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Undergraduates gain experience through research projects

As one of the top research universities in the world, Michigan State University pushes the boundaries of discovery to solve pressing global challenges through research—from impacting malaria patient outcomes to studying causes of lupus.

For two juniors in MSU’s Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics (BLD) Program—Racheal Nassimbwa and Shamya Harris—undergraduate research brought an opportunity to travel and present research projects to fellow undergraduates from around the country.

Racheal Nassimbwa researches Malaria in Malawi
During her time in Malawi, Racheal Nassimbwa worked to develop a quantitative assay that would enable better prognosis and patient outcomes among malaria communities there.
Photo courtesy of Rachael Nassimbwa

Nassimbwa spent last summer in Malawi, working in a research laboratory studying malaria.

“I worked on a project to develop a quantitative assay for determining parasite load among malaria patients, to enable better prognosis and patient outcomes, as well as reduce cases that progress to cerebral malaria,” Nassimbwa said. “This research will improve patient care among malaria communities.”

After returning to Michigan State, Nassimbwa applied to present a poster on her research to Harvard. She was subsequently selected to present at the 2020 National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard University.

“It was an interesting experience to interact with fellow undergraduates involved in research at their respective universities,” Nassimbwa said. “This motivated me to continue pursuing my interests in the science field. It enlarged my network and I met prominent scientists such as Dr. George Church and Dr. Jeremy Berg, among many others.”

Shamya Harris, BLD, presents her research on lupus.
Shamya Harris’ lupus research gained her funding from MSU and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students to attend and present her findings at the ABRCS annual conference last November in Los Angles, California.
Photo courtesy of Shamya Harris

Harris’s undergraduate research focuses on lupus.

“Lupus is a devastating systemic autoimmune disease that preferentially affects young black women, who are reported to have a higher fatality rate than their white counterparts,” Harris said. “We have demonstrated that intranasal instillation of lupus-prone NZBWF1 mice with crystalline silica accelerates systemic autoimmunity and glomerulonephritis. Notably, these effects were prevented when mouse diets were supplemented with DHA, an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid found in fish oil supplements.”

Harris received funding from MSU and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) to attend and present at this year's conference in Anaheim, Calif.

“The experience was great! I had a chance to present my poster and make lifelong friends with underrepresented students like me who participate in research all over the country. I was also able to interact with many scientists and get advice on how I could make my journey to medicine the best possible.”

Both Nassimbwa and Harris understand the value of participating in undergraduate research.

“During my time in Malawi, I learned a lot about conducting research and how relevant it is to participate in cutting-edge research to acquire solutions for various medical challenges. This research is important because it will greatly influence better patient care among malaria communities,” Nassimbwa said.

“This research is important because it is beneficial to people fighting against lupus, who can use this learned knowledge and apply it to themselves or loved ones, improving their health and understanding the importance of preventing themselves from diseases like this,” Harris added. “I have also learned the importance of journal club meetings and participating in research conferences, which are key aspects of gaining knowledge on scientific research. This research has enhanced my curiosity and I am driven to ask more questions than ever before.”

Both students continue to participate in undergraduate research. Harris remains active in researching lupus, while Nassimbwa, staying true to her interests in infectious diseases, is currently studying HIV.

For more information on additional research, teaching, and outreach activities taking place in MSU's  Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics Program, check out the latest issue of their newsletter.