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Carthage student brings research to Capitol Hill

  • Jacelyn Peabody '15 has been selected for the Posters on the Hill program in Washington, where she will present research t...
    Jacelyn Peabody '15 has been selected for the Posters on the Hill program in Washington, where she will present research to members of Congress and funding agencies.
    Photo courtesy of Jacelyn Peabody
March 19, 2014

Medical patient-centered lab work conducted last summer has earned Jacelyn Peabody ’15 an audience on Capitol Hill. Not bad for the “baby” of her research team.

That was the nickname affectionately pinned on Jacelyn, as the only sophomore among six students chosen for an internship program for prospective medical scientists at the University of Minnesota. The rest were upperclassmen.

Now a junior, the biology and neuroscience major from Colorado Springs, Colo., has been selected to present her research at the Posters on the Hill event April 28-29 in Washington. Students present their research to members of Congress and their staffs, as well as to representatives from federal funding agencies.

The goal is to inform lawmakers about the value of undergraduate research. Jacelyn was one of only 60 students nationwide to be accepted from among approximately 700 applications.

“I’m excited that I get to be an advocate for scientific research,” she said. “Coming from a young person like me, maybe I can convince them it’s important.”

Her presentation will focus on “The Hunt for Agmatine Receptors on Macrophages,” part of her work in a 10-week research internship under the guidance of Dr. Bryan Williams. He oversees a clinic for cystic fibrosis patients and a related laboratory.

Dr. Williams studies a type of bacteria that leads to chronic lung infections and resists common antibiotics. Pathogens like that cause the majority of deaths among cystic fibrosis patients, and studying the formation of those bacteria could pave the way for a new treatment.

Jacelyn analyzed how a chemical called agmatine interacts with patients’ immune systems. Her experiments were designed to assess what makes the bacteria so difficult to wipe out.

A side project using glowing bacteria to report agmatine levels in lettuce led to a scientific paper, with Jacelyn as its second author. The lab developed those reporter bacteria to test agmatine levels in mouse lungs and patients’ lab samples, but she said the plant study illustrates their broader research potential.

During the Life Science Summer Undergraduate Research Program, Jacelyn also shadowed physicians, attended lectures, and saw patients at the Center for Lung Science and Health. The participants attended a retreat with existing students in the university’s medical scientist training program.

She is the third Carthage student since 2009 chosen to participate in the Posters on the Hill, which is organized by the national Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). The last was Laura Potter ’10, who presented research on beta-blocker drugs used to treat heart disease and glaucoma.

“The College is extremely proud of Jacelyn’s many achievements, including the invitation to CUR’s most prestigious event, Posters on the Hill,” said Carthage Provost Julio Rivera, who is president of the national research council. “This is reflective of the work that our faculty and students are recognized for throughout the College.”

Jacelyn said her research activities at Carthage opened the door to the Minnesota program. Most notably, she said the Phage Hunters freshman course sequence helped her keep up with students farther along in their undergraduate careers.

“I had a lot more research than some of the seniors in that program,” she said. “I wouldn’t have made it without it.”

She will warm up for the Washington event by presenting her findings at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research on April 3-5 in Lexington, Ky. After completing her junior year at Carthage, Jacelyn will move on to a summer internship at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

There, she’ll work on a research project in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. The 10-week program culminates with a presentation at a conference of the Leadership Alliance, a national consortium of leading research and teaching colleges, universities (including all of the Ivy League schools), and private industry.