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Neuroscience major Betsy Rezner ’07 (Gardnerville, Nev.) is exploring career options in biotechnology by characterizing the bacterial activity of drug-eluting nanocomposites, which are particles that allow the gradual release of drugs over an extended time period.

Working with a team of scholars under the guidance of James Ferri, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Rezner, who is president of Neuroscience Club, is conducting research similar to that of scientists throughout the biotechnology industry. The applications of her research have great potential; the technology could increase the precision of nasal sprays and a variety of oral medications.

“The idea is to find ways to control the release of the drug, rather than take it all in one shot,” Ferri explains. “One way to do that is to encapsulate the drug into a particle so that the drug has to escape from the particle in order to be released.”

For example, if scientists wanted to control the release of an antibiotic from the surface of an orthopedic implant to prevent bacteria from colonizing on the implant’s surface, the implant would need to be uniformly loaded with the drug. To accomplish this, the drug would be encapsulated in a particle, allowing it to be distributed over an extended period of time.

“What Betsy is looking at is characterizing the release rate of the drug using a bacterial cell culture to measure the effectiveness of the release,” Ferri says. “She is filling in the part of the puzzle that tries to quantify the time rate of the release in an in vitro biological system.”

Ferri and Tina Huang, assistant professor of chemistry, received a $210,549 National Science Foundation grant to enhance undergraduate research and teaching capabilities in nanotechnology. He has published his research in American Institute of Chemical Engineers conference and meeting proceedings and scientific journals. He was coauthor of the paper judged third best among those submitted to an American Society for Engineering Education regional meeting in West Point, N.Y.

According to Rezner, scientists can understand nanoparticles’ efficiency during sustained drug release by determining their ability to kill bacteria.

“I think it’s fascinating that we have the technology to make these nanocomposites control how drugs are released and that we have the ability to know, on a nanoscale, how these chemicals can be applied to a real-life situation,” she says.

The work also is intriguing to Rezner on a personal level.

“The project incorporates my interest in bioengineering and my background in biology,” she says. “As a neuroscience major, I have been able to contribute my knowledge of cell culture that I have gained through prior research and apply it to this project. But it’s also opened up another possibility for me in terms of my career by exposing me to the field of engineering. I’ve been very focused on biology, and being able to see this whole other side of things, where you can apply your knowledge to really help people, is very rewarding.”

Rezner, who also is a member of Crew Club, believes independent research provides a comprehensive look at the field.

“Working with actual bacteria, I’m constantly faced with different concerns and issues that arise on a daily basis, and I have to adjust and find a solution to them,” she explains. “That wouldn’t necessarily be the case in class because everything is set up for you in a classroom lab. The independent study gives me a high degree of freedom, in terms of setting my schedule, getting the work done, and designing some of the projects myself.”

The project is giving her skills and knowledge that will be useful in graduate school.

“Having this experience doing research and doing something unique before I go to graduate school really puts me at an advantage over students who don’t have anything like this under their belts,” she says. “You can’t find this type of project at just any school; this is something that’s definitely unique to Lafayette in terms of the collaborative effort and the specifics of nanotechnology.”

Rezner is a graduate of La Jolla High School.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News