September 22, 2014

Summer student research: Red wine and heart disease

Kenzie Batali ’15 and Julian Harris ’16 spent the summer working with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Casey Jones to find a potential treatment in red wine for coronary heart disease. They reflect on this experience in the following Q&A.

  • Julian Harris '16, Kenzie Batali '15, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Casey Jones
  • Julian Harris '16
    Jorey Kiva-Smith '16
  • Kenzie Batali '15
    Jorey Kiva-Smith ’16

Lewis & Clark students remain closely engaged with their fields of study during the summer months, and many make meaningful contributions to scholarship by collaborating with faculty on innovative research. Kenzie Batali ’15 and Julian Harris ’16 spent the summer working with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Casey Jones to find a potential treatment in red wine for coronary heart disease. They reflect on this experience in the following Q&A.

What are you researching?

Our lab focuses on creating more effective biomedical implants by functionalizing them with organic molecules. We work with coronary artery stents, which are stainless steel mesh tubes that are implanted in the artery to combat coronary heart disease. Current stent technology, however, is ineffective and can be harmful for patients. To remedy this, we will be attaching resveratrol—a naturally occurring compound found in red wine—to our stents to create a more effective and efficient coronary artery implant.

What initially sparked your interest in this project, and how does it relate to your previous coursework?

Julian: Professor Jones’ project was especially interesting to me because it proposes an interdisciplinary solution to a very widespread cardiovascular disease. My research in her lab combines aspects of materials chemistry with organic synthesis and allows me to directly draw from the foundational knowledge I’ve cultivated in my courses at Lewis & Clark. It is incredibly exciting to see theoretical concepts from class come to life in the lab in a way that could really help people.

Kenzie: I’ve been fascinated by the elegance of organic chemistry since taking Lewis & Clark’s course on it in my first year. I’ve spent previous summers working on highly theoretical research projects, so moving into a synthetic lab this summer has been particularly exciting for me. It’s a highly engaging, puzzle-like experience: we know where we can start, we know where we want to end up, and we have to fill in the safest, most efficient, and most economical path from start to finish.

How has your Lewis & Clark education been enhanced by close collaboration with faculty?

Julian: As both a student and a research collaborator, I’ve found my one-on-one work with faculty to be incredibly enriching and rewarding. My professors have often pushed me outside of my comfort zone and expected me to make inferences about specific questions based upon my foundational knowledge base. While this can be uncomfortable and frustrating, it forces me to apply the broad concepts I’ve learned in class to specialized circumstances and ultimately results in a greater understanding of the material I’m studying. I believe that the support of my close relationships with faculty has been integral to my academic success thus far.

Kenzie: An interesting thing about close collaboration in a lab setting is that it has helped me learn to be more comfortable with mistakes. In a large organic chemistry lecture class, you might feel defined by your successes and failures, but forming close relationships with professors can give way to a level of comfort that makes doing something wrong a less terrifying prospect. Getting past a fear of failure is at the heart of what allows for true innovation.

Does your research have potential to be applied in the real world, or to influence other work in your field?

Coronary heart disease causes one out of every six deaths in the United States. As it stands, therapeutic treatments designed to fight coronary artery diseases are both ineffective and dangerous. We are attempting to utilize naturally occurring organic molecules to develop a more efficient coronary artery stent. Our project could have a large impact in biomedical and clinical fields if successful, as it could help combat one of the most pervasive diseases in the United States.

How will this research experience hopefully impact your future studies or professional pursuits?

Julian: I’m hoping to further pursue the synthetic organic chemistry research that I’ve done this summer in graduate school. This summer has been an invaluable opportunity for me to explore organic synthesis in a hands-on lab setting with the guidance of professor. Participating in summer research has helped me to feel more confident in a professional laboratory setting and establish an extensive skill set of laboratory techniques.

About the Rogers Science Research Program

The John S. Rogers Science Research Program allows students to pursue graduate-level research in the natural and mathematical sciences. It emphasizes strong communication skills, requiring students to publicly present their findings. This summer, more than 50 students are being sponsored to study such topics as memory formation, cybersecurity, and the impact of nicotine on flies.

“We’re not asking you, ‘What’s the answer?’ We’re saying, ‘What’s the question?’” said Michael Broide, director of the Rogers program and chair of the physics department. “I think what sets our program apart is that regardless of what project you are on, we’re all going to come together as a group to present what we’re doing in as accessible a way as possible. In science, it’s such an important skill to be able to explain cogently what you’re doing.”

Students make their final research presentations at the Rogers summer science poster session, held in conjunction with the Science Without Limits Symposium. Scheduled for September 17, the poster session is free and open to the public.

Chemistry Department Collaborative Research