Three named 2018 Ledford Scholars

Three named 2018 Ledford Scholars

May 15, 2018

Three Maryville College students have been granted a total of more than $12,600 through the Appalachian College Association’s (ACA) Ledford Scholarship to fund summer research projects.

Named for Colonel Lee B. Ledford, the scholarship program offers financial assistance for students who are enrolled at ACA member institutions and conducting summer research in the fields of laboratory and field work, interviews, analyzing special collections and participant observation.

All of the recipients will utilize the money to fund research associated with their Senior Study project.

“Undergraduate research has been a distinctive feature of the Maryville College curriculum since 1947, when a two-semester, faculty-supervised independent study was made a graduation requirement of all students,” said Dr. Barbara Wells, vice president and dean of the College. “And this year's number of successful Ledford Scholarship applicants speaks to the high value we place on this type of scholarly work. These students are well-prepared for what are more typically graduate-level research experiences.”

A total of 29 students enrolled at 11 ACA institutions were awarded scholarships. The students will present the outcomes of their research at the annual ACA Summit in September.

 “Each student will be working closely with a faculty mentor this summer,” Wells added. “This arrangement will enable them to continue to develop their research skills. We know from experience that opportunities like these can give students a distinct advantage when they apply for admission to graduate school or health sciences programs.” 

Miramontes Flores to study stream health in College Woods

Alan Miramontes Flores, a junior biochemistry major from Knoxville, was awarded a $5,800 Ledford Scholarship to examine the health of the streams in the 140-acre Maryville College Woods.

“I will attempt to answer questions concerning the overall health of these streams by examining various aspects of the streams such as the ion concentrations, pH levels and pesticide concentration,” Miramontes Flores said, adding that the project is a continuation of previous Senior Study projects that have looked at the water quality of the streams in the Maryville College Woods using various analytical methods.

“This project will also focus on common household pesticide concentrations throughout the streams in the College Woods and how they could be negatively affecting the overall health of those streams,” he said. “The scholarship will allow me to devote more time to develop better analytical methods and produce better results for the questions we are trying to answer.

As the sole student researcher, Miramontes Flores, under the supervision of MC Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Nathan Duncan, will collect weekly water samples from the streams over the course of a year.

His project has three goals: the continuation of the collection of water samples from streams in the College Woods to analyze them to allow for health determination (and comparing the data to that collected through previous projects concerning the health of the streams); developing extraction and identification methods for potential pesticide concentrations from water samples taken from streams in the College Woods; and analyzing the collected water samples for household pesticide concentrations after he develops a viable method for extraction and identification.

“The overall Maryville College Woods stream health determination will be based on data collected from basic water analysis of ions and pH, and pesticide concentrations-based water analysis,” Miramontes Flores said. “We are also hopeful that we will be able to identify which are the major pesticides present in the streams, and we can look at their particular water degradation and the effects their byproducts might have on the ecosystem of the College Woods.” 

Ward to study sTLT-1 protein

Alyssa Ward, a senior chemistry and biology double major from Riceville, Tenn., received a $1,000 Ledford Scholarship to continue research on a protein called sTLT-1 conducted by Maryville College students.

TLT-1 is a protein that is produced by platelets. Previous research by MC students and 2017 Ledford Scholars Morgan Gast ’19 and Victoria Deal ’19 resulted in a breakthrough that involved genetically engineering an antibody that binds to TLT-1. The students conducted the research at the College and in the University of Puerto Rico (UPR)-Río Piedras laboratory of Dr. A. Valance Washington, which studies platelets.

“The coagulation of blood is a cascade of interwoven biochemical events,” Ward wrote in her project narrative. “An emerging interest of one piece of this hemostatic pathway has focused in on a protein known as ‘Triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells–like transcript-1,’ also known as TLT-1, which is expressed by megakaryocytes and platelets and released into blood as a soluble form (sTLT-1) following platelet activation. Researchers at UPR-Río Piedras have provided evidence that TLT-1 plays a regulatory role in thrombosis and that increased levels of this protein in blood may be an indicator of poor prognosis in certain disease states, such as sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Further research has suggested TLT-1 acts to regulate cells within the innate immune system and inflammatory responses to injuries.

“As research continues to investigate the function of TLT-1 and sTLT-1 in the coagulation cascade, various binding partners of TLT-1 and specifically sTLT-1 are being identified,” Ward continued, adding that Washington’s lab has shown that sTLT-1 binds to fibrinogen – a binding interaction that has been confirmed by research conducted by Maryville College students Boomer Russell ’18 and Lauren Biliter ’18.

Ward’s research will focus on quantifying binding interactions, thermodynamic constants and kinetic binding constants for various coagulant proteins, in complex with TLT-1.

Most of the research, which will contribute to Ward’s Senior Study, will be conducted in a laboratory at Maryville College, under the supervision of Natural Sciences Division Chair and Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Angelia Gibson and Cornerstone Analytical Laboratories President Dr. Mike Goodrich. The Ledford scholarship will aid in the purchase of experiment materials and supplies, such as the coagulant proteins to be investigated. Gibson and Ward also hope the scholarship will allow for the opportunity to conduct research at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, by aiding in instrument user fees cost.

“The project will lead to the development of several biochemical and molecular biology laboratory techniques,” Ward said. “The skill sets that will be established during this undergraduate research opportunity are invaluable in this field of study, and in any future research and laboratory work opportunities.”

Moats to study cancer immunotherapy

Katelyn Moats, a junior biochemistry major from Maryville, Tenn., was awarded a $5,800 Ledford Scholarship to study cancer immunotherapy, a field that involves using the body’s natural immune system to fight cancer.

She will spend the summer conducting research at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in a drug synthesis lab that focuses on treatment of multiple myeloma cancer by immunotherapeutic methodologies, under the guidance of Ph.D. student and MC alumna Ravyn Thompson ’15, who was a Ledford Scholar in 2014. Moats is continuing work MC student Cara Coleman ’18 conducted in the lab as a 2017 Ledford Scholar last summer.

As a summer student in the Charleston, S.C., lab of Dr. Nathan Dolloff, Moats will study the interaction between multiple myeloma cells and regulatory T-cells (Tregs) to determine whether one’s presence alters the state of the other.

Multiple myeloma is a “hematological malignancy characterized by abnormal plasma cell growth that inhibits healthy blood cell production,” Moats wrote in her project proposal, adding that a multiple myeloma prognosis is grim, and therapeutics are primarily aimed at relieving symptoms.

“However, researchers in the immunotherapy realm are evaluating the way in which an individual’s immune system can be manipulated to fight the disease itself,” Moats wrote. “Effector T-cells are capable of combating cancer cell growth within the body, but regulatory T-cells limit their effector function, causing them to be a primary focus in the immunotherapy field. Studies are ongoing at MUSC to design a therapeutic that will inhibit regulatory T-cell function and thus enable effector T-cell anti-tumor cytotoxicity.”

During her time in the MUSC lab this summer, Moats, who plans to attend medical school after graduating from Maryville College, said she hopes to aid in answering the question of whether it is possible to inhibit cancer cell growth by inhibiting regulatory T-cells.

“I also hope that my research will aid the project’s progress in synthesizing a drug to inhibit regulatory T-cell function and in turn help individuals in need, which is what I ultimately hope to accomplish in my lifetime,” Moats said.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.