James Comotto ’14 and Claire Donald ’13 partnered with Mindy Reynolds, assistant professor of biology, to investigate the toxicity of cadmium and nickel in human lungs. Cadmium and nickel are prevalent industrial pollutants and known carcinogens that can also cause pulmonary, cardiovascular, and renal diseases.
“Because the majority of people in the precincts of industry are exposed to both metals, we researched the effects of simultaneous exposure to cadmium and nickel. This research is more physiologically relevant than just a single exposure to cadmium or nickel, for which most other research is conducted,” said Comotto.
After exposing the cells to the metals, the students performed Western blotting analysis on the proteins that are used by the cells to undergo programmed cell death. They found that the amount of these proteins (ie. caspase, PARP, and H2AX) increased as the amount of metals increased. By examining the metals’ DNA, they also found that the metals cause the cells to arrest at a certain stage of the cell cycle.
Comotto counts the research experience as extremely rewarding. “After spending the summer here at Washington College, I better understand how research is conducted in graduate school and other institutions. I also think I significantly improved my ability to write scientifically.”
Donald would not trade her summer research experience, either. “I gained an appreciation for scientific research in the lab. The results are not always what you would expect, but there is a great sense of accomplishment when the results do come through. Completing research this summer has helped me determine that scientific research is my career choice. This research also inspired my senior capstone thesis investigating cell cycle arrest further to find its underlying cause.”