Health

Research Pair Looks at Inflammation on a Cellular Level

By Colleen Kearney Rich

When biology major Lindsay Smith transferred to Mason from Simmons College in Boston, she had hoped to add more nutrition classes to her schedule. Lucky for her the new Department of Nutrition and Food Studies in the College of Health and Human Services was just beginning to come together. There she found a mentor in Mason researcher Margaret Slavin.

Mason biology student Lindsay Smith reviews some of the data she's collected with her mentor Margaret Slavin. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

Mason biology student Lindsay Smith reviews some of the data she’s collected with her mentor Margaret Slavin. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

In the past year, Smith, under Slavin’s guidance, has been working on her research project, The Anti-inflammatory Effects of Uncaria Tomentosa (Cat’s Claw) on Osteoarthritis. Smith spent two semesters as part of Mason’s Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Since then she has continued her work in Slavin’s lab at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study on the Fairfax Campus.

In the fall semester, she was working on creating extracts from the Cat’s Claw plant. “There was a lot of background research just to get to this point,” says Smith.

This spring, the pair plans to grow chondrocytes, or cartilage cells as they are also called, and then test the effects of the extract on the cells.

In her research, Mason biology is looking at the effects the herbal extract Cat's Claw has on cells. Professor Margaret Slavin of the College of Health and Human Services has been supervising the research. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

In her research, Mason biology major Lindsay Smith  is looking at the effect the herbal extract Cat’s Claw has on cells. Professor Margaret Slavin of the College of Health and Human Services has been supervising the research. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

“We were told the chondrocytes can be kind of finicky and are hard to grow in a lab setting,” says Smith.

“That’s when we decided to look for outside help,” says Slavin. “We wanted to [grow the cells] properly and successfully.”

Slavin reached out to colleagues in the School of Systems Biology and found a doctoral student who had done similar work and suggested a protocol for the lab work.

For Slavin, this new endeavor is taking her research in a new and much desired direction. “For a long time, I was involved in analysis and the food chemistry side of this work, but I have a real interest in the life sciences and how these compounds affect a cell and work in a body.”

Slavin has done work with soy and dietary supplements and is looking at supplements and their effects on the mechanisms associated with migraines.

Smith is passionate about the work and plans to do graduate work in nutrition and food science. Smith also wants to finish writing an article about the work before she graduates in May. “It has been such a good experience, and this is the kind of work I want to do. I will continue with this research as long as [Slavin] lets me.”

“I am really fortunate to have someone as capable and enthusiastic as Lindsay working with me,” says Slavin.

To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.

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