Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kristen Slade, with the help of student researchers Sam Schneider ’13 and Deepak Vallabhaneni ’13, is testing numerous processes to isolate cell proteins for use in research, creating a more accurate environment in which to study these structures.
Slade’s research proposes that, when studying an isolated structure, the best way to create an accurate representation of a cell environment isn’t to create a newer synthetic material. “Why not use actual protein?” asks Slade, who is exploring various ways to do just that.
When one imagines a scientist doing research in a lab, an image of a person surrounded by test tubes and beakers is often conjured up. However, for Slade, the idea of studying living cells in artificial, glass tubes seems a world removed.
“A test tube is not an entirely accurate environment for doing cell research,” she says. Cells are very viscous – they have even more proteins than an egg. Therefore, it’s not entirely realistic to study the contents of a cell in a test tube, which lacks this specific viscosity.
When studying the contents of a cell, says Slade, there are generally two approaches. One can study a specific structure by simply observing said structure in the cell as it exists naturally. However, due to the crowding of structures within a cell, this method can prove quite challenging and it is often difficult to isolate and closely observe a single component.
To avoid this problem, many researchers commonly study isolated structures in a test tube suspended in a synthetic protein, where there is more room to study a structure and nothing to obstruct observation. Although this may seem like a feasible solution, it means removing part of a cell from its natural environment, which may alter its behavior.
As a Blackwell scholar and biochemistry major, Vallabhaneni finds that the research allows him to develop the laboratory skills he will need when performing research in medical school and in the medical field.
“I think that the most rewarding aspect of this research is that I get to take what I have learned from various biology and chemistry classes at HWS and apply them to this unique project and learn something about an enzyme that was not previously known before,” says Vallabhaneni, whose lab work includes running a series of reactions that emulate important reactions that occur in a cell.
Through her research, Slade hopes to make the test tube environment more like that of a cell. By exploring the very nature of research, and creating a more realistic representation of a cell, Slade believes she can help other researchers and scientists to record and observe the workings of a cell with more accuracy.