While most students from the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine take advantage of their summer break to vacation and visit family, many students and faculty have been hard at work in the Biomedical Research Laboratory Suite.

Lance Bridges, PhD, chair of biochemistry, molecular & cell sciences at ARCOM, is actively working on two distinct research projects. The first project explores how enzymes are properly regulated. Enzymes speed up the rate of biological processes, and properly regulating enzyme activity is crucial for viability and health. Specifically, disruption of enzymes, known as ADAMs, culminate in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

“This project investigates an unexplored way to regulate ADAM function that will provide new avenues for therapeutic development in diseases associated with aberrant enzyme activity,” explained Bridges. Brandy Ree, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry, cellular & molecular sciences, is also part of the research project. This project is currently funded through 2021 by the National Institutes of Health. The NIH grant is a $325,000 research grant that included the hiring of a full-time lab technician, Andrea Munsell.

Bridges’ second project aims to determine how vitamin A derivatives can serve as treatments for lymphoma. Despite being used for over three decades in the clinic for combating cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, the molecular mechanism of the vitamin A therapies are largely unknown.

“We are aiming to delineate the response to better optimize the therapy by maximizing effect and minimizing side effects,” said Bridges. Collaborating on the project is Abby Geis, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology & immunology.

In addition to ARCOM medical students working in the lab, an undergraduate student from Hendrix College, a student from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and a Southside High School junior are also participating in the research.

Rance McClain, DO, dean of ARCOM, explained, “We view the education of physicians as a longitudinal process that begins very early in their education. That is why ARCOM is actively seeking ways to partner with Arkansas school systems and expose students to these types of activities through all phases of their education. We want grade school students to interact with our medical students through fun and interactive learning sessions that expose them to medicine. Middle and high school students with an interest in science should have the opportunity to grow those interests with exposure to medical education and activities that are part of the health education environment.”

“Finally, partnering with universities gives those students a solid grasp of what their education could be like if they chose to attend medical school here or enter one of our future planned health profession programs at the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education. Finally, this gives our ARCOM medical students an opportunity to be involved in research, which is becoming essential to match into the best residency programs in the state, region and around the country,” continued Dr. McClain.

Matthew White, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry, cellular, & molecular sciences, along with the help of two second year medical students, is exploring new targets to treat multiple myeloma.

“Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells, which are cells in the body that make infection-fighting proteins called antibodies,” stated White. “We are focused on improving the efficacy of a class of anti-cancer drugs known as proteasome inhibitors. These drugs effectively clog the protein disposals inside of the myeloma cells, making them susceptible to cell death. Proteasome inhibitors are important, front-line therapy in the treatment of multiple myeloma, but unfortunately not every patient responds.”

Previous research completed by White at MD Anderson Cancer Center discovered that a specific protein called heme-regulated inhibitor kinase may promote resistance to these drugs in cancer cells. At ARCOM, White’s summer research group is evaluating a novel HRI inhibitor as a way to combat resistance to proteasome inhibitors in multiple myeloma.

Zachary Throckmorton, PhD, associate professor, and two of his students are working in the anatomy facilities to measure ankle anatomical variation and function using ultrasonography. In the research suite, Throckmorton and his team use a 3D printer to make computer models to demonstrate how the extinct South African human relative, Homa naledi, was able to walk.

“All of these research activities for our faculty and students would not have been possible to conduct without access to a world-class research facility, such as which was designed, built and equipped especially for this purpose by financial support from ACHE and the Degen Foundation” says Ross Longley, PhD, associate dean of preclinical medicine and research. “This Biomedical Research Facility is approximately 3,500 square feet, consisting of a main laboratory surrounded by ancillary laboratories, which enable ARCOM faculty and students to conduct such activities as growing various types of cancer and normal cells for study, an imaging laboratory with specialized microscopes for examination of biological materials, 3D printing, and a laboratory for analyses and separation of trace levels of biological chemicals using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry.

“As a result of increasing numbers of faculty and students who wish to conduct research, the present research facility is due to be expanded by adding an additional 3,000 square-feet of laboratory space if additional financial support can be found. Our goal is to continue to support and provide opportunities for faculty and students to conduct top-level, ground-breaking research in the biomedical sciences,” Longley said.