The hope of any researcher is to produce work worth sharing with the scientific community, an opportunity that is rare at the undergraduate level.
That opportunity became a reality for senior chemistry major Kip-Chumba Kaitany. During summer 2013, Kaitany was a participant in the Student Summer Scholars (S3) Program, which provides funding for a student and faculty mentor to conduct research throughout the spring/summer term.
Kaitany spent countless hours in the Cook DeVos Center for Health Sciences, working with a team of researchers consisting of Neil Klinger, a graduate student; Maddison Ramey, a cell and molecular biology major; and Dave Leonard and Rachel Powers, faculty mentors and chemistry faculty members.
The team’s research focused on studying certain bacterial enzymes that are able to break down penicillin-type antibiotics and thus pose a threat to our ability to treat bacterial infections. Kaitany was able to make the first discovery of an enzyme that can destroy multiple classes of antibiotics, making that enzyme a double-threat for patients with dangerous bacterial infections.
“This research has a large significance in the scientific community and the knowledge gained from the structures determined by these students will help other scientists design better and more effective antibiotics,” said Leonard.
The results of the research were accepted for publication in the October 2013 issue of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, an opportunity that Kaitany said is rare for someone at his level. Kaitany is the lead author.
“Gaining the experience of performing the research, and also preparing it for publication, is something not a lot of students get to do at this point in their journey,” said Kaitany. “The fact that Grand Valley provides this opportunity to work side-by-side with experienced researchers has greatly benefited my growth as both a scientist and a person.”
The purpose of the S3 program is to combine academics, field work, and a reflection component to provide students with a meaningful learning experience that helps to prepare them for graduate school and future careers.
“This program allows students to see their class work applied in a real-world setting to solve larger societal issues. It also allows Grand Valley to be at the cutting-edge of medical research,” said Leonard.
Going forward, Kaitany plans to attend graduate school and continue to focus his research efforts on enzyme chemistry and how they enable the reactions that allow life on earth to exist.
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