Science On Wheels Rolls Into Lincoln

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Three young Ph.D candidates from the University of Missouri impressed an audience attending a Science on Wheels presentation held Thursday, May 2, at the First Baptist Church in Lincoln. The graduate students talked about the fields of study they are researching in a round-table, question and answer type of format.  They described how their studies could lead to new treatments for HIV, Parkinson’s Disease, and help in regenerating damaged muscles.
Science on Wheels is an outreach program that was launched at the university in 2017 by doctoral student Arianna Soldati to connect people in rural communities with scientists. It is run by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to provide practical education across the state about such topics as volcanology, agriculture, business and health. A small group of UM science students take the Science on Wheels program to a different part of the state once a month where the public is invited to participate. They try to focus on subjects that are applicable to the counties where the presentations are made.
Alexandra Diller Costello, 2nd year Ph.D candidate, spoke about her study of muscles and used models of muscles to demonstrate how they can constrict and expand. She explained that all muscles come from stem cells, and when there is an injury, some of them are destroyed. Her research involves looking into ways to improve wound healing with less physical therapy through regeneration. She said that regeneration of one’s own stem cells is preferable to transplants, because a body’s own tissue will not be rejected. Costello is doing her research in the Department of  Zoology, and is working toward her doctorate in Biology. Afterwards, he hopes to enter into a regenerative medicine career.
Caroline Robinson is at the end of her second year of Ph.D studies of HIV. She had cartoon-like models of a protein, stem cell and antibody to help with her discussion of how HIV has killed millions. She said that there is still no cure, that the virus has mutated since it first appeared, and that the virus hijacks our body machinery and turns it against us. The virus can hide with the help of a protein called VPU, so she is working to design a drug that can work with other drugs to get rid of the protein. She explained that testing different drugs takes a long time and that 674,000 drugs have already been tested on HIV. Robinson is working on her doctorate in Microbiology and Immunology.
Aditi Mishra, a Ph.D candidate from India, is studying the brain, and degenerative diseases that affect it such as Parkinson’s disease. She spoke about a current brain surgery procedure where some of the shaking caused by Parkinson’s can be alleviated. However, she has been working for three and a half years on a non-invasive procedure to restore stabilization. She studies fruit flies  that have been found to have the same gene that causes Parkinson’s, and works specifically on a protein in the flies. Mishra is working on her thesis, and will complete her studies for her Ph.D in December, in the field of Biology with an emphasis in neuroscience. She wants to get a four to six-year post doctorate fellowship in a lab, and then apply for a faculty position in England.  She says she wants to do more world traveling too.
The graduate students fielded many questions from the curious audience, especially from one middle school student who said that he was very interested in science. Everyone seemed in awe of the presenter’s knowledge, and the interesting subjects that they discussed. A member of the audience said that if Star Trek Science Officer Spock had been in attendance, he would have responded to the presentation by saying “Fascinating!”
Ron Dent, President of the Benton County Extension Council Board said that he was impressed by the graduate student’s enthusiasm, and by how well they made their information understood.
Dr. Amie Breshears, Community Engagement Specialist in Agriculture Business for the UM Extension in Benton County, said she was really impressed by the kinds of research being done at the University that she had not known about before. 
“My Dad has Parkinsons, so I was especially interested in what research is going on in that area and how it might be able to reduce the impact of the disease,” said Dr. Breshears. “The young ladies were so approachable, hopeful and brilliant. Although the research on Parkinson’s is complex, it has the power to improve the world. As we become older, it becomes more prevalent.”
Dr. Breshears uploaded a video of the last two Science on Wheels presenters on Facebook, MU in Benton County. To see the video, go to events on the Facebook page and look for MU Science on Wheels.