LSU Students Conducting Research at CAMD to Improve Medicine

12/4/2019
BATON ROUGE - Inside LSU’s Center for Advanced Microstructures and Devices, or CAMD, beamline manager Nathaniel Gilbert is researching inflammation in cells.

“Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells or irritants. Inflammation that is left unchecked, contributes to many disease states,” Gilbert said. “Our research is on understanding inflammation and the macromolecules that initiate inflammation.”

CAMD is a synchrotron radiation research center and the only state-funded synchrotron facility in the United States.

“With the synchrotron, we take electrons and accelerate them near the speed of light, and we turn them with very powerful magnets. When they turn, they release X-rays,” Gilbert said. “And we use those X-rays for all types of research here.”

Their research has revealed a structure of the key macromolecule involved with inflammation.

“What we have found is that structure that initiates the synthesis of the inflammatory molecules called leukotrienes,” said Gilbert.”

Further study may lead to medicines to help those dealing with diseases that start with inflammation.

“The most popular anti-leukotriene therapy is Singular with over 25 million prescriptions filled each year,” Gilbert said. “Inflammatory molecules are found in asthma and allergies, but also heart disease, stroke, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. So, there are a lot of newer avenues to explore … to have a better understanding of different ways to inhibit these molecules, which might have the ability to even stop its production using drugs.”

Gilbert said one of the key missions of the lab is to discover how one mechanism of inflammation occurs. With this information revealed by X-ray structures, researchers can design small molecules to turn off these inflammatory pathways.

“Macromolecules are very tiny nanomachines inside of cells. These guys are about 1,000 times smaller than a grain of sand. If you think about it on that scale, they’re really small. So, we have to use X-rays, which are on a similar wavelength as the macromolecules, in order to solve structures of proteins. That is why the CAMD facility is crucial to our research. CAMD generates the X-rays,” Gilbert said.

LSU students are also participating in the research.

“Our research here at LSU is amazing because I currently work with five undergraduate students who help me do my research. I’m training your future scientists, your future physicians, your future teachers, on how to do basic research. And they’re contributing to helping solve a multi-decade problem,” Gilbert said. “To have the ability for students to participate and to know that this particular process of inflammation is very important to all families, it’s important in that most people will end up getting heart disease, cancer or a neurodegenerative disease later in life. Our work can help some of those diseases.”

Eden Gallegos, a biochemistry major from Vidalia, Louisiana, is one of the undergraduate students working with Gilbert.

“It’s my favorite thing about coming to school every day,” Gallegos said. “I want to be a physician. I’m really maximizing the time I get to spend at the lab because not only has it been a really unique experience, but it’s preparing me to be a better physician because I am able to critically think better, to understand how drugs are researched and what research is like where medicine comes from.”

Gilbert said he shares CAMD and its research with groups from around the state.

“We often have high school students, even other medical professionals and medical residents come out, and learn a little bit more about how basic research is done,” Gilbert said.

Gallegos’ interest in medicine started with her grandmother.
 
“When I was in middle school, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” Gallegos said. “It really made me think of how amazing it would be to use my love of science for the betterment of other families.”

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Contact Rachel Holland
LSU Media Relations
225-578-3869
rachelsp@lsu.edu