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Research: My research focuses on understanding the mechanism of pain sensation in bone. How pain is transmitted when disease or injury occurs in bone, especially in patients with cancer that has metastasized to bone, is not well understood and thus the pain is not well treated. A better understanding of this mechanism will aid in targeting therapeutics to better treat patients with pain induced by bone cancer.
I hypothesize that the mechanism of pain sensation is through cell-to-cell communication between the most abundant cell type of bone cell and sensory neurons that innervate bone. In order to study this communication, I prepare surfaces that are patterned with two types of extracellular matrix proteins using a technique called micro-contact printing. This allows me to culture both cell types together to better study their interactions.
Further studies focus on manipulating bone cells on the patterned surfaces and monitoring for changes in intracellular calcium and membrane potential in the neuron, which would be indicative of direct activation of the neuron through bone cell activity. An understanding of this would be useful for development of better therapeutics to treat cancer induced bone pain.
In the classroom: Teaching science to students has been a vital part of my upbringing as a scientist. I began working with students when I was in college, particularly with undergraduates in biology, chemistry and organic chemistry. With this experience, I have learned that in order to really understand the sciences, one must appreciate it and understand it by being able to relate to it. I believe that if you are able to relate science to what you do in your everyday life, it drives you to appreciate, and desire to learn it.
Working with Phyllis Meyer last year, we developed a project on having students understand the cell cycle by relating it to what happens when the cycle loses regulation, mainly, cancer. Giving this model to the students provided them with an initiative to understand and learn the material. This year, my work with Mike Kittel has focused primarily on understanding how enzymes work in the body, and why people with enzyme deficiencies require supplements. One example of this was using a lab focused on Beano® and lactase to discuss what the enzymes do, having the students collect data in a system where the enzyme was either present or not, and then discussing how it is useful in the body. Aside from this, I am also working with Florence Malinowski in development of the Biotechnology Career area at St. George’s. My work there focuses on helping students with the essential techniques and understanding that they need for working in the biology lab setting.