoxicity. Although SV40-transformed cells are tumorigenic, they are universally resistant to activated macrophage-mediated killing. However, a single subclone, F5b, was identified, which exhibits the unique phenotype of being sensitive to the tumoricidal activities of activated macrophages; while a sister clone, F5m, maintains the typical SV40-transformed phenotype of resistance.
Understanding the mechanisms by which tumor cells are resistant to macrophages may lead to the development of therapies which can overcome this resistance. Such a therapy could enhance the effectiveness of macrophages to reduce the occurrences of metastasis and to reject tumors.
Our laboratory, through collaboration with Kansas State University, is currently working with these tumorigenic cell lines, and one of our main goals is to identify, through cloning and expression, the putative gene(s) believed to be responsible for susceptibility to macrophage-mediated cytotoxicity. Preliminary molecular data suggests CD81 (a tetraspanin that may be used as a marker in tumorigenic cells) may be involved in differences in monolayer growth seen between the sister clones, F5b and F5m. Ongoing research with both nucleic acids and proteins will hopefully shed light into the mechanisms behind this activity.
Contact Information: phone 620.235.4736 / fax 620.235.4194 / e-mail
Dr. Phil Harries
Virus infections pose a serious health threat to both plants and animals. In order for such infections to exert their negative effects, however, viruses must be able to move from cell-to-cell and spread within their hosts. My lab will focus on studying the methods by which viruses hijack plant cells to facilitate their movement. In particular, we will focus on the potential role of the host cell cytoskeleton which can serve as tracks along which cellular cargo (including invading viruses) can travel. Tomato bushy stunt virus (TBSV) has been shown to require the host cytoskeleton for its spread but the mechanism underlying this requirement is unknown. We will examine the potential association of TBSV proteins with various components of the plant cell cytoskeleton using both microscopy and biochemical techniques. A greater understanding of the mechanisms of virus movement may lead to methods for slowing or stopping virus spread in important crop plants.
Contact Information: phone 620.235.4864 / fax 620.235.4194 / e-mail
Dr. Mandy Peak
Recognition of foreign antigens in the human immune system is primarily performed by the B and T cell receptors. The genes encoding the antigen-binding receptors are produced in a functional form during specific stages of lymphocyte development through a specific DNA rearrangement process referred to as V(D)J recombination. This results in somatic rearrangement of the gene segments that encode the variable regions of B-cell and T-cell receptors. Two lymphoid specific proteins, RAG1 and RAG2, initiate V(D)J recombination by introducing DNA double-strand breaks between each selected gene segment and their bordering recombination signal sequence (RSS) in a two step mechanism, in which the DNA is first nicked followed by hairpin formation. Mutations in either RAG protein that disrupt catalytic activity result in fatal immunodeficiency diseases, including SCID.
Our interests continue at the molecular level and we utilize biochemical methods to further interpret the protein-DNA interactions of RAG1 with the RSS. We will employ photo-crosslinking assays to determine the DNA nucleotides in the RSS heptamer that interact with RAG1 in the presence and absence of RAG2. Overall, these studies will provide important insight into the V(D)J recombination reaction, specifically that significant interaction of the RSS heptamer with RAG1 and to further elucidate the function of RAG1 and RAG2.
Contact Information: phone 620.235.6541 / fax 620.235.4194 / e-mail
Dr. Santimukul Santra
The main goal of our research is to develop new cutting-edge nanotechnologies to address the critical medical problems associated with human health, exploiting the advantages of nanobiotechnology, nanomedicine and polymer science in targeting, imaging and treatment of life-threatening malignant carcinomas. More specifically, the current research projects including “polymer science in drug delivery, nanotheranostics, activatable prodrugs and nanosensors” are focused on the early detection of circulating tumor cells, optical / MR / PET / CT imaging, targeted drug delivery and treatment of malignant tumors. Polymer-based magnetic nanosensors are of great interest in the timely detection of intra-cellular slow-growing infectious pathogens (e.g., Crohn’s disease), chemical & bioterrorism threats and other infectious diseases. The ultimate aim is to introduce attractive concepts for combined therapeutic and diagnostic approaches and to transfer the bench-top technologies to the clinics with a hope to reach bed-side.
Multidrug resistance (MDR) is a major impediment to the success of cancer chemotherapy. The proposed nanoparticle-based research will demonstrate that the MDR effect in cancer cells can be significantly overcome by a combination of receptor-mediated internalizations and intracellular release of therapeutic anti-cancer drugs from our newly designed nanotechnologybased drug delivery systems (DDS). Single-step synthetic protocol is developed for the synthesis of biocompatible dendritic polymers. Nanoparticles from these polymers will be labeled with UPR targeting inhibitors, receptor targeting ligands, ER stressors, MRI / PET / CT contrast agents, Si-RNA, therapeutic drugs and their theranostic applications as the breast, ovary, lung, prostate and cervical cancer nanomedicine will be evaluated. Designing new magnetic nanosensors and activatable prodrugs is the part of our intermediate research plan. Challenges will be taken to design activatable T2 contrast agent, while activatable T1 agent is established in the lab. Functional Quantum dots will be designed for activatable optical imaging. Investigation on nanoceria will facilitate the treatment of intracellular ROS, ER stress, chronic inflammations and inflammatory bowel diseases. These nanosensors and nanoprobes will be used for the timely detection of infectious diseases. This lab will pursue long term research plans in developing nanotherapeutics for targeting CNS diseases.
KEY RESEARCH AREA: Targeting, imaging and treatment of malignant tumors using designer nanotheranostics | Nanotechnology-based drug delivery system formulations | Early detection of circulating tumor cells | Timely detection of infectious diseases | Activatable prodrugs | Activatable MRI probes | Medical nanodevices | Nanomedicine | Nanobioimaging | Bioconjugations | Magnetic switches | Nanosensors | Nanotoxicology | Material science | Biopolymer synthesis | Synthetic organic chemistry.
Current Students: Blaze Heckert, Megan Burdick, Derek Coates, Buster Reddick.
Contact Information: Phone 620.235.4861 / Fax 620.235.4003 / e-mail
Dr. Neil Snow
Human health can be affected significantly by local environmental conditions. Regionally, for example, we have the Tar Creek Superfund Site, a legacy of past mining activities that paid insufficient attention to the short and long-term effects of surface mining on human health. Likewise, local environmental health is dependent on, and linked to, regional and global environmental conditions.
Local terrestrial ecosystems, and the native fauna they support, only function normally in the presence of native species of plants. Surprisingly, many areas have not been adequately surveyed for their native plant diversity, or if so, have not been surveyed for many decades.
My research in part studies the distribution of native and non-native plants across local landscapes. Many potential local projects await the attention of highly motivated students. The data from such studies are valued and used by state and federal land management agencies, municipal planners, educators, and ecologists and other scientists. Although the numbers are rarely high, openings for career positions in the private consulting sector and publicly in state and federal land-management agencies are advertised steadily.
The other principal focal area of my research is the systematics (=classification) of the Grass (Poaceae) and Myrtle (Myrtaceae) families. Ecologically, grasses are the most abundant plants on the planet by far, something native Kansans are other prairie dwellers understand intuitively. My studies focus on Leptochloa and closely related genera, which was the topic of my doctoral research at Washington University in St. Louis and at the Missouri Botanical Garden. My other main area of interest, the Myrtle family, is studying one of the most species-rich plant genera in the world, Eugenia, in one of the world’s mega-divers countries, Madagascar.
The Theodore M. Sperry Herbarium at Pittsburg State University, of which I am Director, is a center of research for plant diversity in the region. Students interested in potential projects, including possible work-study options in the T. M. Sperry Herbarium, are encouraged to contact me.
Contact Information: Phone 620.235.4424 / Fax 620.235.4194 / e-mail
Dr. Xiaolu Wu
Research efforts in my lab focus on the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1, also known as bird flu virus. Different with other influenza virus strains that cause season flu with a mortality rate at 0.1%, influenza virus H5N1 is highly lethal in humans and has a mortality rate of over 60%. Currently, the transmission of H5N1 is limited to direct contact with infected poultry. However, due to the high mutation rate of influenza virus, it is predicted that the appearance of mutated H5N1 strain which may transmit from human to human and lead to a global pandemic is a just a matter of time. Experts estimate that 7 million to 1.5 billion people worldwide would die from such a pandemic. Moreover, there is no effective vaccine against this virus for human, and appearance of drug-resistant strains of H5N1 indicates that novel therapeutic treatments are urgently needed. My lab aims to screen libraries of small compounds to identify potential inhibitors against H5N1 infection. We have set up a tissue culture system in which human 293T cells are employed to generate surrogate influenza viruses that can be safely used in research. We are currently working on testing the effect of the compounds on viral infectivity with luciferase assay. Identified compounds will form the bases for optimization and validation for drug discovery.
Contact information: phone 620.235.4036 / fax 620.235.4194 / email
Dr. Dan Zurek
My lab is investigating a potent antimicrobial protein from soybean with the ultimate goal of producing a novel antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance is an enormous and rapidly growing problem among numerous human pathogens formerly easily controlled by existing drugs. Discovery of new antibiotics is essential. Research has focused on isolating new medicinal compounds from rare tropical plant species, but little attention has been paid to crop species which can be grown in quantity.
We have cloned a gene from soybean (Glycine max L.) encoding an enzyme possessing glucanase activity, potentially capable of degrading bacterial and fungal cell wall structures, resulting in abatement or termination of microbial growth. It has shown considerable activity against several species of gram negative bacteria (E. coli, Enterobacter aerogenes, and Proteus vulgaris) as well as against Charcoal Rot (Macrophomina phaseolina), a significant fungal pathogen of soybean, corn, cotton, and many other plant species of agronomic importance responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars lost to American farmers annually. Analysis of purified recombinant protein from a yeast expression system is underway to quantitate the efficacy of this protein as an antimicrobial agent.
Contact Information: phone 620.235.4746 / fax 620.235.4194 / e-mail