Dr. Laatsch is engaged in research in two areas. First, in the field of clinical bacteriology, she has explored the prevalence of bacteria in the oral cavity and in dental infections. Dr. Laatsch has also collaborated with physical therapy faculty members researching the effects of antiseptic agents on common wound bacterial pathogens. Dr. Laatsch's second research interest is that of education methodologies in clinical laboratory science education. She has recently studied the effects of cooperative learning on teamwork attitudes and achievement of CLS students. Collectively, this research enables Dr. Laatsch to contribute to the scientific foundation of clinical laboratory science while exploring innovative ways to communicate this science to students.
Dr. Harkins' research is in polarized cell growth. PCG is the directional growth a cell uses in order to perform a specialized function or to physically move to a different and specific location. PCG is an essential function of most eukaryotic cells and is a major function of cells involved in processes, such as developing embryonic cells, growing neural cells and spreading tumor cells. We study this process using the yeast cell, the simple eukaryotic model of research. Our interest is mainly with lipid signaling, mediated by the enzyme phospholipase D1 (PLD1), leading to PCG.
The pheromone response in non-pathogenic yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe, provide models of research in which the cells change shape in response to small peptide pheromones. Using these models allows for mutational analysis and interaction studies to better understand the roles of the proteins and lipids involved in PCG. Candida albicans, the pathogenic yeast, is able to switch from yeast cell to hyphal cell, which requires the process of PCG. More importantly, C. albicans relies on this dimorphic switch in order to invade tissue and cause disease. Exploiting the role of the lipids and the interactions with signaling proteins will allows the analysis of virulence factors during hyphal transition and the potential therapeutic targets.
Dr. April Harkins also has collaborative research projects with faculty in the Physical Therapy Department and Exercise Science Program. Dr. Harkins oversees the bench science assays with the research involving gender differences in aging and bone density in multiple sclerosis.
Analyzing cellular elements in saliva is currently one of the projects in Dr. Hou’s laboratory. While most scientists in saliva research look at cell-free supernatant, his focus is on cells in order to study the oral mucosal immunity. His hypothesis is that there are immune cells in the oral cavity and those cells could come from local lymphoid tissues and migrate from the circulation. Using saliva as a model, Dr. Hou would like to study the potential impact of stress on immune cells in saliva.
Although it is very convenient to collect saliva samples from subjects, there are multiple variables affecting the sample itself, e.g., time of the day, duration after the most recent meal/drinks, and method of collection. Dr. Hou has compared several collection protocols to establish optimized and standardized protocols for future projects. The presence of CD45 positive leukocytes in saliva from normal subjects, collected byvarious methods, provides a foundation for further investigation. Dr. Hou plans to continue phenotyping these leukocytes with other CD markers. In addition, subcellular microparticles from these leukocytes may also provide critical information in the oral cavity. Once the protocols are available in the lab, we will be able to test other hypotheses related to dynamics and functions of these immune cells in the oral mucosal environment. In the near future, we may contribute our knowledge to the development of saliva diagnostics. Other projects in my laboratory include the development of high content cellular analysis to look at these immune cells, an efficient separation / identification methodology for cellular elements in saliva, and software-assisted cluster identification to analyze flow cytometry data.
Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) students have numerous opportunities to participate in research projects. Some choose to take CLLS 4995 (Independent Study course) which enables them to work with a CLS faculty member in his/her research laboratory. Others participate in the College of Health Sciences Summer Research program. Still others choose to do a research study for their senior project – they either do research in a CLS faculty member’s laboratory or at the student’s clinical site.
CLS seniors have been quite successful with their research. In July, 2010, Phyu Thwe won a national award for her research, Analysis of PLD1 Activity and Biofilm Formation of Candida albicans in Respiratory Samples. She and 3 other CLS seniors won state awards for their research.