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Biology major Katelyn Connell ’04 (Modena, N.Y.) spent the summer working to develop a synthetic version of Vitamin D3 that retains its cancer-fighting properties without a bad side effect.

A participant in Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, Connell worked with William H. Miles, associate professor of chemistry. In EXCEL, students collaborate closely with faculty on research while earning a stipend.

“There is a growing interest in synthesizing these types of compounds because Vitamin D3 has anti-tumor effects and would be very helpful in the treatment of various immune diseases such as AIDS, as well as skin diseases,” explains Connell.

However, the vitamin also plays an important role in calcium homeostasis, which means giving doses of it would cause people to absorb too much calcium, leading to eventually fatal hypercalcemia.

“It’s hoped that compounds nearly identical to Vitamin D3 could have the health benefits but not the calcium absorption effects,” Connell says.

Miles says that the experiments, based on about 10 years of previous work, seemed to successfully convert a relatively easy-to-make compound into something like D3, and right in the nick of time — on the last afternoon Connell was working for him on the summer project.

“We were successful,” says the professor, who qualifies that by saying a few more tests remain to be done to ensure that the three-dimensional form of the compound is pure.

“In this game, you can be drastically wrong, but I’m almost positive that we’re fine,” comments Miles.

Connell says that the experiment proceeded more rapidly than could be hoped, adding, “We did get some unexpected results along the way, but some of them turned out to be beneficial.”

She says that she enjoyed working with Miles and learned a lot about lab techniques and procedures.

“It was great to see how the concepts I learned in class are used in the ‘real world,'” Connell says. “It was exciting to see things fall into place and ultimately work out for us.”

Miles calls Connell “a very academically talented student” who did a great job. The project offered her a glimpse into what it would be like if she chose to become an organic chemist, he says.

“It’s one of the experiences that are a valuable part of Lafayette students’ education,” he adds. “It’s especially fun when it turns out this well.”

Valedictorian of Walkill High School, Connell is treasurer and a rower for Crew Club.

Categorized in: Academic News