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NDSU Senior Works With Researchers to Find Answers to Asthma

Fargo, N.D. – As NDSU senior TJ Peterson learns about interactions between the outside world and the lung, he’s hopeful his efforts will someday contribute to a breakthrough that will help the estimated 18.9 million Americans who suffer from asthma.

Peterson is a summer undergraduate researcher in veterinary and microbiological sciences labs of Glenn Dorsam, associate professor, and Jane Schuh, associate professor and assistant dean for academic programs in the College of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Natural Resources.

Specifically, the work relates to allergic asthma and agricultural pulmonary exposure to grain dust, chemicals and toxins. The researchers induce asthma in mice to understand the “big picture” of what happens to the animals’ lungs after exposure to the particulates. The project is funded through the National Institutes of Health.

“As the lung restructures itself, it gets harder and narrower,” Peterson explained. “Inside an enclosure, we circulate spores, mimicking human exposure to mold or grain dust. It’s a daunting task, because we have hundreds of proteins and interactions. Is it one thing that changed or a whole cascade of events that happens?”

Participating in the research alongside respected faculty is, for Peterson, another plus for choosing NDSU for an education. “To conduct research as an undergraduate is a huge thing,” he said. “I’d say the two months I’ve spent in this lab is the equivalent to three years in the classroom. It’s much more fast-paced and a lot more intricate. It’s really opened my eyes.”

Peterson, who is from Brooklyn Park, Minn., is a member of the Minnesota National Guard and the Cadet Battalion Commander for the NDSU ROTC Bison Battalion. His career goal is to be a medical doctor in the U.S. Army, leaning toward a specialty in emergency medicine.

“Because I want to be a doctor, I like to see how our research applies to humans. Whenever we are discussing the project and we’re talking about the various proteins we work with, I try to translate that to the human body. It’s interesting to see how similar, and also dissimilar, mouse physiology is to humans.”

Schuh suggests the hands-on research is a great way for undergraduate students to contribute and learn. “Being at a research university provides fantastic opportunities for our undergraduates,” she said.

As the work continued, Peterson gained an understanding of why it often takes years of dedicated research to find answers. “It’s a process; you’re wrong more times than you’re right. You have to be perseverant and try new things,” he said. “We’re not playing with laboratory toys here. Contributing to this work gives me a sense of purpose.”

He continued, “I love this opportunity – I’ve learned a ton. Dr. Schuh and Dr. Dorsam have taken many hours out of their day to train and teach me. They are so patient with all of my questions.”

The interesting, complex research may also impact Peterson’s future career choices. If he is stationed at a research hospital, his focus may change. “If I have that chance, I can definitely use what I learned in this lab during a possible career in research,” Peterson said.

Peterson’s undergraduate training is funded through a research program supported by the National Institutes of Health under award number 1R15HL117254.

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