MCB Sophomore Danielle Philo Doing SARS-CoV-2 Research
Meet Danielle Philo! Philo is a sophomore at the University of Arizona, a double major in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Microbiology, and is one of our many students doing science research in a lab at the University. Students in the College of Science can choose to do research in a lab, enhancing their education beyond the traditional classroom by participating in hands-on learning through a research experience.
There are several ways a student can pursue a research opportunity. Danielle was accepted in to the Undergraduate Biology and Research Project (UBRP) her freshmen year in the spring of 2020. She was interested in studying pathogens and other viruses and particularly wanted find a spot where she could do COVID-19 research. Unfortunately, by this point in the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, all classes had moved online and in person lab research was extremely limited. There were, however, labs that were still eager to take on undergraduate research students with a focus on research that could be done virtually, working more with data and computations than wet lab processes.
Philo spent quite a bit of time researching the scientists on campus that were doing work she was interested in and found Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya. Philo told me how she learned about Dr. Bhattacharya's research; "I reached out to Dr. Bhattacharya because he had a publication on flaviviruses. I previously worked in the Riehle lab and had a little bit of experience working with mosquitos and discussing West Nile Virus and dengue." She read all of his research she could find and contacted Dr. Bhattacharya to see if he was accepting undergraduate students. She knew his research had to do with immune response, but she didn't know the extent to which he was working with SARS-CoV-2. He accepted her into his lab and she has been working in his lab, through the UBRP program since then!
She began working with the Bhattacharya Lab in May of 2020, just a few months into the global pandemic. She worked from home all summer doing data analysis. "Over the summer of 2020, I analyzed patient blood data to identify the antibody-coding DNA. I would later go on to use these DNA sequences to clone and produce antibodies in our lab."
When the full time summer UBRP program was complete, Danielle continued on part-time in Dr. Bhattacharya's lab through the year round UBRP. She is currently working in person in the lab alongside her mentor, graduate student, Tyler Ripperger, producing monoclonal antibodies and quantifying the binding and neutralizing capabilities against SARS-CoV-2. She has also begun creating non-infectious VLPs for SARS-CoV-2 as well as seasonal coronaviruses. Down the road, she will test if the antibodies present in SARS-CoV-2 infection are also capable of neutralizing seasonal coronaviruses. "I never would have imagined I would be doing research for a global pandemic in college. The COVID-19 pandemic is a historical event. When my future children ask, I will be proud to say I played a role!"
Philo is thrilled with the opportunity to do research as an undergraduate through UBPR. "UBRP has given me an amazing opportunity. Being a first generation student, navigating the web of research can be overwhelming. UBRP provided me with the resources and support necessary to succeed."