An EPIC Proposal


Gabrielle Morgan

Gabrielle Morgan, Contributing Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—The unknown is a horrifying, but somehow intriguing place.

For Kara Conway, assistant professor of biology at Jacksonville University, and her research team the unknown is where they are headed.

The team is conducting a study on the Dual Specificity Tyrosine-Regulated kinase 1A gene or DYRK1A.

“My team and I want to determine if DYRK1A plays a role in one or multiple B cell functions,” said Conway. “B cells are our cells which produce antibodies to label and destroy foreign invaders. We will be focusing on the role DYRK1A has on B cell proliferation, activation, cell survival, and antibody secretion.”

B and T cells are essential immune cell populations involved in specific adaptive immune responses to foreign invaders. In 2015, the Journal of Experimental Medicine published an article detailing how DYRK1A can restrain and promote the rapid growth of cells. Researchers also demonstrated that DYRK1A played a role in T and B cell development.

While immune cell development is important, Conway and her team are more intrigued by the functional regulation of these immune cell populations during an infection or other immune responses.

“Other investigators have demonstrated that DYRK1A is important in T and B cell development, and my collaborators have published seminal findings demonstrating a role for this protein in T cell differentiation. Whether this gene plays a regulatory role in B cell function is unknown,” said Conway. “It was a reasonable hypothesis to extend those findings to investigate B cell function.”

This study is funded by the Entrepreneurism, Policy, Innovation, and Commerce grant, otherwise known as EPIC. To gain EPIC funding, applicants must submit a proposal describing the desired project, introducing its interdisciplinary collaboration, and highlighting its positive impact on JU.

Conway, in partnership with Sarah Parker, associate professor of English, submitted the proposal to interconnect disciplines.

“Our study assessing DYRK1A was a project designed to merge the fields of Science and English while also exemplifying Jacksonville University’s commitment to student engagement,” said Conway.

Interestingly, DYRK1A has been tied to multiple cognitive and intellectual disabilities.

“DYRK1A has been implicated in Down Syndrome, autism, HIV and other cognitive disability syndromes, and several human disease studies using DNA sequencing have implicated this gene in disease/disorder development,” said Conway.

English and science converged when Conway and Parker discussed the extreme deficit in scientific communication and a sincere necessity to improve this dialogue. Even though both departments are intrinsically different, Parker believes that there is a correlation between the sciences and the humanities.

“I have always been interested in the intersections between medical science and literature,” said Parker. “I wrote my dissertation on Renaissance authors who also trained as physicians or wrote about their experiences with illness, and I believe that the humanities and the sciences are not as separate as many nowadays think.”

Parker assures that this project is an opportunity for both departments to benefit from the research study.

“In the English department, it is a golden opportunity to use our skills in writing to share the innovative things that are going on at JU with a broader public,” said Parker.

Conway understands that difficulties arise from performing research at a small university, but she knows JU can offer rare opportunities for innovative approaches.

“Not having every resource at your fingertips can be a challenge, but it gives you a unique chance to get really creative in your approach,” said Conway.

The physical research will begin later this month, but Conway is not conducting this research alone.

Student research opportunities have been given to Sharbill Assi, Maya Fisher, and Holly Lindemann.

Lindemann, a junior biology major, says that being part of this study will enhance her professional development.

“My long-term goal is to do diabetes research, so conducting research now allows me to gain new skills, learn techniques, and learn about immunology with real life examples,” said Lindemann.

Conway is excited to see how the research study will impact JU, benefit her student team, and enhance interdisciplinary collaborations.

“This project is thrilling because it will not only contribute to the biomedical field via eventual scientific publication, but it will provide an avenue to train JU undergraduate students, set up a pipeline for future immunology research projects here at JU, and hopefully provide preliminary data to assist in securing external funding for our group and the university,” said Conway. “We cannot wait to share our future findings on DYRK1A with the Jacksonville community.”