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Leah Mellett'18, Biochemistry Major from Chicago, Ill.

December 2017

Major: Biochemistry
Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Program Mentor: Dr. Kristin J. Labby, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Leah Mellet'18 

What was the biggest takeaway from your experience?

I was fortunate enough to participate in the Summer Scholars program this past summer, and was able to get a hands-on learning experience in a field that I was passionate about. I discovered that I sincerely enjoy being in lab and conducting productive research that could potentially help others. After performing this research, I can safely say that I am certain I want to enter into the Medicinal Chemistry/Pharmacology field after I graduate from Beloit. I plan on getting a PhD in either Medicinal Chemistry or Molecular Pharmacology, and hopefully will aid in the development of medications that will have less side effects, be more accessible to the general public, and will help individuals. This research has helped me realize the importance and lack of publicity of antibiotic resistance, and it encourages me to continue pursuing solutions for this particular global issue.

Share a little bit about your research through the Summer Science Research Scholar program.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria adapt to withstand the effects of antibiotics due to overexposure, and over 2 million individuals are infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria each year. Aminoglycosides (AGs) are a class of antibiotic used to treat infections caused by gram-negative and mycobacteria, such as tuberculosis. AGs fight bacterial infections by binding to the A-site of ribosomes, which disrupts protein synthesis and eventually leads to cell death. Bacteria have adapted to combat AGs by modifying the chemical structure of the antibiotic using aminoglycoside modifying enzymes (AMEs).  This modification prevents the antibiotic from binding to bacterial ribosomes, allowing the bacteria to proliferate. AAC(6’)-Ib is one of the most clinically relevant type of AME, and it modifies the chemical structure by adding an acetyl group at the 6’ position of AGs. The goal of our research was to synthesize a potential small molecule inhibitor of AAC(6’)-Ib, named KJL-5, that would modify and prevent AAC(6’)-Ib from altering the structure of AGs. If KJL-5 was successful at preventing the modification of AGs by AMEs, the antibiotics would be able to function normally, killing the bacteria causing these infections. We have developed and optimized the synthetic route for KJL-5, which involves the organic synthesis and combination of two small molecule fragments. I was responsible for researching different experimental designs, creating lab plans, running multiple reactions simultaneously, tracking reaction progress using Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC), purifying intermediates using column chromatography, and operating the 300 mHz NMR to analyze the products of my synthetic reactions.

What sparked your interest in this topic?

After taking Medicinal Chemistry with [Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry] Dr. Laura Parmentier, I discovered a passion for pharmacology and knew that I wanted to pursue the topic further. After browsing through the research descriptions, I realized that this research opportunity would be the best fit for me in terms of the topic and what was being asked of the potential participants. I couldn’t believe that I could possibly help in combating antibiotic resistance, and it didn’t take long for me to set up an appointment with Professor Labby to learn more about the project. I knew that I enjoyed being in lab, since I have had many required lab sections throughout my career as a Beloit Student, however I wanted to know what it would be like to conduct my own experiments without a TA or a professor directly in the classroom, especially since I knew I wanted to potentially pursue a career in chemistry.

How did your mentor impact your experience?

Professor Labby was, and continues to be, a fantastic mentor. She trusted our team to create accurate lab plans, handle possibly hazardous chemicals responsibly, and to perform experiments, analyze the results, and discuss the next steps with her as the summer progressed. I appreciated that the research wasn’t similar to the lab experiences you gain from the classroom setting as far as constant monitoring is concerned. She allowed me to gain confidence in performing new lab techniques, analyzing NMR, and reading scientific journals. I’m grateful that the skills and confidence she has fostered will translate to other future research I will conduct during graduate school and beyond.

After completing your program, what are you looking forward to most?

I’m currently continuing the research from my Summer Scholars program in the form of an independent project. One reaction in the synthetic route didn’t want to react with the original starting material, and so we switched the starting materials halfway through the summer. Unfortunately, due to the time constraints of the research program, we never got to try the reaction with the new starting material. My goal is to successfully run the reaction and create my fraction of KJL-5 before I graduate this spring. I’ve also been given the opportunity to present my research at the Midstates Student Symposia at the University of Chicago later in November. I’m extremely excited for the conference, and hope to be able to participate in the American Chemical Society Conference in New Orleans in the spring.