UTA biology student wins award for research on antimicrobial drug resistance

A senior biology student at The University of Texas at Arlington recently earned an award for her research about antimicrobial drug resistance.

Christina Nguyen received the second-place award at the 2023 UT System LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation) Conference held in El Paso, Texas. Nguyen's award-winning project focused on bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, an increasingly challenging problem in health care.

I had the privilege of hearing multiple fascinating presentations from students all over Texas, and it was fun sharing my work with other accomplished undergraduate researchers."

Christina Nguyen, senior biology student, The University of Texas at Arlington

Her research project involves the study of gene expression in a drug-resistant, Gram-negative bacterium called Acinetobacter baumannii, or A. baumannii. Gene expression is the process by which information from a gene is transcribed into functional gene products such as proteins. Gram-negative bacteria are among the world's most significant public health problems due to their high resistance to antibiotics.

"When discussing issues in public health, it is imperative to mention how antimicrobial drug resistance is a serious threat," Nguyen said. "Gram-negative bacteria are extremely resistant to antibiotics because of the presence of an outer membrane barrier. Multi-drug resistant Gram-negative infections are typically treated with colistin, the 'last resort' antibiotic. However, among Gram-negative bacteria, it has been observed that A. baumannii can develop intrinsic resistance to colistin."

This resistance intensifies the need to identify novel ways to target in A. baumannii for new antibiotic development, Nguyen said. She and her collaborators hypothesize that a pair of lipoproteins, called lpp1 and lpp2, contribute to cell envelope stability when in the presence of outer membrane stress.

"My project aims to evaluate the expression of these lipoprotein genes in response to outer membrane stress as well as what regulates the expression of these genes on the transcriptional level," she said.

Nguyen, who grew up in Mansfield, became interested in biology in high school. Her youth pastor's empathy and spirit of service while battling terminal cancer inspired her to pursue medicine. She chose to attend UTA after working with UTA student organizations at volunteer events. The University's diverse student body was also a draw.

After taking a microbiology course as a student, Nguyen became interested in undergraduate research, eventually joining the lab of Joseph Boll, assistant professor of biology.

"Christina is a brilliant, hard-working, driven individual who is going to do great things in science and medicine," Boll said. "She is also one of the most caring and patient individuals that I have worked with, going out of her way to ensure those around her are successful. It was a real treat to have her in the laboratory, and I know big things are in store for her."

The LSAMP program's overall goal is to assist universities in diversifying the nation's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce by increasing the number of STEM degrees awarded to populations historically underrepresented in these disciplines.

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