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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.”
King University is a Presbyterian, doctoral-level comprehensive university. Founded in 1867 as King
College, the University offers more than 90 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees
and concentrations in fields such as business, nursing, law, medical and health sciences,
pharmacy, education, and humanities. Graduate programs are offered in business administration,
education, and nursing. A number of research, off-campus learning opportunities, and
travel destinations are also available. King University is a NCAA Division II and
a Conference Carolinas member with 25 varsity sports. For more information about King
University, visit www.king.edu. King University does not discriminate against academically qualified students of
any race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, or disability. King University
is certified by SCHEV to operate locations in Virginia. For more information, contact
the King University office at Southwest Virginia Community College, 309 College Road,
Richlands, VA 24641.