We really expect our students to do their own data analysis. One of our secret weapons at Bucknell is how fearless and creative our students are with research.

Research performed by Bucknell students could lead to better disease prevention in patients who might not present outward symptoms. In a joint project between Professor David Rovnyak, chemistry, and professionals at Geisinger Health System in Danville, students use sophisticated equipment to analyze real human samples to help determine what is happening inside the body at different stages of disease.

"We are comparing patients who are thin and healthy, patients who are obese and non-diabetic, and patients who are obese and diabetic. By doing a model study with real patients and finding results that confirm recent findings published in medical literature, we have proven that we have this research capability at Bucknell," Rovnyak says.

Students perform chemical extractions of metabolites from human serum, then use Bucknell's powerful NMR instrument, which Rovnyak and other faculty purchased with a National Science Foundation grant, to identify more than 40 metabolites in the serum. The results are correlated to the disease state of the serum donor. "The other area where this research could help is with personalized medicine, where a patient's metabolite condition may reflect whether they are a good candidate for certain treatments," he says.

The project is one of several Rovnyak is leading with students, who are also conducting research in collaboration with Professor Tim Strein. "We are looking at a class of compounds called bile micelles, which are molecules present in the liver. They have a major digestive role, transporting fats and lipids through the body. We are trying to understand how these bile molecules stick to each other," Rovnyak says. The research could help explain the fundamental biochemistry of bile micelles as well as how they interact with certain drugs.

"We really expect our students to do their own data analysis," he says. "One of our secret weapons at Bucknell is how fearless and creative our students are with research. All of it is student driven. Their ownership over these projects is one of the most rewarding aspects of doing this work, and it really shows how our students sink their teeth into these tough problems."

Posted Sept. 23, 2015

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