Seven Loras students are taking advantage of grant funding from the Dr. Scholl Foundation to work and research at Loras this summer. Three students – Brianna Arreguin (’22), Megan Berndt (’23) and Madison Brewster (’22) – are working alongside Andy Kehr, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry, to study eye health.
“The major focus of my research and research collaborations involves studying the biochemical properties of proteins related to blindness,” Kehr explained.
Last summer, Arreguin took part in the FUTURE of Biomedicine program and performed research in the Baker lab exploring the physiologic mechanism for retinal degeneration. In this role, she examined how the loss of a voltage-sensitive ion channel in the eye results in changes to the retina leading to a form of macular degeneration known as CDSRR. This summer, she investigates a small domain in a related ion channel protein to examine how it self-interacts.
Brewster and Berndt will be working on an enzyme necessary for energy production called Opa1. Mutations in this protein result in the most commonly inherited form of blindness in children known as Dominant Optic Atrophy (DOA). Their research interests lie in examining how disease-causing mutations (Megan) or amino acids predicted to be important (Madison) in a particular region of the enzyme could prevent it from participating in crucial membrane interactions.
“Often, science doesn’t fit nicely into an already busy academic schedule, and in biochemistry, there are often many steps which must be performed in sequence before it is safe to store materials overnight in the refrigerator,” Kehr explained. “Having students in the lab outside of the academic year is beneficial because there is so much more time to make sure those steps get the time and focus they need. It is also beneficial because all of the students can be in the lab together, creating comradery where they vent their failures and frustrations and share the joys of success. I also get to know the students so much better, which is why I wanted to teach at a small school like Loras.”
In case you missed it, click here for more on the computational chemistry work the Dr. Scholl Foundation grant is funding. We will explore the work of Gracelyn Surma (’21) and Dr. Keith Thraen-Borowski soon.