Freaky F̶r̶i̶d̶a̶y̶ Monday

By Judy L. and Maggie W.

A little after the halfway point of the program, the early and late campuses were finally able to “cross fertilize”, as TA Devin so eloquently phrased it. Having just settled into the flow of the early schedule, the sudden switch was a bit disorienting. And without the usual chaotic nature of early Class Activity sessions, Judy and Maggie’s morning felt quite empty.

However, being a night owl has its definite perks as well. Asides from being able to sleep in, we were able to meet a whole new group of people who we had only previously seen during the short Campus Blocks. During today’s Class Activity, we were split into small groups of three where we combined introductions we had previously written in order to create a new paragraph summarizing the enzymatic functions of Cdc14. And then awaited judgement. 

Back in the main room with the entirety of the late campus block, we shared our paragraphs one group at a time and provided suggestions for each other. Among the many (constructive) critiques provided, the most common ones included the placement/inclusion of in-text citations, capitalization, and italicization. Although these remarks may seem miniscule, they helped us truly master the art of writing proper citations, and highlighted the extreme level of attention and detail required when writing a proper scientific report. 

TA block started off with yet another interesting warmup. This time, we were charged with digging up our favorite websites, some dating all the way back to our middle or elementary school days. Some of these websites (coolmathgames!) definitely brought back many old memories. 

After the quick warmup, we dived right into our work. We had three short hours to create a presentation about tyrosine kinase inhibitors and exploring first and second-generation drugs. Between trying to search the depths of the internet for weirdly specific questions and the ever-present challenge of utilizing MOE, the time flew by too quickly and we DEFINITELY got a lot of work done…

Of course, TAs Kevin and Saj provided us with plenty of entertainment along the way, including a country-guessing game with Saj’s hard-to-read globe, a meme showcase, an ever-appropriate Kevin Tan tribute, and a TA height reveal. (Spoiler: despite Kevin and Saj’s long, intimidating auras, they are only around 5’5)

Guest Lecture Time!

Today’s highlight was definitely the campus block which featured a presentation from periodic-table-singing Dr. Kayode K. Ojo, Research Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine, specifically the Division of Allergy & Infectious Disease, at the University of Washington. He talked to us about the history and current state of malaria, and how he and his team at the Ojo lab discovered a way to inhibit the rampant human to mosquito transmission of the parasite. 

As a child growing up in Nigeria, Dr. Ojo fell sick with malaria 15 times. Luckily, he survived and is now basically a superhero. Other than in the cold, frigid depths of Antarctica, every country on Earth has once been targeted by malaria. Although malaria is a thing of the past for most of the SSPers in North America, it is still an extremely important and dire issue in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, there are two main forms of dealing with malaria: bed nets and artemisinin. Bed nets prevent mosquitoes from feasting on humans, however they have been difficult to implement in some regions due to economic and cultural reasons. Artemisinin, which is a compound derived from Chinese wormwood, is a quick and effective combatant of malaria. It is combined with other compounds (such as lumefantrine which helps artemisinin stay in the blood for longer) in artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) that is then delivered to those inflicted with malaria. These treatments have helped decline the infection and death rates of malaria substantially for the past few decades. However, despites these strides, over 220 million people are still infected annually, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths, especially in very young children. Along with a growing resistance to ACT, Dr. Ojo decided to set his efforts on developing a new type of treatment for malaria that would focus on a different area of the endemic; preventing reproduction of the disease in mosquitoes. 

Malaria undergoes asexual reproduction in humans, which is what most drugs currently target. However, within the first 10-30 minutes after malaria is passed from human to mosquito, a male parasite will fertilize female parasites and begin sexual reproduction. If the fertilization doesn’t occur within this time frame, the parasite will not reproduce and die in the mosquito. Dr. Ojo discovered that by inhibiting cyclin dependent kinases (CDK) in the malaria parasite, he could prevent the signal transduction pathway that starts sexual reproduction. After testing various combinations of compounds, he successfully developed BKI, a drug that is cheap to produce, small enough to fit in the active site of CDK, and stable enough to stay in the bloodstream for long periods of time. In addition, initial trials with BKI showed no malaria present in mosquitoes that interacted with infected mice. However, Dr. Ojo and his lab are continuing to develop a solution to the adverse effects of BKI in humans. Once this problem is solved, this inhibitor could likely be of vital importance in resolving malaria outbreaks all over the world.