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King University News :: King Senior Royce Nichols Spends Summer Conducting Research at LSU—Shreveport’s Toxicology, Pharmacology, & Neuroscience Dept.

BRISTOL, Tenn. August 15, 2014 – When Royce Nichols chose King University for his undergraduate studies, he loved the idea of the small-knit community King offers. However, the opportunity to conduct scientific research and receive a strong education in the biological sciences was the determining factor in his selection of King. This summer, Nichols has been interning with Louisiana State University’s (LSU) Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, La., as a member of their SUPER program – Summer Undergraduate Pharmacology Experience in Research.

While attending the Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting this past March with Dr. Vanessa Fitsanakis, associate professor of Biology and the Dr Edward W Burke, Jr, Professor in Natural Sciences, and several King students from her neurotoxicology lab, Nichols met Dr. Kenneth McMartin, an established toxicologist at LSU—Shreveport. The two discussed Nichols’ research interests, major area of study, and research experience. “[Dr. McMartin] told me about the SUPER program and encouraged me to apply. The [Society of Toxicology] meeting was a great place, especially for undergraduates to meet with graduate schools, potential employers, as well as learn about the wide variety of fields a toxicologist can go toward,” said Nichols.

Nichols applied and was accepted for the SUPER program at Shreveport. His mentor for the program was Dr. McMartin, whom he met at the SOT meeting in Arizona. Dr. McMartin’s area of research focuses on the nephrotoxicity (kidney toxicity) of diglycolic acid (DGA), a toxic metabolite of diethylene glycol (DEG), an industrial chemical commonly found in brake fluid and other lubricants, as well as in artificial fog solutions, and some heating or cooking fuels. This wide-spread industrial use has also contributed to several instances where DEG was not completely purified from chemicals intended for human consumption. As a result, there are documented cases where hundreds of people died from DEG exposure. Walt Bogdanich and Jake Hooker detail such exposures in several countries including Panama, China, Nigeria, Haiti, Bangledesh, and India in a New York Times article.

“The hallmark of DEG poisoning is acute renal (kidney) failure, specifically within the parts of the kidney that are responsible for the majority of that organ’s filtering ability,” said Nichols. “However, the specific mechanisms of this toxicity are not understood. My research project focused on the potential decrease in the cell’s ability to produce the energy molecule known as ATP after DGA exposure. To do this, I isolated mitochondria, the part of the cell that produces ATP, and measured the ability of specific regions of the mitochondria to function properly.”

When asked what his favorite aspect of the summer research internship has been, Nichols found it difficult to select only one thing. “I have enjoyed the whole experience. Being able to conduct beneficial research on a toxicant that has produced mass casualties is quite rewarding.”

Nichols added, “King has prepared me well for this internship. Dr. Vanessa Fitsanakis, is a great mentor and has taught me how to conduct research, think critically, and has provided me with a solid background in toxicology.” Dr Fitsanakis added that she is “very proud that Royce was not only able to successfully compete for the internship, but that he represented King University and our program so well while he was in Shreveport.

During the summer of 2013, Nichols worked with Dr. Fitsanakis and two other King students in the Neurotoxicology Lab researching the possible effects of pesticides on mitochondria. The student research is part of a larger grant-funded project through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Nichols, who is a senior at King with a major in Neuroscience and minor in Security and Intelligence Studies, will graduate in Dec. 2014. “Upon graduation, I plan to apply to graduate school and obtain a PhD in a toxicology-related field. Due to my past research in the Neurotoxicology Lab at King, and my current research in the Renal Toxicology Lab, my research interests have broadened. My research interests include neurotoxicology, neuropharmacology, renal toxicology, immunotoxicology, and pharmacology. After graduate school, I would like to work within the Department of Defense in a biological/chemical defense capacity.”

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