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Hoodwinking “Tubercurelosis” with a Cancer Therapy

Esther Kim
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045

“Do you know what a vector is?” Professor Conrad asked.

I replied, “Yeah… it’s a circle, genetic thing.”

The Richter Scholar Program immersed me in the “real world experience.” It helped me become passionate about an issue larger than myself, through activism. While Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a bacterium that is barely 3 x .03µm in size, its harmful effects are tremendous. M. tuberculosis causes tuberculosis infection in humans; not only is tuberculosis (TB) a serious, pandemic bacterial infection, it specifically targets vulnerable populations. Currently, there is no effective preventative measure against TB, and treatment options can be extensive and expensive. Our research goal was to translate the revolutionary CAR-T cancer therapy to create a new TB prophylactic. The research focused on isolating d-Cycloserine (d-CS) genes from S. lavendulae, creating plasmids, and experimenting with human cells. Hopefully in the future, human lung cells with the d-CS-plasmid insert will be able to produce d-CS and prevent the onset of tuberculosis. As tuberculosis remains one of the most infectious diseases worldwide, this research provides hope into reducing infection rates and protecting vulnerable populations. I am extremely grateful for this amazing opportunity at Lake Forest College and express utmost gratitude towards my mentors Professor Conrad, and Ariane Balaram. 

We jumped headfirst into “research” – a concept I had only heard about before. For some reason, “research” in my mind was an abstract description of people searching for answers to a question. Instead, research was a hands-on opportunity for me, and it allowed me to use various methods to help paint a clearer picture of possible answers. I found that research is hard: sometimes tests fail, clumsy hands can slip, or despite all measures, the gel just doesn’t show the expected bands. However, both success and the absence of success are important for research; it is integral to know what works, but also what does not work. 

I was able to grow my skills as a scientist and as a researcher over the course of the summer. Initially, it took some time to adjust from the laboratories in my science classes to a research lab. I learned to maximize time efficiency and to multitask in an organized manner, including keeping a well-kept journal. Slowly but surely, I was able to conduct a PCR faster. I could finally understand the pipettes and the delicate pipetting technique. I didn’t set the laboratory on fire. I learned to clean up properly and not create a biohazard situation. I was able to work with and touch real, live human cells, which was a privilege and honor. While I had been exposed to bits of BMB and cell culture before, I was very grateful for being able to truly experiment with human cells in a safe learning environment. Finally, I was able to give a Richter Presentation with the careful guidance from Dr. Conrad and Ariane Balaram. I learned so much, not only about M. tuberculosis, but about the nature of science itself.

The phenomenal experience inoculated my limited scientific knowledge with a new perspective on BMB research. I learned many laboratory techniques in the quest for gaining a better understanding of tuberculosis over the summer: creating E. coli plates, using proper aseptic procedure, experimenting with competent cells, learning human tissue culture, and completing a plethora of protocols. I was shocked to see that we had completed approximately 47 protocols in just two months! 

Throughout the Richter project, I was excited to find out that it was possible to change the world, even at the microscopic level. Hopefully, as the research we began progresses, it could one day come to  help prevent tuberculosis infection on a global scale and promote equitable access to treatment. After all, with a few pipettes, petri dishes, and a few cells, the world is placed squarely in your gloved hands.


Eukaryon is published by students at Lake Forest College, who are solely responsible for its content. The views expressed in Eukaryon do not necessarily reflect those of the College.

Articles published within Eukaryon should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.