Trine grad co-authors research on blood vessel inflammation

TAMPA, Fla. — A 2013 Trine University graduate recently co-authored a research manuscript published in the journal, “Nature Communications.”

Jamie Meegan has been a part of the Ph.D. Program in Integrated Biomedical Sciences at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine since shortly after graduating from Trine with her chemistry degree.

 “The lab I work in focuses on better understanding the cellular and molecular regulation of cardiovascular function in health and disease,” she said. “In other words, we are trying to understand how and why blood vessels become damaged during disease, and explore new ways we can prevent or treat that damage.”

The manuscript covers research the lab did involving an enzyme called DHHC21 that is found in mammals. The researchers found that blocking the activity of the enzyme in mice and rats resulted in less damage to and less inflammation of the blood vessel lining, less damage to tissue and ultimately, a lower death rate.

Meegan said during the first year of her program she took courses in anatomy, biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, immunology, pharmacology and physiology, while also doing rotations in research labs to identify her specific interests. She applied to and was accepted into her current lab, where she will remain for the duration of her study. She also is taking courses specific to her areas of interest and learning the ins and outs of biomedical research, including experimental design and laboratory techniques, grant and manuscript writing, and scientific presentation skills.

She serves as a graduate research assistant under the mentorship of Dr. Sarah Yuan, chair of the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology. The project she is working on for her dissertation investigates how neutrophil interactions with the endothelium — the tissue that lines blood vessels — can disrupt normal processes of those vessels.

“Neutrophils are the first white blood cells that arrive to an infection occurring in the body, and have always been known to engulf bacteria or release enzymes to clear pathogens,” she said. “Just over 10 years ago, a new way of killing was discovered, and it is now accepted that under certain conditions neutrophils can release what are known as ‘extracellular traps’ to snare pathogens and prevent their spread.”

She said the traps, called “NETs,” are made up of DNA fibers with attached proteins and enzymes that provide an efficient pathogen-killing environment. However, researchers recently found that these NETs can actually contribute to inflammation of blood vessels and can result in higher risk of mortality.

“My project is looking to target these traps to inhibit their pro-inflammatory actions, in hopes of resolving the propagation of the inflammatory cascade to result in better patient outcomes,” she said.

Meegan said the chemistry degree program at Trine prepared her in a variety of ways for her current work.

“The broad education I received by taking a variety of courses laid a foundation for the scientific background I needed to successfully complete my graduate coursework. The laboratory courses I took sparked my interest in research and allowed me to familiarize myself with basic laboratory skills and techniques necessary for working in research,” she said. “The combination of my upper-level classes and labs also contributed highly to my development of critical thinking skills that are essential for an academic research career. Beyond the tangible skills I acquired, the meaningful relationships I was able to develop with my professors fostered my scientific, professional and personal growth.”