News

Doctoral Student Wins Best Presentation at Annual AIChE Meeting

By: 

Natalie Thayer
Megan Ketchum

Doctoral student Megan Ketchum received the Best Presentation Award of the “Chemical Engineers in Medicine” session at the 2015 American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting held in Salt Lake City, UT last November.

The AIChE Annual Meeting is the premier educational forum for chemical engineers interested in innovation and professional growth. Academic and industry experts convene to cover a wide range of topics relevant to cutting-edge research, new technologies and emerging growth areas in chemical engineering.

During the meeting’s “Chemical Engineers in Medicine” session, Ketchum presented her paper titled “High-Throughput Biomimetic Assay Designed to Quantify Antimalarial Efficacy.” The session focused on diagnostics, treatments and theranostics and drew leading pharmaceutical industry and academic experts to its audience.

Malaria is a parasite that attacks a host’s red blood cells and can lead to fever, nausea, coma and even death. When a human host in infected, the host’s hemoglobin breaks down into several highly unstable heme molecules, which in turn oxidize to hematin. Hematin is naturally toxic to the parasite; however, the parasite responds by sequestering the hematin into crystals, rendering the hematin benign. Current antimalarial drugs work by inhibiting hematin crystallization, so that the parasite is unable to survive and is thus eradicated from the body.

At the Cullen College, Ketchum worked with faculty advisors Peter Vekilov and Jeffrey Rimer and fellow chemical and biomolecular doctoral student Katy Olafson to study the environment for this crystallization process.

When a person is infected with malaria, the parasite invades red blood cells. Within the digestive vacuole of the parasite are two components, one aqueous and one lipid. Ketchum and Olafson studied the solubility of hematin in both of these environments, ultimately determining that the lipid environment is better suited for crystallization. While there is a high volume of published research exploring crystallization in the aqueous environment, there is relatively little research done in lipid-like environments.

Though current antimalarial drugs are effective, the parasite is becoming resistant to these drugs and it’s taking longer for the parasite to leave the human body in many new cases. Because of this, Ketchum said, there is a dire need to create new drugs.

“This is really the driving force behind what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re creating a platform for designing new drugs.”

Ketchum is on track to graduate in December of 2016. Until then, she said she plans to continue her research in Rimer’s lab, expanding her focus to cholesterol crystallization in gallstones and arteries.

Ketchum said she was drawn to chemical and biomolecular engineering because she always liked the idea of helping people.

“I often wonder about ways I can help make things better, especially ways to improve treatment options and patients’ lives,” she said.

Faculty: 

Department/Academic Programs: 

Related News Stories

Breaking Molecular Traffic Jams with Finned Nanoporous Materials

3D finned zeolite catalysts enhance molecule access to the interior of the particle (graphic created by J.C. Palmer).

Thousands of chemical processes used by the energy industry and for other applications rely on the high speed of catalytic reactions, but molecules frequently are hindered by molecular traffic jams that slow them down. Now an entirely new class of porous catalysts has been invented, using unique fins to speed up the chemistry by allowing molecules to skip the lines that limit the reaction. 

College honors 17 with yearly Faculty and Student Excellence Awards

Dr. David Shattuck of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Dr. Joseph W. Tedesco, Elizabeth D. Rockwell Dean of the UH Cullen College of Engineering, announced that 17 students and faculty members had been selected as recipients in the 2019-2020 Faculty and Student Excellence Awards, which recognize teaching and research achievements.

Showing Promise: UH Researchers Explore Care Options for COVID-19

UH engineering professor Navin Varadarajan (L) and pharmaceutics professor Xinli Liu (R) are collaborating on development and testing of a COVID-19 inhalation vaccine.

Not since the middle of the 20th century, amid the polio epidemic, have vaccines or drug treatment been so widely anticipated as those for COVID-19. In 1955 when the polio vaccine was licensed, the health outlook for millions of children improved and normal life resumed. Still, not all pandemics have found such resolution.

Upcoming Events / Seminars