E-Net News

Lumen Prize helps Elon student research cell death in kidney failure

Senior Thomas Lampl has used the university’s highest honor for undergraduate research and creative achievement to study a laboratory model that may help future doctors better understand the human body’s reaction to sepsis.

By Sarah Mulnick ‘17

The National Institutes of Health estimates that sepsis each year sickens more than 1 million Americans, with as many as half of those patients dying from the widespread inflammation and organ failure that characterize the condition.

Any number of underlying medical problems or external traumas, from lung infections to the insertion of a vascular or urinary catheter as part of a hospital stay, can lead to sepsis. It’s one of the leading causes of death in intensive care units across the United States.

Scientists have an incomplete understanding of why the body responds the way it does to those infections and injuries. The key to better prevention and treatment of sepsis may one day be found in studying the very organs that shut down because of the condition – and an Elon University senior is studying one such system.

Thomas Lampl, a senior biochemistry major from Pittsburgh, has worked for the past two years with his faculty mentor to investigate a lab model that simulates what happens to kidney cells during sepsis. His research is the first to be featured this year in a series of E-net profiles on Lumen Scholars in the Class of 2015.

The research, Lampl said, might help answer medical mysteries surrounding kidney problems during sepsis: What biological imperatives cause cells to die? And how can understanding the changes on a mitochondrial level impact medical responses to sepsis?

Under the guidance of Assistant Professor Victoria Moore in the Department of Chemistry, Lampl hopes to soon employ an animal model as part of the project.

“This might be a very effective tool to understand the disease because we are able to compare our current cell culture models to what we find with the mice,” Lampl said. That component of the study, Lampl said, will supplement the information available about sepsis, and will lead to further research to develop drugs that target and can stop mechanism that lead to cell death in kidneys.

The Lumen Prize, awarded for the first time in 2008, provides selected students with a $15,000 scholarship to support and celebrate their academic and creative achievements. Lumen Scholars work closely with faculty mentors to pursue and complete their projects.

Efforts include course work, study abroad, research both on campus and abroad during the regular academic year and summers, internships locally and abroad, program development and creative productions and performances.

Thomas Lampl with his Lumen Prize mentor, Assistant Professor Victoria Moore

A general chemistry course during his first year on campus reminded Lampl of what he heard in high school biology. “I loved learning how the body uses DNA as a blueprint, and I was confused and intrigued at the same time by the idea that cells had a mechanism where they could purposefully commit suicide,” he said of his initial high school experience. “After taking that class, I decided that I wanted to perform biochemical research when I came to college.”

During his freshman year, Lampl heard Moore talk about her existing line of scholarship into sepsis and cell death. Lampl approached Moore about conducting research with her, and after a working lunch where they discussed the idea, he was convinced that he wanted to become a part of her research lab

Moore said that watching Lampl develop as a scientist has been one of the most rewarding parts of the past two years. “It’s been fun to see him get excited about this work,” she said. “Seeing him grow as a researcher and become more skilled and independent, while also moving the research forward and writing a paper, has been gratifying.”

The duo’s research has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which also plans to feature their work in an accompanying video on its website.

In addition to his Lumen research, Lampl has been pursuing his dream of studying veterinary medicine. He has worked in recent summer with the Animal Rescue League in Pittsburgh, where he learned to prescribe medications and give physical examinations to animals. He more recently has shadowed staff at the Burlington Animal Hospital to gain experience with smaller species.

Though work with animals is his calling, Lampl said he hopes his Lumen Prize research will help advance medical understanding of the disease. “If scientists can develop a drug to suppress the apoptotic pathway,” he said, “it may be possible to more effectively treat sepsis.”

Eric Townsend,
12/3/2014 9:00 AM