Biology student honored for Covid-19 research

Applying real-time research to real-life events

As the Coronavirus pandemic set in last spring, many of us were struck with the feeling, ‘I need to do something.’ Davenport University biology senior Amber Park did more than ‘something’, she moved into gear, taking the research she was currently doing with Pseudomonas aeruginosa and antibiotic resistance and applied it to the new virus.

In November 2020, Amber’s work with Dr. Laura Harris, a professor in Davenport’s biology department, was one of five studies honored at the 3rd Annual Conference on Quantitative Approaches in Biology – a prestigious industry event held yearly at Northwestern University.

The study, co-authored by Amber and Dr. Harris, is titled “Gene Expression Meta-Analysis Identifies Molecular Changes Associated with SARS-CoV Infection in Lungs” and explores how human cells change in response to infection with different strains of COVID.

Only five presentations were chosen for honors. The other four finalists were from Brown University, Harvard University, Tulane University and Georgia Tech.

How it all began

Amber came to Michigan from Houston, Texas, four years ago to explore Davenport University’s new biology program and play lacrosse. She was drawn to Davenport because of its hands-on laboratory work and pre-med offerings. In her freshman year, through one of her peers, she met Professor Laura Harris. Dr. Harris, known for her interdisciplinary research groups and work mentoring students, accepted Amber to her team.

The rest, as they say, is history. Amber has spent the last four years researching Pseudomonas aeruginosa and analyzing different data sets established within databases. When COVID-19 hit, she was able to apply this research in a ‘real-time, real-life’ situation.

Where things go from here

Dr. Harris is currently working to publish their joint paper with other journals, allowing pharmaceutical companies to learn from their study and utilize the information already available to further their research as they develop new medications to fight the virus.

Amber spent the winter holidays at home in Houston, working at an area hospital with COVID patients where she said they were at capacity.

For spring semester, Amber plans to continue her work, exploring other data sets to see how things progress.

She is on track to graduate in Winter 2021, then will be applying to medical schools, hoping to ultimately specialize in orthopedics or emergency medicine. She plans to keep sports an active part of her life and continue to do research in medical school and beyond.

For now, she’s hopeful there will be a lacrosse season this spring. As individuals and institutions everywhere do their part to fight the virus to return a sense of ‘normalcy’ to our lives, she can be confident she’s done – and is doing – her part to make that happen.

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