Sciences: Bioanalytical Chemistry and Immunology

Department: Department of Chemistry

Supervising Faculty Member: Rebecca Pompano

Specialization: Bioanalytical Chemistry and Immunology

Research Focus: Our body’s immune system is very complex.  Many different types of cells must work together in unison to produce the immune responses that protect us from harmful bacteria, viruses, and other diseases.  If they are in the wrong place or miscommunicate, the consequences can be severe, causing inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or cancer.  Our lab is interested in how cells of the immune system are arranged, and how they communicate with each other, especially during inflammatory disease. 

To study this topic, we invent new tools that allow us to measure communication between immune cells in new ways.  For example, we create tools called microfluidic devices to stimulate immune tissue. A microfluidic device is similar to an electrical microchip, but instead of delivering electricity it delivers small volumes of fluid.  By delivering solutions locally to the tissue, we can mimic natural cell-cell communication and measure the response as it occurs.  We also invent new chemical methods to detect how cells talk to each other -- what proteins they release, and where, and when. We hope that the tools we create will eventually lead to the development of targeted therapeutic drugs to help our immune systems act more efficiently.

Position Description: Students will assist with an active research project, taking a piece of it as their own.  They will collect and culture tissue samples, conduct experiments, and analyze data.  Interested students may have the opportunity to fabricate microfluidic devices as well.  Students will also read and summarize literature related to chemical analysis of the immune system, and will actively participate in weekly Pompano Lab group meetings.  We expect a commitment of 10 lab hours per week, including a 1-hr group meeting (usually Friday mornings, unless it conflicts unavoidably with a required class).

Required skills: Students interested in working in our lab should have completed introductory courses in Chemistry and Biology, each with Lab (or have AP/IB credit for these). Students should be excited to learn new skills and be comfortable with taking on projects or tasks that require some self-guided learning. Students should be curious, not afraid to ask questions and solve problems, and be able to work as part of a lab community. Students must be prepared to manage their time so that they can actively pursue their research goals during the semester.

Computer software:

Training/certification: Students will be trained once they join the lab on lab safety, how to work with laboratory animals, how to collect tissue samples, and all chemical and biochemical techniques that they will need.

What you will learn: The techniques that a student could learn in our lab span several areas of science, depending on the project and student interests, including:

  • Chemistry:  Analytical chemistry techniques like fluorescent microscopy and UV-Vis adsorption
  • Biochemistry: Biochemical assays to detect proteins in solution (enzyme linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) and gel electrophoresis)
  • Biology:  Working in a sterile environment, collection of tissue from donor animals, and how to culture and count cells.
  • Engineering:  Working in a “clean room” to fabricate microchips.
  • Computer modelling:  Using computer simulations and simple computer programming to better understand chemistry and biochemistry.

Web site link to research: www.pompanolab.com