In a battle against tuberculosis, Central Michigan University researchers are adding to their arsenal with advanced equipment for Chemistry and Biochemistry Department labs and, through serendipity, working with a highly respected alum known worldwide.
Because the TB bacterium's protective shell is made of many important proteins, one effort in the lab of faculty member Ben Swarts is to develop new methods to identify those proteins in order to create drugs and vaccines to target them.
In the past, Swarts' team could take its research only so far and then had to send its samples to Michigan State University's mass spectrometry facility to identify and characterize particular proteins that are important to TB-causing bacteria. But CMU has begun to outfit Swarts' lab with the instrumentation needed to self-analyze the protein samples, a process called proteomics.
"Once we get there, it would be useful not only for my lab but also for biology, the College of Medicine and others," Swarts said.
"It could also be a precursor to us pursuing grant-funded, state-of-the-art proteomics instrumentation in the future."
A workshop and a surprise
To advance that effort, Swarts recently sent two of his doctoral student lab workers — Nicholas Banahene and Kyle Biegas — to a workshop held by well-known worldwide researcher, Josh Coon, head of Coon Laboratories at the University of Wisconsin and an expert on mass spectrometry.
Coon, as Swarts learned, is a 1998 CMU chemistry alum who recalls receiving a "rigorous education in science and chemistry" and being challenged by "outstanding faculty who take time to interact with their students."
Banahene is now directly collaborating on his research project with Coon's lab, where they will use the most highly advanced instruments and techniques to take their work to the next level.
Swarts sees the connection of his lab's need for proteomics instrumentation and the opportunity for his student to work with an accomplished alum as serendipity.
"Because of the workshop," Swarts said, "we now are collaborating with a superstar in the field."
Coon emphasized that there continues to be many exciting opportunities available to students seeking a career in science: doing research, becoming an entrepreneur or a manager in industry.
"When you have a career in science, you have opportunities to travel, meet lots of interesting people and think creatively. It's an invigorating environment with a great need for researchers."