The 4th Annual Summer CI & UR Virtual Showcase
Session I 11AM – 12PM

Room 1

Mentors: John Cannaday, Dr. Troy Farmer

Team Members: Olivia Balkcum, William Sims

Winter is a critical period for many temperate fishes as dramatic changes in winter thermal regimes may result in tradeoffs between reproductive and somatic energy allocation patterns. Yellow Perch are found throughout North America, and reproductive development typically occurs during October-March, but not much is known about how southern populations allocate energy during overwinter periods. Using controlled laboratory studies of fish captured from wild populations, we sought to determine if Yellow Perch populations in South Carolina and Ohio’s Lake Erie have different overwinter energy allocation strategies. Additionally, we tested if fish from each population responded differently to typical warm and cold winters for their respective regions. We hypothesized that northern populations would allocate more energy to reproductive growth than southern populations and that cold winters would result in more energy allocated towards reproduction. We examined the effect of location, winter temperature treatment, and sex on overwinter somatic and reproductive growth using a liner mixed-effects model. Results suggest that northern populations allocated more energy towards reproduction than southern populations and that colder winters promoted greater energetic investment in reproduction than warmer winters. Our findings may have important implications for setting expectations for this cool water species in response to climate change.

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Mentor: Dr. Althea Hagan

Team Members: Katie Baucom, Andy Grunwald

Hymenocallis coronaria, also known as the Rocky Shoals Spider Lily, is a rare species that is restricted to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. The purpose of this research is to determine what factors are needed for optimal growth of the rocky shoals spider lily in order to inform future restoration on Stevens Creek in McCormick, South Carolina. Two sites along Stevens Creek have been monitored and compared to determine why one site is doing better than the other. Spider lilies were grown in a greenhouse to determine what factors affect seed germination and will later be outplanted. A kayak survey was done through Stevens Creek to find any new populations. Data was collected using game cameras and South Carolina Adopt-A-Stream protocols for water quality and macroinvertebrate surveys. Water quality and macroinvertebrate data were similar at both sites and there was no evidence captured of deer herbivory. For growing the spider lilies, timing of seed collection and the amount of aeration did not have a significant effect on germination. In the future, more research will focus on the quantity of water and geophysical characteristics of the sites to further define the habitat requirements of the Rocky Shoals Spider Lily.

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Mentors: Dr Courtney Marneweck, Dr. David Jachowski, Stephen Harris

Student: Keller Brogdon

Raptor species have similar active periods, and often similar ecological niches when they coexist. However, due to factors such as competition and risk from confrontation, some avoidance behavior would be expected, which would seem to contradict activity period data. We used camera traps to capture pictures of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), and red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), in order to observe levels of co-appearance and obtain more detailed temporal activity data. We paired bald eagles with golden eagles and with red-tailed hawks to compare activity periods. We found that both pairs showed high activity overlap (0.90 for golden eagles and 0.75 for red-tailed hawks). However, the pairs rarely co-occurred in the same photograph, and the median time interval between a bald eagle leaving and another arriving at the carcass was 68 minutes and 90 minutes for golden eagles and red-tailed hawks respectively. This suggests a finer-scale temporal partitioning that is not observed when only investigating activity overlap and  demonstrates the limitations of activity periods for analyzing interspecific interactions, as actual behavior may be significantly more complex.

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Mentors: John Cannaday, Dr. Troy Farmer

Team Members: Olivia Balkcum, William Sims

Winter is a critical period for many temperate fishes as dramatic changes in winter thermal regimes may result in tradeoffs between reproductive and somatic energy allocation patterns. Yellow Perch are found throughout North America, and reproductive development typically occurs during October-March, but not much is known about how southern populations allocate energy during overwinter periods. Using controlled laboratory studies of fish captured from wild populations, we sought to determine if Yellow Perch populations in South Carolina and Ohio’s Lake Erie have different overwinter energy allocation strategies. Additionally, we tested if fish from each population responded differently to typical warm and cold winters for their respective regions. We hypothesized that northern populations would allocate more energy to reproductive growth than southern populations and that cold winters would result in more energy allocated towards reproduction. We examined the effect of location, winter temperature treatment, and sex on overwinter somatic and reproductive growth using a liner mixed-effects model. Results suggest that northern populations allocated more energy towards reproduction than southern populations and that colder winters promoted greater energetic investment in reproduction than warmer winters. Our findings may have important implications for setting expectations for this cool water species in response to climate change.

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Mentors: Dr. Kyle Barret, Megan Novak

Team Members: Theresa McManus, Megan Novak, Emma Rogers, Supun Wellappuliarchchi

In South Carolina, the green salamander (Aneides aeneus) is listed as “Critically Imperiled” by the Department of Natural Resources, making population dynamics such as abundance and survivability of particular interest. Green salamanders inhabit a specialized niche of moist crevices in rock outcrops and are the only arboreal salamander in South Carolina. While their range extends from Northern Alabama to Southern Pennsylvania, the population in the Blue Ridge Escarpment is disjunct from the larger Appalachian population. The count data obtained during this internship will contribute to a two-year mark-recapture study using Pollock’s robust design across 20 sites to produce estimates of population sizes and survivability in upstate South Carolina. Results to date indicate a weak positive correlation between the average number of salamanders observed per day and site elevation (p = 0.064, SE = 0.005); however, it is important to note organism count data is not equivalent to population abundance. This study will continue through Summer 2021; these and future count data and photo identification will be used to estimate population abundances and individual survivability.   

Mentors: Dr. Courtney Marneweck, Dr. David Jachowski, Stephen Harris

Student: Thandi Nixon 

Food subsidies provided by humans can be detrimental to ecosystems because a reliable food source can alter interactions between species, such as carnivores. As humans continue to expand and disrupt ecosystems it is important to understand these potential changes and how they may impact the environment in the future. To investigate food subsidies, I looked at how the presence of a long term food subsidy affected the activity periods of coyotes and bobcats. I used camera traps baited with white-tailed deer carcasses to capture data over the winters of 2013-2017 in eastern USA. I then used R to extract the overlap in activity periods of the two species using the overlap coefficient. The analysis showed that there was an overall increase in overlap between coyotes and bobcats over the four years, however it can not be said that this increase was statistically significant. The provision of a constant food source may have decreased the inter-specific competition but as the overlap of activity periods did not significantly increase it could be inferred that the food source did not have an impact on the activity periods of bobcats and coyotes. This could be due to the fact that although the activity periods for both species may not have changed over time, the two species were able to continue to avoid each other. The presence of another abundant food source may also have contributed to the insignificant increase in overlapping activity periods. In conclusion, it is important to understand the effect food subsidies have on wildlife populations as urbanization increases.   

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Mentors: Dr. David Jachowski, Elizabeth Saldo

Student: Vanessa Patch

Predator-prey interactions are complex and influenced by various factors, including the temporal activity patterns and space use patterns of each species. Studying overlap between these patterns will therefore further our understanding of the relationships between predators and prey. Coyotes (Canis latrans), a relatively novel top predator in the Southeast, have been shown to be effective white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawn predators in the region. Identifying coyote diel activity patterns and space use patterns in relation to the diel activity patterns and space use patterns of their prey, specifically deer and rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus), could provide insight into coyote prey selection during fawning season in the Southeast. Our objectives were to quantify coyote, deer, and rabbit diel activity and space use patterns and compare the degree of overlap between these species during fawning season. We hypothesized that predator diel activity is positively related to prey diel activity, and that predator space use is positively related to prey space use. In order to quantify activity, we deployed an array of wildlife cameras across a study area in the Piedmont of South Carolina and used the photo management software digiKam to add metadata to photos. To compare the degree of temporal activity overlap between our focal species, we calculated their overlap coefficients during May 2019. We found that coyote temporal activity was similar to prey temporal activity, with all target species staying active through the night and showing the highest activity during dusk and dawn. We found coyote space use was related to prey space use, with similar overlap between coyote-deer space use and coyote-rabbit space use. An opportunistic hunter, the coyote may be active at night and in similar areas as its target prey to increase the odds that it will come across active deer or rabbits.

Mentors: Bryan D. Hudson, Dr. Kyle Barrett

Student: Jonathan Witt

Understanding how an animal spatially and temporally uses an environment can contribute to landscape level decisions in on-the-ground management, especially when such species are considered as rare, threatened, or endangered (RTE). Eastern Pinesnakes represent a group of increasingly rare, threatened, and disjunct populations historically ranging across much of the US east coast. Of the three putatively recognized subspecies, non-coastal members of the Northern Pinesnake Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus remain largely unstudied. We investigated the summer-seasonal movement patterns and estimated home range sizes of 2 adult Pinesnakes located on a high conservation priority fire-managed recreational forest in northeast Georgia, USA, during June and July of 2020. Our preliminary data suggests that even in the peak of Summer heat, male activity ranges are greater than those of females. We also report evidence on the nest site selection of 1 female Pinesnake, which accounts for the first documented record near the Blue Ridge ecoregion. Continued monitoring of these snakes and the addition of new individuals to this pilot study will assist federal and state agencies in the future management of this biodiverse land tract. 

Room 2

Mentor: Dr. Miriam Konkel

Student: Isabella Childers

Alu elements are short, non-autonomous mobile elements that are specific to primate genomes. Alu recombination-mediated deletions or ARMD causes deletions in the genome. In this project, two Old World monkey species, rhesus macaque and baboon, were compared to find ARMD events in the rhesus macaque genome. Because of high Alu mobilization in both species, we hypothesized that the ARMD rate may have increased as a result. We constructed Python scripts to extract and join the flanking sequences upstream and downstream of rhesus macaque Alu elements and to later align those flanking sequences to the baboon genome using a local installation of BLAT. Putative hits garnered from BLAT were divided into four categories: ambiguous, sequences with gaps, shared, and candidate ARMD. Candidate ARMD and ambiguous events were further examined by aligning the original rhesus macaque Alu element with the sequence from the baboon genome (or the hit) found in between the shared flanking regions. Out of 1034 possible candidate ARMD events examined using a sample from an AluSx1 dataset, 99 contained gaps, 9 were classified as ambiguous, 905 were classified as shared, and 21 were classified as candidate ARMD events with at least 2 hits identified as likely ARMD events.

Mentors: Meredith Morris, Emily Knight

Student: Anne Crosswell

Kinetoplastids are unique to other eukaryotes in that they have two Peroxin 13 (Pex13) proteins, Pex13.1 and Pex13.2. We are investigating the evolutionary benefit of possessing both isoforms. Both Pex13.1 and 13.2 have an N-terminal YG-rich region and are involved in glycosome biogenesis. In aligning the sequences, it was found that the Pex13.1 YG region has conserved serine residues where Pex13.2 has conserved leucine residues. This difference may cause differing binding affinities between Pex13.1 and 13.2 for peroxisome import receptors, leading to an increased peroxisomal import efficiency. We will use immunoprecipitation to determine the binding affinities that the receptors, Pex5 and Pex7, have for both the Pex13.1 and 13.2 YG-rich regions.

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Mentor: Dr. Marc Birtwistle

Team Members: Will Dodd, Maddie McCarthy

Current methods for genetic screening in cells (such as CRISPR) are unable to track more than one gene at a time. This presents a problem as most tumors rely on 2-8 driver mutations to function. Therefore, it is critically important to develop approaches for unbiased assessment of genetic interactions in order to better understand how tumor genotypes dictate drug sensitivities. In this paper, we present a theoretical validation of an approach to genetic screening using fluorescent proteins called Multiplexing with Spectral Imaging and Combinatorics (MuSIC).This approach relies on linking fluorescent proteins to create a MuSIC probe with a unique emission spectrum; these spectra can be unmixed through matrix algebra. These protein combinations can be further combined to create MuSIC barcodes (2 probes), which can then be associated to gRNAs to track genetic interactions inside cells. Method: We accomplished this through the use of a MATLAB® program designed to simulate the presence of these barcodes in a cell & rate how effectively the computer is able to distinguish barcodes present in a cell. The computer’s effectiveness is rated by the use of the Matthew’s Correlation Coefficient (MCC) which measures the effectiveness of a binary classifier. Results: When all possible probes were included in the simulation, approximately 26% of the probes had MCCs greater than 0.75, meaning that the computer could correctly determine their presence at least 75% of the time they were simulated. Additionally, once the probe pool was trimmed to 10 out of the original 175 probes, a 100% accuracy rate was achieved. This implies that physical experiments using this concept are feasible and should be able to track genetic interactions within cells.

Mentors: Marshall Trout, Dr. Joshua Alper

Team Members: Shira Karni, Yugantar Gera

Interconnected neuronal circuits are the principal functional components of the nervous system, and the activation of specific neuronal pathways facilitates brain functions from information transmission between regions of the brain to rhythmic behaviors like walking. Neurons, the fundamental unit of these networks, are themselves simulated through subcellular models, such as spatial models with cable equations and action potential dynamics described in the Leaky Integrate-and-Fire and Hodgkin-Huxley models. However, it is poorly understood how these simple circuits formed from subcellular models relate to more extensive neuronal network models. To address this gap, we are using experimental and computational techniques, the latter of which is detailed here. We reviewed existing models of multiple neuronal behaviors including the Leaky Integrate-and-Fire model and Hodgkin-Huxley models of action potential dynamics, an electrical circuit model of synaptic connections, and a neuron-adapted cable equation for spatial axon dynamics, and we built simulations of neurons in MATLAB’s Simulink and NEURON using these models. We used this integrated model to predict a neuron’s action potential output as a response to various input currents. We are currently combining these integrated neuron models to form neuronal circuit models. We will use these finalized model to simulate the expected behavior of in vitro small neuronal circuits that we will construct with our combined optical tweezer-micro electrode array (OT-MEA) instrument.  By combining the experimental results with the computational simulations, we will quantify the emergent properties of neurons in small neuronal circuits. Ultimately, these results will provide insights that lead to a better understanding of how assemblies of single neurons work together to generate high-level brain functions.

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Mentor: Dr. Haiying Liang

Student: Cooper Kuess

Camelina sativais an oilseed crop capable of producing vegetable oil. The species has high oil production that can be used for a variety of commercial practices such as biofuel. Additionally, C. sativa has a short life cycle, produces many seeds, can be readily transformed, and has an already mapped genome. Ultimately, these factors make C. sativa a promising species for lipid metabolism research in addition to its economic values. This summer’s research focused on targeting four transcription factors ( LEC1, LEC2, ABI3, and FUS3) using an RNA interfering approach to create transgenic plants. Using Agrobacterium, the RNAi constructs can ultimately be inserted into C. sativa’s genome to create transgenic plants with target gene down-regulated. In the future, transgenic plants will ultimately be grown and characterized to analyze the loss-of-function effect of the above-mentioned transcription factors on lipid accumulation and metabolism.

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Mentor: Dr. Chang Liu

Team Members: Wesley Meredith, Austin Halupnik, Jake Masters

The global pandemic of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has posed significant threats to human life. The S-Protein:ACE2 receptor complex has shown to be a primary route for host infection of viral DNA. Here, a molecular docking program will be used to simulate binding in this complex with a select list of small molecule drugs. We hypothesize that these small molecule drugs are able to interfere between the binding of the S-protein and the ACE2 receptor. The drugs that scored more negative binding affinity were the ones we considered to be good candidates for clinical studies (<-7.0 kcal/mol) and they were ranked from the highest binding affinity (most negative number) to the lowest binding affinity (least negative number).

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Mentors: Dr. Joshua Alper, Katherine Wentworth

Student: Madison Ragland

Kinetoplastids are a class of flagellated eukaryotic protists, including Trypanosoma and Leishmania, that threaten over 350 million people globally. Axonemal dynein is critical to the flagellar beat of T. brucei and has a central subunit, LC2, that we target. The role of LC2 in the function of dynein, and therefore in flagellar movement, has not been well characterized. Therefore, we designed guide RNAs (gRNAs) to program the CRISPR-Cas9 system to knock-out and tag LC2 homologs in T. brucei. gRNA leads the Cas9 endonuclease to different loci on the LC2 gene depending on the approach we wish to employ. To knock-out the LC2 gene, we designed gRNA that targets and creates insertions and deletions in the middle of the gene. To tag LC2 with GFP, His6, and BCCP, we designed a gRNA that targets the end of the gene close to the 3’UTR using the Eukaryotic Pathogen CRISPR Guide RNA Design Tool, which reported no potential off target effects for the gRNA. Tagging will allow us to visualize LC2 invitro and purify the axonemal dynein from Trypanosome cells. The knock-out of the LC2 gene, with the efficiency of CRISPR-Cas9, will allow us to clearly quantify the role of LC2 in axonemal dynein and its impact on motility of T. brucei. The atypical flagellar beat observed in T. brucei can be better understood by applying CRISPR-Cas9 technology to the LC2 gene.

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Mentor: Dr. James Morris

Student: Alex Richardson

Trypanosoma brucei is the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness, a devastating disease found in sub-Saharan Africa. Our group has been interested in exploiting the glucose metabolism of this organism and other parasitic protists, an essential pathway, for drug discovery. To better resolve potential proteins in the glucose sensing pathway of these organisms we conducted a literature review of the nutrient sensing pathways in model organisms including yeast. One pathway of interest is the sensor/receptor-repressor pathway in yeast. We have begun implementing bioinformatics analysis to compare the proteins in this pathway to the genome of the parasites of interest.

Room 3

Mentor: Dr. Mark Blenner

Student: Chloe Forenzo

Most plastics are discarded in landfills and are not easily recyclable. One solution to mitigate the large quantities of plastic waste is to utilize thermochemical processes to break it down into various hydrocarbon molecules that can be used as a substrate to grow engineered yeasts. Yeast can grow on media made up of these assorted hydrocarbons and metabolize it into yeast biomass which could function as a food source. The oleaginous yeast Yarrowia lipolytica has the ability to efficiently metabolize various hydrophobic substrates. Specifically, we have researched the various pathways of lipid metabolism for Y. lipolytica; focusing on branched and straight alcohols, various chain-length branched and straight alkanes, carboxylic and dicarboxylic acids, esters, and saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. By identifying these pathways, the natural metabolic capabilities of Y. lipolyticacan be better understood and enhanced, and the figures can be utilized to identify gaps in its metabolic capabilities. Understanding these gaps can then aid in designing experiments in which the yeast can be engineered in order to improve its ability to metabolize plastic waste components.

Mentors: Melissa McCullough, Dr. Angela Alexander-Bryant

Team Members: Quan Le, Jeremiah Carpenter, Rachel Anderson, Ellen Johnson, Matthew Coyle

In the midst of hardship and distress, COVID-19 has punctured wounds throughout the world’s populations, health care systems, and economies. Nurses scramble on a daily basis to provide care for those diagnosed. One of the most consistently found symptoms of COVID-19 is thrombosis, or blood clotting, due to its high affinity for heparin. In one study, 70.7% of patients had blood stasis which is known to lead to high incidents of thrombosis. It was also found that 20% of the patients studied developed Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). High D-dimer levels are associated with blood clotting, and recent literature found that 97% of COVID-19 patients have been associated with elevated D-dimer levels. We have conceptualized a continuous D-dimer monitoring system called DeMonitor. This product is designed for COVID-19 patients who are admitted into the hospital during their stay to observe the COVID-19 complication of thrombosis. We define “continuous” as our device obtaining a sample, about 15mL amount of blood, every hour.

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Mentors: Dr. Delphine Dean, Dr. Bishwambhar Sengupta

Team Members: Kenneth Lindsey, Olivia Newkirk

“People are being exposed to increasing amounts of radiation from a variety of sources. In particular, patients are subjected to more imaging and therapeutic sources of radiation. However, the effect of low-dose radiation is still not well understood. Studies have focused on cells in culture or whole animal dose experiment. Tendons are thought to be somewhat radiation insensitive especially when compared to tissues with more proliferative cells. Our goal is to determine if low-dose x-ray (less than 1 Gy) affected tendon tissues. Tendon mechanical properties and function depends on the tissue matrix composition and structure. This matrix is maintained by the tenocyte cells. When the tissue is injured the composition changes and more glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are produced. Thus, in this study, we assessed the GAG production in tendon tissue after low-dose x-ray radiation. Tendons showed an increase in concentration of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) after being irradiated, as evidenced by a DMMB assay. The amount of GAG released into the media at the time of, and for 24 hours following, irradiation also increased. The GAG released to the media and the GAG content in the tissue was significantly high (p<0.01, Student t-test) in the irradiated samples and in control samples. Tendons experience a response to even low dose x-ray irradiation. An increase of GAGs would undoubtedly affect the mechanical properties of the tendons, which should be tested after varying doses of irradiation. There may also be a number of other chemical changes that take place within the tissue that could alter those properties, or alter the functioning and healing ability of the tendon. These should be studied as well to create a more comprehensive view of any potentially harmful side-effects of irradiation.

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Mentor: Dr. Jeremy Tzeng

Student: Edward Mabry, Maya Elhage, Cedric Taylor, Maryam Saffarian

Biofilm formations on medical implants are a major cause for infection and disrupt the function of medical devices. Modern antibiotics typically penetrate the surface but fail to effectively eradicate each layer of the biofilm, which in some cases can lead to the development of a drug-resistant biofilm. In this project, Bacillus subtilis served as a model organism for studying biofilm formation on implant surfaces. We designed a genetic construct with constitutively expressed green fluorescent protein (GFP) and antibiotic-induced red fluorescent protein (RFP) which allows for the quantification of antibiotic penetrance in vitro. Expression of RFP is under the control of a vancomycin-inducible Plial promoter. We will validate the protocols we have developed for transformation of B. subtilis 1012wt strain. The transformed B. subtilis will then be utilized to validate the constructed vector, namely, pHT01 for detection of vancomycin and determine the detection limit. B. subtilis carrying pHT01 will then be used as a tool for development and valuation of methods that could facilitate penetration of antibiotics through biofilm.

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Mentors: Dr. John DesJardins, Kyle Walker

Team Members: Mariana Miller, Sarah Johnson, Taylor Cruse

Head Start! aims to develop a method to quantify the interaction at the head-helmet interface of an infant cranial helmet. Many studies have been done on the efficacy of infant cranial helmets, but little is known about the interaction between the head and helmet. Head molds will be acquired from scans created by the StarScanner (participant’s head will be scanned at each follow-up appointment). Areas of deformity on each head mold will be identified; the most common deformities are plagiocephaly and brachycephaly. Tekscan sensors (model #4000) will be used to make pressure maps at various locations inside the helmet (front right, front left, back right, back left, back middle). Pressure maps will be analyzed along with the amount of healing to determine if there is a correlation between pressure at the head-helmet interface and the extent of healing.

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Mentors: Jaclyn Davanzo, Dr. Endre Takas, Dr. Delphine Dean

Team Members: Justin Napolitano, Andrew Rifkin, Daniel Lazega, Rayyan Alam, Victor Cabrera

As the presence of Covid-19 increases in the lungs, patients experience worsening symptoms and eventually death. There is currently a dire need for a treatment method that can reduce the viral load within late stage patients. In response to this need, we designed the Radiologically Enabled Anti-Covid-19 Targeting System (REACTS), which is a treatment method that involves using radiosensitizer particles to destroy the virus. First the particle attaches to the virus, then low-dose radiation is fired at the particle, which then destroys the virus. REACTS will reduce the viral load within late stage patients, saving lives while also freeing up hospital resources.

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Mentors: Dr. Jeffrey Anker, Dr. Phillip Moschella, Dr. Brandon McNaughton

Team Members: Shrey Patel, Ryan Hernandez-Cancela, Alessia Keane, Madison Motes, Mandolin Lucier

We are developing a rapid screening test that can detect the presence and concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in a patient’s saliva using buoyant and magnetic microbeads. These microbeads are functionalized with antibodies that specifically target and bind to the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein present in a patient’s saliva, forming buoyant-and-magnetic (BAM) complexes. The BAM complex consists of a buoyant microbead and a magnetic microbead bound to a single viral protein through antibodies. A magnet is first used to pull the BAM complexes and the unbound magnetic beads to the side of the container, separating them from the non-magnetic and unbound buoyant beads. The magnet is then removed, allowing the BAM complexes to rise to the surface while the non-buoyant, unbound magnetic particles sink to the bottom. These rising BAM complexes are typically in quantities that are visible to the naked eye, but smaller quantities can also be detected using video capture and a MATLAB program that can track the motion of individual particles. This “single-particle analysis” improves the sensitivity and decreases the cost and number of microbeads required by detecting small numbers of complexes. To determine testing needs interviews were conducted to get feedback from doctors, nurses, and other clinicians. To make the test user-friendly and minimize reagent handling, a water soluble delivery system consisting of a jello-based capsule was tested to release the beads into the sample. We also researched efficient saliva acquisition protocols, and designed and 3D-printed stands to allow us to conduct multiple trials in parallel. Once optimized, this test should be able to deliver on-site results within 15 minutes without any complex equipment and can be easily scaled up for mass production thereby providing a robust and quickly executable point of care test for COVID-19.

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Mentor: Dr. Delphine Dean

Student: Christine Schultz

The goal of this project is to develop a device that is both low cost and safe for infant transportation from rural areas to medical centers while monitoring the infant’s temperature. The materials incorporated in this device include 3M Thinsulate Insulation an Ardiuno UNO sensor. The insulation fabric will be enclosed in a waterproof vinyl fabric that has snap attachments to a cotton fabric that will be the layer in contact with the infant. To test the effectiveness of insulation of the device, I utilized the Arduino UNO temperature sensor. To simulate temperature loss of a newborn infant, a 1.5 L of distilled water is heated to body temperature (37C) and placed in a polyethylene bag. The bag is enclosed in insulating fabric and monitored for two hours with a temperature recorded every five minute. I also tested a control bag with no insulation. Using 3M Thinsulate insulation proved to be effective in reducing temperature loss. The control bag’s temperature dropped about 8.5 C over a 2 hour period, while the bag with four layers of insulation’s temperature only dropped about 2.9 C in 2 hours. With each layer of insulation added, the temperature loss decreased by about 1.45 C.

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Mentor: Dr. Rodrigo Martinez-Duarte

Student: Max Vogel

The goal of the study was to review the principles of electrical cellular lysis and compare its usefulness to other methods of cellular lysis (mechanical, chemical, thermal, etc.). After putting electrical lysis in context with other methods, a the parameters effecting cellular lysis were examined. Electrode geometry and material, cell concentration, media conductivity, throughput, and other parameters were considered in the review of electrical lysis. Using ANSYS electronics, several electrode arrays were designed based on the findings of the study on electrical lysis. Using ANSYS, simulations were conducted to determine the optimal voltage and electrode geometry for creating an electric field capable of lysing cells to isolate cellular components for biochemical analysis and cellular identification. Based on a literature review, electrical lysis was determined to be the optimal method for lysing pathogenic cells such as Candid and E. coli. An ideal electrode array was determined based on ANSYS simulations.

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Mentors: Mario Krussig, Dr. Jeremy Mercuri

Team Members: Steven Wallace, A’nna Kelly, Lindsey Hannah

Intervertebral Disc Degeneration (IVDD) leaves patients in pain and looking for relief which the current palliative treatments fail to provide. Intervertebral Disc Tissue Engineering (IVD-TE) aims to solve this by restoring native disc function, and has shown tremendous promise. The objective of this literature review was to analyze the current research in IVD-TE. This review highlights the importance of IVD degeneration due to the vast socioeconomic burden and pain that one can experience. There are currently several methods of replicating the nucleus pulposus, including natural, polymeric, and hybrid hydrogels. Other exciting research aims to create AF biomaterial, hydrogel, and hybrid scaffolds which contain growth factors. Finally, these methods can be combined to engineer a composite IVD and replace the entire IVD as a single unit. Following this, the authors of the work herein propose further research directions, including further collaboration between researchers, culturing under dynamical mechanical or hypoxic conditions, and utilizing crosslinking.

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Room 4

Mentor: Professor Dusti Annan-Coultas

Team Members: Remi Brebion, Lauren Ervin, Aimey Jimm, Kelvin Shihemi, and Rishi Suresh

Created by fellow college students, Palmetto Link is a volunteer-based service that connects community members with able-bodied student volunteers. The aim of Palmetto Link is to provide services otherwise unavailable to South Carolinians as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as grocery shopping, tutoring, and pet grooming. College students would sign up for accounts backed by their university credentials, and likewise, community members would create accounts to request services. Ultimately, this centralized platform would serve as an online hub for service requests and assignments. After receiving services, community members would be asked to leave feedback about their experience. Based on community surveys, 78.1% of respondents indicated that they would consider or were already willing to volunteer, and there is a strong demand for help with grocery shopping and running errands. Palmetto Link’s primary market is South Carolinian college students and South Carolinians in need of help. Beyond this tier, potential secondary markets include other volunteer institutions, including university-based organizations, and colleges in other states. Funding for this project would rely on federal and state grants. While Palmetto Link relieves the pressures of COVID-19, it is also a hub for South Carolinians to bond during this time of need.

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Mentors: Marissa Shuffler Porter, Phoebe Xoxakos

Student: Kaitlan Bryant

Concern regarding a decreased sense of well-being and increased burnout among healthcare providers has been a growing issue in recent years, with more than 50 percent of U.S. physicians reporting increased burnout, which can lead to increased rates of medical errors, provider turnover, and even provider suicide. Furthermore, the current pandemic has escalated the potential for even more severe declines in provider well-being, burnout, and in turn, mental health. Specifically, there is an interest in understanding how the mental health of advanced practice providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants may be impacted differently or more severely since they tend to work in different locations such as MD360 and urgent care where they often encounter and test potential COVID-19 patients at a higher volume more often than the emergency department physicians. The current research project applies a mixed-methods approach to understanding what factors might reduce or enhance a sense of well-being and burnout in the context of these advanced practice providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Integrating current literature with survey data from a survey administered to these advanced practice providers, monitoring their well-being and burnout during this pandemic, as well as observations and interviews will offer important recommendations for these healthcare providers and their teams during these unprecedented times.

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Mentor: Dr. Robin Kowalski

Team Members: Hailey Carroll, Jordan Britt

To investigate the psychological benefits associated with the COVID-19 crisis, 179 workers on MTurk completed an online survey that included measures of resilience, gratitude, post-traumatic growth (PTG), benefit-finding related to COVID-19, ways of coping, self-compassion, and optimism/pessimism. The participants rated their personal satisfaction 6 months ago, currently, and projected 6 months in the future with their work, family, work/life family balance, finances, leisure, physical fitness, spirituality, mental health, close relationships, and the environment. Participants reported dips in satisfaction with work, leisure, fitness, mental health, finances, and academic success currently relative to 6 months prior and in the future. Benefit finding specific to the COVID-19 crisis was related to PTG (r = .80), coping (r = .60), gratitude (r = .40), health (r = .44), and self-compassion (r = .46), ps < .001.

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Mentor: Dr. Delphine Dean

Team Members: Carleigh Coffin, Ashlyn Soule, Pierce Carrouth

Even in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic trips to the grocery store are still essential. United States grocery stores average 29 to 41 million shoppers per day. A cashier working an 8 hour shift will check out hundreds of customers. Cashiers and grocery baggers handle items touched by a large number of customers. For instance, viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 can live on surfaces anywhere from hours to days. The PathogenXOven can protect our essential workers in grocery stores as well as customers and reduce the community spread of diseases like the flu, norovirus, and COVID-19. There are an estimated 40,000 grocery stores located in the United States. The PathogenXOven has the ability to make a large and lasting impact by protecting grocery store workers and customers during essential trips to the grocery store. The PathogenXOven is a sanitization device that will be located at grocery store checkout lanes. PathogenXOven uses 22 mJ/cm2 UV-C light to offer 99.9% effective sanitization of surfaces. UV-C is a type of ultraviolet light with a short wavelength that damages the molecular structure of pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. UV-C prevents germs from reproducing by breaking down its genetic material. UV-C is much safer than using liquid, alcohol-based sanitizers or bleach to disinfect groceries because UV-C light is chemical free and food safe. The PathogneXOven integrates easily into the normal grocery store experience: The customer will load the cart onto the conveyor belt. The groceries will pass through the PathogenXOven. Finally, The sanitized items will exit the PathogenXOven and the cashier will continue to scan and bag the groceries.     The UV-C lamp used in PathogenXOven is fully contained within the walls so that it is safe for customers and employees to stand next to it during checkout. The aluminum walls and thick rubber flaps ensure that UV-C light is not leaked out of the PathogenXOven. The mirrored internal surfaces are engineered with a smooth geometry to allow for uniformed UV-C light coverage in the chamber area. The initial prototype of PathogenXOven cost a total of $221.80 in materials to construct. Our goal is to market the PathogenXOven at $400, which would give us a profit of $178.20 for each PathogenXOven sold. New testing from Signify and Boston University suggests that exposure of a UVC dose similar to what the PathogenXOven uses for 25 seconds will inactivate SARS-CoV-2 with over 99.99% efficacy. We are actively working to determine the optimal timing and speed of the grocery belt through the PathogenXOven that will be needed to inactivate SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens on model grocery surfaces while not disrupting the standard flow of the checkout process.

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Mentor: Ana Romero

Team Members: Dakota Cook, Maria Camargo, Brennan Morgan

Due to COVID, restaurants, bars and many other places started closing. This caused a shift in supplies from food service to the retail channel due to food services throwing away food already bought, and them not requiring any new inventory. This shift in demand, combined with a change in consumer behavior, caused a strain in the supply chain. Vacuum packaging is a solution for this problem, with the benefits of vacuum packing, consumers will have less anxiety around shopping for food. A decreased risk of bacteria will prevent consumers from needing to constantly buy fresh food, leading to an overall decrease in food waste. Additionally, the decreased storage space required by vacuum packed items will have the same effect. Consumers will be happier, as they’ll be able safely buy and store food in a time of uncertainty.

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Mentor: Dr. Liz Boyd

Team Members: Kelly Evans, Frances Kirk, Nicole Ammerall, Grace Miller, David Dalpiaz

As part of the Clemson COVID Challenge, Polaris is a mental health app created based on mostly preexisting research. According to a survey conducted by our team, 73.1% of participants said the lack of activity due to COVID-19 was one of their biggest obstacles.  69.2% said being away from friends and family was also a large obstacle for them. This shows many people are craving structure and connection in this time of chaos. Not everyone has access to psychiatry or therapy when they could most use it. Polaris was created not only promote activity, but also to encourage social connections. Named for the guiding north star, the mission of Polaris is to help people who may lack professional care navigate their mental health in times of crisis. Polaris is completely customizable and allows users to decide what tools are most beneficial to their journey. These tools were selected based on psychiatric research about improving mental health and include a journal, mood tracker, progress chart, and daily affirmations. The user also takes short lessons periodically in mindfullness and stress management to help them achieve better coping mechanisms and processing tools. 

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Mentor: James McCubbin

Team Members: Anna Kadau, Sophie Finnell, Samantha Rieche, Kennedy Proctor, Savannah Burke

Elevated resting blood pressure (BP) is associated with central nervous system (CNS) dampening of emotional responsivity, and may include reduced health threat appraisal and increased engagement in health-damaging risky behaviors. Our creative inquiry team’s laboratory studies in normal young adults found that BP levels and emotional responsivity are associated with risk-taking behavior in a college health risk behavior survey (McCubbin, et al. 2018), risky simulated driving (McCubbin et al., 2020), and may predict other risk-taking behavior.  An email-based assessment of perceived threat and personal risk-taking behaviors for novel coronavirus exposure was sent to 186 former laboratory participants studied originally from 2016-2020.  Our Coronavirus Risk Scale assessed perceptions of COVID-19 threat, and personal engagement in community social distancing, handwashing, and mask-wearing behavior to reduce virus exposure in June and July, 2020.   Preliminary results with a 37% response rate (mean age=22.6 years) suggest that elevated laboratory resting systolic BP prospectively predicted reduced perceptions of COVID-19 threat (p=.019), reduced perceptions risk mitigation behavior efficacy (p=.045), and a trend for increased risk-taking behavior during the height of the pandemic (p=.07).  These results suggest that the intimate relationship between CNS control of autonomic function and emotional responsivity may allow BP to prospectively predict threat appraisal and risk-taking behavior in a subsequent COVID-19 pandemic.  Increased understanding of CNS control of visceral and emotional responding can predict risk-taking behavior during the current COVID-19 pandemic, and can provide clues to the precise mechanisms affecting motivation to engage in or avoid risky health-damaging behaviors affecting personal and public health.

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Mentor: Chih-Hsiang Yang

Team Members: Wajih Qazi, Aaron Moore, Megan Noonan, Victoria Moy

Practicing social distancing could effectively slow the spread of COVID to protect the public’s health. However, practicing social and physical distancing and self-quarantine may, on the other hand, compromise mental health and everyday health behaviors within individuals. For college students who are living away from their families, the adverse impact may be substantial as they have limited access to physical activity facilities, healthy food restaurants, and social support. The current study is designed to understand the psychological and behavioral health impact among the college student population and identify practical and useful solutions or alternative plans to help sustain health during the pandemic. A total of 200 non-freshman US college students are invited to complete an online diary of their current and previous (before the pandemic) health behavior and mental health status. Health behaviors include self-reports of their daily physical activity engagement, dietary intake, and sleep quality. Mental health status includes their perceived levels of anxiety, stress, depression, and positive affect. Preliminary results suggest that practicing social distancing impairs overall mental health and the amount and frequency of engagement in healthy lifestyle behaviors. Suggestions for interventions are provided to enhance health in the college student population during the COVID pandemic.     

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Mentors: Dr. Delphine Dean

Student: Katherine Wright

The purpose of my project was to research the effect of COVID masks and protective face coverings on athletic performance, and develop a mask capable of being attached to a football helmet without restricting eye-sight or breathing capabilities. By researching how different materials effected virus protection, air flow, and sight interference, I was able to choose a material to implement into my design. I chose a Gauge 8 Marine Vinyl material because it can safely block liquid droplets from the player’s breath, but is still clear to see through and flexible in order to bend to the curve of the helmet’s mask. The masks should be cleaned once per quarter of the game. It is important to keep players safe from not only potential virus spread, but by also not restricting their vision and breath during dangerous play.

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Session II 12-1PM

Room 1

Mentors: Dr. Sharon Bewick, Daniel Malagon

Student: Simon Dunn

Pseudoscorpions, also known as false scorpions or book scorpions, are an understudied group of micro-arthropods. There is a lack of information generally, and even less information in the southeast and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in particular. Our main goals were to better understand the taxonomy and biodiversity of the animals in the park, in order to begin asking ecological questions about Pseudoscorpions and their Spatial Temporal aspects. To do this we examined the established methods of Pseudoscorpion taxonomy and identification, and using microscopy, began to sort specimens into suborder, superfamily, family, genus and species where possible. From this, We have begun to establish which taxa of Pseudoscorpions are in the park, and at which elevations, and locations.

Mentor: Dr. Sharon Bewick

Student: Drew Kanes

COVID-19 has dramatically shifted the daily proceedings of almost every industry and field imaginable throughout the first half of 2020, and the biological field is no exception. It is difficult to understand the breadth of biological careers and concentrations affected by the pandemic without painstaking research, but modern techniques make it possible to provide primary insight on the issues that a variety of professionals face. Podcasts have become a staple form of entertainment and learning for countless people in recent years; thus, a hypothesis was formed that such a medium could be used to create a “hub” for information related to the current state of the biological field. The project consisted of thorough research regarding the numerous fields and careers related to biology, and this research was deployed in the search for professionals in their respective fields. Ideal candidates for the project were willing and excited to discuss their expertise in a given subject over a conversational recorded zoom session, precisely in the format of a podcast. Each individual episode would go on to be published on a YouTube channel in order to create the previously- mentioned “hub” of information. The podcast format proved to be a successful method for recording and publicizing first-hand accounts of the adversity that various industries related to biology face, and the conversational nature of the podcast created a conjunction of educational and entertainment value. The biological field is widespread and complex, but the status of its industries in the wake of COVID-19 can still be presented to the public in a thorough and entertaining manner. Podcasting has gone viral in recent years due to its combination of user-friendly educational and entertainment value, and the ability of such a medium to contribute to the biological field should not be underestimated.

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Mentors: Dr. Michael Childress, Kara Noonan

Team Members: Kristiaan Matthee, Maddie Parker

Stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) has been a major cause of hard coral decline in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary since 2014. SCTLD produces a defined disease line on which corallivorous butterflyfish have been observed feeding. Some studies have suggested that butterflyfish may act as vectors for disease, so understanding drivers of butterflyfish abundances may give some insight into their potential role in disease spread. This study investigates the relationships between butterflyfish abundance, substrate cover, and disease prevalence. Ten sites in the Middle Florida Keys were surveyed every summer from 2017 to 2019, before, during, and after the SCTLD outbreak. On each site, a 50-meter transect was laid out with bisecting 30-meter transects at 10-meter intervals. Butterflyfish abundance was measured by diver visual surveys along the transect, coral disease was estimated by randomly selecting 100 corals across the site and categorizing them as healthy, diseased, or dead, and substrate cover was estimated by random point analysis of digital photos using CPCe. Overall, we found that disease prevalence had a statistically significant positive correlation with coral cover. We also found that disease prevalence increased from 1.7% in 2017 to 20.9% in 2018, and decreased back to 2.5% in 2019. A similar trend was visible in butterflyfish abundance, which doubled in 2018 as compared to 2017 and 2019 levels. Lastly, while disease prevalence was a statistically significant indicator for increased butterflyfish abundance in  2018, disease prevalence was not correlated with butterflyfish abundance between sites. 

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Mentors: Corrina McLeod, Elizabeth Johnson, Emily Jordan, Devin Orr,

Team Members: Dr. Althea Hagan, Elizaneth Johnson

The Historic Camden Foundation is currently working to restore acquired lands back to its historic longleaf pine state. Data for a portion of this recently acquired land was taken before and after restoration efforts, which were a thinning in 2018 followed by a burn in March of 2020. A comparison of this data will allow for a better understanding of the immediate changes due to restoration efforts as well as how these efforts have benefited the resurgence of longleaf pine.

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Mentor: Dr. Sharon Bewick

Student: Amanda Robertson

The overall purpose of the study is to build an app/website that will give students extra practice questions for Ecology. The basic design of this study was to first create questions in a table format that could be read into the R software environment. The next step was to develop these tables into a question tool with a graphical user interface (GUI) using the R-shiny package for R. The final step was to host the question tool online on the server. We are still too early into this project to have any major findings or trends, but anticipate developing the tool further and then using it to explore impact on student learning outcomes in Ecology.

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Mentor: Dr. Matthew Turnbull

Team Members: Kat Terwelp, Harrison C Moss, Lindsay Ackerman, Meredith Cobb, Alexis Yoh

Polydnaviruses (PDVs) are a group of obligate symbiotic viruses associated with certain species of parasitoid wasps within the Ichneumonoidea superfamily. The virus is delivered with the wasp eggs during oviposition and PDV gene expression is required for successful parasitization of the secondary host. Members of a PDV multigene family called vinnexins, which are homologues of the insect Innexin gap junction gene family, are postulated to alter cellular communication, supporting a successful parasitization. We hypothesize that vinnexin family members are present in all ichneumonid family-associated PDVs, and that variation in gene complement, transcript pattern, and protein function is associated with differential host susceptibility. To test this hypothesis, we are collecting and preserving insects in South Carolina, Wisconsin and Ohio. We have developed a bifurcating key to identify and preserve parasitoid wasps. From these we will identify campoplegine and banchine wasps, which are associated with PDVs, and isolate DNA. Using DNA we will identify species, and isolate wasp innexins as well as vinnexins, then perform molecular evolutionary analyses. This study will assist in determining the relationship of PDV-gene family evolution with the diversity of their wasp symbionts. Additionally, insect specimens will be donated to museums aiding in biodiversity studies.

Mentors: Dr. Troy Farmer

Student: Margaret Wise

Variable springtime water levels in southeastern reservoirs may impact Largemouth Bass (LMB) reproduction and recruitment. LMB spawn in shallow water during spring and support economically important recreational fisheries that positively impact local economies and communities. The aim of this study was to investigate relationships between springtime water level and LMB year-class strength (each cohort’s relative contribution to the adult population) in Lake Murray, South Carolina. Using annual electrofishing surveys from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, we quantified a relative metric of LMB year-class strength for seven years from 1998-2008. We then related our metric to historical springtime USGS Lake Murray water level data.. Results will indicate if  future management actions to maintain optimal water levels during the spring spawning season should be considered.

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Room 2

Mentor: David Feliciano

Team Members: Parastoo Amlashi, Victoria Neckles

Microhlia are immune cells that perform important functions in the central nervous system, such as facilitating the formation of synaptic connections, innate and adaptive immune responses, and maintaining brain homeostasis. During embryonic development, microglial progenitor cells migrate to the brain from the peripheral nervous system and undergo changes that ultimately affect their gene expression. Immune activation of round, immature microglia cells play a role in neurodevelopment as they become stellate, mature microglia cells. Mature microglia have unique phenotypes that can be characterized into four main states; such as neuroinflammatory responses (M1), repair and regeneration (M2) with M2 having two distinct subtypes (M2a, M2b) that have varying function in the CNS. Immunohistochemical analysis demonstrates that a unique, immature microglia population may act as a microglia stem cell during neonatal development. Single-cell RNAsequencing completed on various regions of embryonic, early post-natal, and adult mouse brains reveals that microglia databases, we sought to identify additional markers of this unique stem cell population. Differential gene expression analysis was performed using a bioinformatics approach to identify genes expressed in two target populations, IBA1low/CD11Bhigh and IBA1high/CD11Blow. We identified a network of co-expressed genes that may allow this unique population to function as a microglia progenito in the postnatal brain.

Mentors: Kharimat L. Alatise, Dr. Angela Alexander-Bryant

Student: Samantha Gardner

“Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer mortality in women with nearly 75% of women experiencing drug resistant relapse [1]. Liposomes are a promising solution to overcoming drug resistance due to their capacity to encapsulate both hydrophilic and hydrophobic drugs as well as complex small interfering RNA (siRNA) [2]. siRNAs are double-stranded RNA molecules that have the potential to downregulate the expression of genes related to drug resistance [2]. Dynamic light scattering (DLS) was used to determine the size, polydispersity index (PDI), and zeta potential of the liposomes. It was found that all formulations of liposomes were cationic, monodisperse particles. Coumarin 6, a hydrophobic model drug, was loaded into liposomes and used to determine cellular uptake through fluorescent imaging. Results demonstrated that the liposomal system was delivered intracellularly. Blank liposomes were used to determine the toxicity of the delivery system. It was determined that the unloaded liposomes were not cytotoxic. In conclusion, liposomes were successfully formed with a monodisperse size, exhibited effective drug and siRNA loading, and were internalized in OVCAR3 and OVCAR3-T40 cells. Future work includes investigating the efficacy of the liposomal system in mediating gene silencing.      

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Mentors: Dr. Joshua Alper, Dr. Ashok Pabbathi

Team Members: Megan Keech, Maureen Buckley

Materials scientists and engineers use optical tweezer-based microrheology measurements to probe the viscoelastic properties of complex microstructured materials such as gels and filament networks with various structural feature sizes at multiple length scales by trapping and tracking beads of various sizes suspended within the materials.Current procedures for analyzing these data assume that the detection of the bead within the trap and the force of the trap on the bead are linear. These assumptions inherently relyon an approximation that the bead diameter is similar to the beam width at the diffraction-limited focal point of the trapping laser,but less dense materials have larger structural features and require larger diameter beads.We discovered significant deviations from the linear assumption in the detection ofbeads that are 5-10-fold larger than the laser focal point. Additionally, we found nonlinearities in the force-displacement curves of the trap when we applied known constant forces to 5 µm trapped beads. We customized MATLAB toolboxes to theoretically model and validate our experimental data. Using both the calculation and experimental results, we found that that the magnitude and direction of the slope and linear range of the detector-response graphs are strong functions of bead size for large beads that can be modeled as third-order polynomials. Further, the force-displacement modeling and data that we collected suggest that the trap has a non-linear effective spring constant for large beads. By quantifying these observations with the analysis of large bead optical tweezer experiments, we better understand their interaction with the trap and how to account for these nonlinearities properly.Ultimately, our results will allow researchers to analyze sparse material matrices, use larger beads, and accurately perform calculations with optical tweezer-based microrheology.

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Mentor: Dr. Olin Mefford

Student: Corey Kubat

Iron oxide nanoparticles for applications in various fields including energy and electronics, the environment, and medicine, have long been a subject of intense research. The magnetic properties of these iron oxide nanoparticles pertinent to these fields are highly dependent upon their size, shape, and chemical composition. Because there is an inherent lack of variability in the composition of these simple iron oxides, which may be required or prove more advantageous for different applications, successful efforts have been made to substitute the divalent iron atoms in these materials with other various transition metals including manganese, nickel, cobalt, zinc, etc., to yield metal iron oxide, or metal ferrite, nanoparticles with enhanced magnetic, electrical, and other properties. In this investigation, series of reaction parameters including reagents, their concentrations, reaction temperature, and reaction stages were tested in order to develop a synthetic route to produce zinc ferrite nanoparticles with tunable size, shape, and composition, with focus toward heightened monodispersity of these properties. Thus far, non-stoichiometric spherical zinc ferrite nanoparticles with 5% size and shape dispersity have been synthesized employing a one-pot thermal decomposition of iron and zinc acetylacetonates in the presence of the solvent, octadecene, and the surfactant, oleic acid. 

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Mentors: Dr. Angela Alexander-Bryant, Dr. Jessica Larsen

Team Members: Joseph LaValla, Elizabeth Singleton, Jessica Jager, Jordan Drinks

Computed Tomography (CT) uses different angle x-rays to produce cross sectional images of tissues with great anatomic detail, important for successful tumor removal. However, high quality CT requires long-term exposure to radioactive contrast agents, with only low doses being FDA approved. This project focuses on targeted delivery of AuNPs encapsulated in polymersomes to increase the detail of brain tumor imaging. Polymersomes are synthesized under aseptic conditions with varying ratios of PEG-PLA to maleimide-functionalized-PEG-PLA polymers (MAL-PEG-PLA). Polymersomes were characterized for size, surface characteristics, and polydispersity through dynamic light scattering using the Zetasizer. Polymersomes were freeze-dried at -105 degrees Celsius and 0.004 MPa before loading sterile fluorescent AuNPs into the hydrophobic layer via both temperature and osmotic pressure gradient. Treating cells with polymersomes synthesized from a 50:50 ratio of MAL-PEG-PLA and PEG-PLA polymers loaded with gold nanoparticles at a concentration of 0.1 mg/ml shows great promise in maximizing uptake to SH-SY5Y cells. Future work includes testing this platform with cells in a CT imager and analyzing in vivo biodistribution through both IVIS and CT.

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Mentor: Dr. Joshua Alper

Student: Ethan Lopez

Trypanosoma brucei is a parasitic member of the family of flagellated eukaryotes known as kinetoplastids, which affect 350 million people worldwide. Treatments for kinetoplastid diseases are currently limited, difficult to administer, and low in efficacy; however, flagellar proteins that affect parasite motility are potential novel drug targets. Flagellar motility in kinetoplastids exhibits a unique tip-to-base wave propagation that is thought to be governed by the coordination mechanisms of axonemal dynein motor proteins. We previously found that axonemal dynein light chain 2 (LC2) is integral to parasite motility by knocking it down with an inducible RNA interference (RNAi) construct. However, we need a quantifiable assessment of the knockdown to validate these findings. To accomplish this, we obtained composite cDNA from a total RNA extract of trypanosome cells by reverse transcription. We then PCR amplified LC2, along with several reporter genes, from the cDNA stock to construct a series of reverse transcriptase quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) standard curves, which allow us to determine reaction efficiency and quantify unknown RT-qPCR samples. These RT-qPCR assays will allow us to rapidly quantify differential LC2 expression between wild type, RNAi induced, and RNAi uninduced cells to confirm the success of the knockdown, as well as knockdowns of other flagellar proteins we plan to perform in the future. This work will ultimately lead to insights into the molecular mechanisms of parasite motility and further efforts to develop pan-kinetoplastid drug treatments for disease.

Mentors: Garrett Buzzard, Michael Sehorn

Student: Matt McAlister

DNA’s essential role as a repository for genetic information can be compromised through a variety of disturbances that damage its structure. These damaged segments, called lesions, are not anomalous events — most cells will face tens of thousands of lesions every day. Failure to repair this damage can result in cell cycle arrest, cell death, and tumor formation. Accumulation of DNA damage may also underlie age-related functional decline, as more robust DNA repair pathways have been correlated with longer lifespans in mammals. Organisms contend with these genomic disturbances through an array of evolutionarily conserved repair pathways. Single-strand breaks are often readily repaired using the undamaged complementary strand as a template, but double-strand breaks (DSBs) can be catastrophic for a cell. To address DSBs, cells deploy a form of repair called homologous recombination (HR). This high-fidelity process locates and utilizes a sister chromatid as a repair template, allowing the cell to maintain genomic stability. A variety of proteins facilitate HR in humans, but the RAD51 recombinase plays a central role: it forms a presynaptic nucleoprotein filament around the exposed single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) of a DSB. This filament-bound ssDNA then invades its undamaged sister chromatid, allowing RAD51 to search for a suitable repair template. Importantly, RAD51 only performs these roles — strand invasion and homology search — when bound to ATP. If bound to ADP, RAD51 exhibits a stable, inactive state that does not promote HR. A mediator protein, BCCIP (BRCA2 and CDKN1A Interacting Protein), induces a conformational change in RAD51 that stimulates the release of ADP from the presynaptic filament, and thus promotes RAD51’s active state. The specific mechanism and binding domains underlying this interaction remain poorly understood. This study aims to identify those binding domains and propose a mechanism for BCCIP’s effect on RAD51. To achieve this, multiple isoforms of BCCIP were tested for physical interaction with specific proteins in the HR repair pathway and then a series of BCCIP variants were generated through mutation and truncation. For each variant, the differential effects on RAD51 and HR should provide insight into the mechanistic unpinning of BCCIP’s observed effects.

Mentor: Dr. Angela Alexander-Bryant

Student: Alexandra Nukovic

Three peptide hydrogel formulations were designed to convert temozolomide (TMZ) to its active form and deliver TMZ for extended release in glioblastoma patients. The efficacy of our TMZ-loaded peptide hydrogel was analyzed using T98G glioblastoma cells. To evaluate cell viability, MTT cytotoxicity assays were performed, comparing untreated T98G cells with cells treated with TMZ alone, or the peptide hydrogel unloaded and loaded with 0.31 mg/mL TMZ. Our cell viability results indicate that treatment with TMZ alone was not sufficient to induce significant cell death in T98G glioblastoma cells. Cellular uptake was also evaluated by loading Coumarin-6 into the peptide hydrogels, incubating with T98G cells, and imaging the cells using fluorescence microscopy after a 4-hour treatment. There was notable cell uptake of Coumarin-6 for the three peptide hydrogels. Uptake of Coumarin-6 demonstrates the potential of the peptide hydrogel for delivery of TMZ. These results demonstrate the potential of the peptide hydrogel as a delivery vehicle for TMZ. Moving forward, an evaluation of different formulation techniques to form loaded hydrogels is needed to determine the most effective method of delivery. This evaluation will be done through SEM imaging and DLS.

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Mentor: Dr. Michael Sehorn

Team Members: Ashley G. Polson, Garrett Buzzard, Eunice Cho

Meiosis is a specialized cell division in which a physical connection between homologous chromosomes forms to ensure proper segregation by homologous recombination. The protein Mei5 has been found to have a significant role in meiotic homologous recombination (HR). Mei5 forms a heterodimer with another protein Sae-3 to overcome RPA inhibition in order to load DMC1 onto single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) that results from enzymatic processing of a DNA double-strand break. To determine the significance of DNA binding activity of Mei5 in overcoming RPA inhibition and loading of Dmc1, a Mei5 variant that is defective in DNA binding needs to be created. Using alanine scanning mutagenesis, amino acids that are important for the DNA binding activity of Mei5 were identified.  The variant of Mei5 was introduced into a bacterial expression plasmid in order to facilitate purification of the variant Mei5 protein.  After purification, an electrophoretic mobility shift assay was used to monitor the ability of the Mei5 variant to bind DNA.   Our results show that the Mei5 variant has significantly decreased affinity for DNA.   With the generation of a DNA binding defective variant of Mei5, experiments can be designed to determine whether Mei5 DNA binding activity is necessary to overcome RPA inhibition and to load Dmc1 onto ssDNA.    

Room 3

Mentors: Kirkland Sheriff, Dr. Shiou-Jyh Hwu

Student: Will Cannon

Ever-increasing energy consumption will continue to place a strain on our environment as traditional fuel sources such as internal combustion engines continue to be the power source of choice for consumers and industry alike. In an effort to decrease our reliance on these sources, we must work to increase the efficiency, and thus economic viability, of alternative energy sources. One such example of an alternative energy source is that of a secondary battery which has many applications including use in electric vehicles among many other consumer and industry products. To increase the efficiency of secondary batteries, new electrode materials are actively being researched. Fullerenes, namely C60, have been found to exhibit a high performance as an anode for lithium-ion batteries, but also have several issues that need to be addressed before their use becomes common. As our lab group moves into this field, a literature survey of fullerene materials has been conducted to determine where to begin our research. Several fullerene materials have been selected to be synthesized using our novel electrochemical synthetic technique, and experimental plans to test such syntheses have been drafted.

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Mentors: Dr. Joshua Bostwick

Student: Tedi Godfrey

The Rayleigh-Taylor Instability (RTI) is seen when a heavy fluid is placed above a lighter fluid resulting in the instability of the interface into finger-like structures. When the fluids are confined by a small geometry, it is known that there is a critical depth in which the RTI can be suppressed. I use analytical techniques and numerical simulations to study this problem, as it depends upon the physical parameters. Numerical simulations of this multiphase flow are done using a combination of the multiphase solver in OpenFoam, an open-source computational fluid dynamics toolbox, and ParaView, which allows the results to be visualized. Our results show that an initially flat interface will become corrugated, resembling a wave, and develop the finger-like structures seen in RTI. The initial conditions of the simulation state that the interface between the two fluids is flat initially. A hydrodynamic stability analysis was done to derive a dispersion relation that relates the spatial wave number and temporal frequency of the wave using first principles. Dimensional analysis allows us to reduce the number of variables in the dispersion relation and isolate the effects that individual nondimensional parameters have on the critical depth.

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Mentor: Lily Shen

Team Members: Sean Larkin, Max Koch, Bao Lam

The purpose of our study is to review the impact that COVID-19 has on Airbnb listings across America. We sorted through major cities across the United States and extracted big listing, review, and calendar Airbnb data. We were able to create multiple linear regression models to describe pricing and demand for listings. We utilized Machine Learning to analyze the words in each review and determine their specific impact on price and demand when added to our regression. We also found out the impact of increasing COVID cases on listings in each county or city. This led us to find important variables that truly impact the price and demand of listings.

Mentors: Maggie Guerra Ayala, Kyle David Anderson

Team Members: Michael O’Brien, Gavin Vazquez, Nayoung Kim, Madelyn Stafford

“The purpose of VR Mondi is to see if students are able to learn more effectively in a Virtually-based environment, that is specifically tailored to the area of their study. The design of VR Mondi begins by replicating the abroad environment the student wishes to travel to in a Virtual setting. Finally, we begin designing certain tasks that help facilitate that particular student’s education. We have not conducted any study as of now.

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Mentor: Jessica Larsen

Student: Christopher Pierce

Current techniques in the field of targeted drug delivery fail to overcome a major barrier in modern medicine – circumvention of the blood-brain barrier. One facet of drug delivery that has not been extensively explored for this application but is known to impact cellular uptake of nanoparticles is modulation of nanoparticle shape. Here, we develop an understanding of the effect of hydrophobicity on bending energies, developing design rules for making prolates of various aspect ratios. The specific aims of this study are to 1) evaluate the effect of varying hydrophobicity on prolate polymersome formation and shape maintenance, 2) determine the effect of osmotic pressure on prolate aspect ratio by varying salts and solvents.

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Engineering the Intervertebral Disc

Mentors: Dr. Kirby Player, Mary Lovelace, Dr. Oscar Lovelace, Renee Martin, Shelby Ham

Student: Reagan Ross

Rural areas of the southern United States often lack access to community health and wellness options. Projects such as the Living Water Foundation’s Community Garden and Wellness Park seek to provide options for the small community of Prosperity, South Carolina. Sustainable success requires that public health projects of this nature engage with their community. The purpose of this study was to identify and pilot methods for community capacity building to increase community engagement that can lead to programs that promote health and wellness.  The methods piloted included implementing a newsletter, creating a foundational funding proposal, and broadcasting through local media outlets. The effectiveness of each method was evaluated using comparative data for media interaction, foundation finances, and volunteer involvement as each method was employed.   

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Mentor: Dr. Marissa Orr

Student: Aimee Sayster

This case study focuses on Black and African American students with international experience and their views on racism and sexism in engineering.  Two participants were selected from a larger study for in-depth qualitative analysis of interview transcripts, survey data, and an identity circle artifact.  Community Cultural Wealth (CCW) is used as the theoretical framework to better understand how these students comprehend racism and sexism. CCW is an asset-based framework that includes aspirational, navigational and resistance capital as resources that students bring from their familial and community background. As a student who is a dual-citizen born in South Africa and studying engineering in the US, the first author wanted to understand how students who have experienced different cultures view and handle racism and sexism to gain a different perspective on a familiar experience.

Mentors: Dr. Jessica Larsen

Student: Jessica Tetterton

Because of their small size and high drug carrying capacity, nanoparticles could be a promising approach to treat spinal cord injuries. Spinal cord injuries are difficult to treat because of the rapid development of stress granules, blocking mRNA translation and regrowth, and the limited window of treatment that drugs without a nanocarrier can provide. By attaching or encapsulating a drug with a nanocarrier, both the targeting specificity and therapeutic treatment window are improved. This summer was spent optimizing a protocol in which poly(ethylene glycol)-b-poly(lactic acid) polymersomes, or PEG-PLA polymersomes uptake Nile Red, a fluorescent hydrophobic dye. By performing loading studies to understand and quantify the uptake of Nile Red by PEG-PLA polymersomes, we can predict how PEG-PLA polymersomes will uptake drugs that can be used to treat spinal cord injuries. After loading Nile Red into PEG-PLA polymersomes, these polymersomes were incubated with SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells to visualize uptake of polymersomes, mimicking what we would see in neurons. One of the major findings of this summer’s work was that the most optimal concentration of Nile Red for loading into PEG-PLA polymersomes is 20 micrograms per milliliter DMSO.

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Mentors: Dr. Yiqiang Han

Student: Connor Willoughby, Alexander Krolicki, Duncan McCain, Brandon Wingard, Jonathan Daniel

The development of robust autonomous ground and air vehicles has accelerated recently due to the increased compute capabilities of compact single board computers. Our team has built our own unmanned autonomous robots to investigate the different approaches for mapping, localization, navigation and human interaction. Each of our team members worked remotely with their own prototype vehicles and investigated different pieces of these fundamental  building blocks of a fully autonomous system. The outcome of our research and testing provided us insight into the relative strengths and weaknesses of each approach. The trade-off between computational load and physical performance was evaluated by performing physical tests to determine the best combination of algorithms and hardware for a robust autonomous system.

Mentors: Dr. Elliot Ennis

Student: Kathleen Wirth

Kathleen Wirth has been working with Dr. Elliot Ennis of Clemson University’s Department of Chemistry on an extension of his science and pseudoscience in popular media CI focusing more specifically on climate change. She has been working to design a survey instrument and then administer it to the general population and to Clemson students to evaluate their understanding of climate change. We aim to find correlations that may suggest trends in and reasons for conceptions of climate change based on actual knowledge and comfort with information on global warming. The survey focuses on people’s conceptions of climate change, their perceived knowledge of climate change and their actual knowledge of climate change.  We will then present the data collected so far at the showcase and perhaps collect more data in the fall when on-campus circumstances allow.

Room 4

Mentor: Dr. Marissa Shuffler

Team Members: Kenzlie Andresen, Annamaria Wolf

Giving well rounded care and improving coordination in the health care setting has always been important but with everyone on different schedules and the fast-paced environment of hospitals, it can be difficult. Interdisciplinary patient rounding provides an ideal opportunity for collaboration and coordination between nurses and physicians involved in in-patient cancer care. Interdisciplinary rounding entails in-person discussions of developments, concerns, and plans for a patient’s care. The purpose of this research is to improve quality and efficiency of interdisciplinary rounding within an in-patient oncology unit and determine the best practices to optimize cancer care coordination for a better outcome for patients. We conducted, transcribed, and analyzed interviews with gynecological oncology physicians, nurses, and management staff, from which we identified themes characterizing effective interdisciplinary rounding practices and barriers to nurses’ participation in rounding. A literature review, including articles on interdisciplinary rounding, supplemented our qualitative findings to identify important themes. Based on these findings, we propose intervention and best-practice guidelines to minimize barriers and maximize efficiency of interdisciplinary rounding. These include the types of rounding the physicians used, whether nurses were included, and different programs that are used to organize patient information. These findings have been incorporated into user-friendly materials and shared with the oncology in-patient unit for the benefit of providers and the intention that they will be used in practice.

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Mentors: Dr. Antine Stenbit, Margo Johnson

Team Members: Leah Andrews, Abigaile Davies, Alyssa Franklin

Self-proning is beneficial to patients in respiratory distress at all stages, however the data behind the advantages of SARS-CoV-2 patients who self-prone is unknown. When a patient is in the proned position, laying on their stomach or side, their alveoli is exposed to the area of the lungs that has the most surface area. This causes an increase to the area where oxygen and carbon dioxide can diffuse, in addition to increasing blood flow. Two educational pamphlets will be created and distributed about self proning; one instructing patients how to self-prone, and one educating healthcare workers on the importance of self-proning. After the pamphlet distribution baseline data will be collected from the COVID-19 registry to see if an increase in self-proning occurs among patients. Statistical analysis will be ran to determine if those who self-proned had a lower rates of ventilation and morbidity. This comparison will also look to see if a decrease in mechanical ventilation occurs in correlation with an increase in self-proning. Currently, an eIRB form has been submitted for the study. The pamphlets for the patients and the healthcare workers have been created and submitted for printing. Overall, this study aims to promote self-proning to hospitals and health care workers with SARS-CoV-2 patients.

Mentor: Dr. Brooke Wymer

Team Member: Natalie Claypool, Patricia Simmons, Kesha Patel, Serina Bernsen, Morgan Ethridge

Our interdisciplinary team of researchers coming from clinical mental health counseling, biochemistry, international health, and more proposes a study that will bring awareness to the effects of childhood toxic stress caused by COVID-19, and equip parents with a proactive approach to aiding young children during these high stress times. First, we plan to examine the influence of childhood toxic stress associated with COVID-19 and immune health. Then, raise awareness among parents, as well as provide them with key resources. One pivotal resource in aiding child development and reducing stress is Triple P – Positive Parenting Program®. Given what is known about how parents can negate the impact of childhood adversities and traumas, such as COVID-19, Triple P would provide the tools for parents to build resiliency in their children at such a critical time.Federal and state grant money has provided free access for Triple P Online to 25,000 North Carolina caregivers. With the outcomes of our research, we will have a strong public health foundation to write our own grant proposal to make Triple P Online free to all parents during this global pandemic. Free access to Triple P will facilitate responsive relationships to negate the negative impacts of isolation during this pandemic.

Mentors: Dr. DesJardins, Belinda Cochran

Team Members: Kathleen Fallon, Noah Ashley, Julia Thompson, Annie Messing

The spread of COVID-19 throughout the US has demonstrated a great need for widespread, accurate testing. Currently, a large problem facing healthcare providers is the high percentage of false negatives. In this project, we have designed an applicator for the nasopharyngeal COVID-19 test that aims to standardize the testing process and reduce false negatives. We designed an applicator that has a size and shape similar to a pen. Using a spring mechanism, the swab is pushed into the nose until it reaches the middle turbinate. It then rotates through a helical track to collect specimens from all sides of the nasal wall. Upon removal, the swab retracts into the nose cone and a cap is placed on the cone to preserve sterility and protect the sample. We anticipate a decreased percentage of false negatives as our applicator removes the guesswork from obtaining samples. This also allows for increased at-home testing because clinicians are not needed to perform the test. We are currently 3D printing this device and will begin testing soon. The end goal of this project is to incorporate the applicator into at-home test kits and into Clemson’s voluntary testing program this fall.

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Mentors: Melissa McCullough, Dr. John Desjardins, Dr. Delphine Dean

Team Members: Taya Lee, Azrin Jamison

With the use of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) in HIV/AIDs patient testing has become an essential gateway to prevention, treatment, care and support services. Our goal is to design a urinalysis device that will detect ARVs in patients with HIV/AIDS, particularly those in resource poor areas and in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), to help doctors ensure patients are adhering to their prescriptions and to promote prolong their health. We have identified the metabolite byproducts of the ARV drugs. We have developed quantitative colorimetric assays that determine the concentration of these markers in aqueous solutions. Due to the inefficiencies associated with the colorimetric test, we plan to avoid the dilution of samples, inaccurate readings, and slow testing time by designing a urinalysis biosensor. Through literature we have found that High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) has been proven to be a solution to detecting ARVs in urine. In the future, we are planning to conduct a study to observe patients on ARVs and evaluate their drug/byproduct ratio in urine and compare this to literature values using HPLC. We also plan to test the biosensor in simulated and non-simulated urine and compare this to our study results to determine if it works.

Mentors: Dr Melinda Harman

Team Members: Mark Livingstone, Jenna Hines, Mary Beth Reno, Shiv Patel, Marketa Marcanikova, Manuel Gutierrez

Ventilators are a necessary medical instrument, especially with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Consumable supplies used with ventilators include nasal masks that go over the nose and mouth and polymer tubes that go down the throat, aided by use of a laryngoscope instrument. Excessive demand has led to inadequate ventilator instruments and supplies and increased the challenges of cleaning these instruments and supplies, both domestically and abroad. Defining and validating protocols for reusing consumable ventilator devices could extend resources and help save lives. A risk assessment was performed on the ventilator components to find the most at risk components, and current protocols were researched to determine an effective reprocessing method. Overall, the mask and tubing contain the highest risk, and there are current cleaning methods that could be used in COVID-19 cases to reuse these components.

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Mentors: Jorge Rodriguez

Team Members: Katherine Magee, Katelyn Franck, Sophia Hennesy

“Localized drug delivery is a promising and evolving field in the medical world. It allows patients to receive the treatment they need without having to undergo systemic drug delivery and its potential consequences. Unlike systemic drug delivery, localized drug delivery can be delivered in lower doses thus limiting adverse side effects. One particular field in which localized drug delivery would be particularly beneficial is surgery. Sutures possess the ability to be a localized vessel in drug delivery as they are already located in desired areas. For example, sutures containing various numbing agents or pain killers could create local anesthesia and reduce the need to prescribe opiate medications for pain. Sutures loaded with antithrombogenic drugs used in a surgical site would reduce the need for systemic delivery of antithrombogenic drugs thus limiting the chances of uncontrolled bleeding or hemorrhaging. Potential applications also include reducing surgical site infections or promoting healing. Unfortunately the current sutures on the market do not possess desirable qualities for drug delivery. One promising method of drug delivery is the use of electrospun nanofibers. Electrospun nanofibers have a large surface area to volume ratio and are highly porous thus making them ideal to load and deliver therapeutic drugs. Unfortunately one of the major downsides to electrospun nanofibers is that they are mechanically weak and do not possess the needed characteristics for a suture. The proposed solution to this dilemma is to coat a preexisting, commercial suture with drug eluting electrospun nanofibers. This would create a suture that possesses the necessary strength and drug eluting properties for a localized drug delivering suture. The goal of this paper is to propose a method and device to efficiently and effectively coat commercial sutures with electrospun nanofibers. This mechanism development by machining parts, running tests to count the ideal rotational velocity, as well as determining the best fiber brush size for the wrapping of the suture works is done to build this standardized model.   Scanning electron microscopy is used to analyze the angles and number of fibers twisted around a section of surgical suture.  The development of this device provides a standardized method of applying electrospun nanofibers to sutures, allowing for consistent samples of these wrapped sutures for use in future research exploring the possibilities presented by specialized surgical sutures.