Northeastern alum wins poster competition

Photo cour­tesy of Daniel Shea.

When Dan Shea was an under­grad­uate at Northeastern’s Col­lege of Sci­ence, he spent much of his time hanging out with a plant. Or parts of a plant, anyway: Cell cul­tures from the Cal­i­fornia poppy. The plant pro­duces a group of mol­e­cules called BPAs, not to be con­fused with the poly­mers plaguing water bot­tles and microwave din­ners, but rather a class of anti-​​cancer drugs that also has anti-​​microbial prop­er­ties. Shea was working to increase pro­duc­tion of the com­pound using tech­niques devel­oped in the lab of Car­olyn Lee-​​Parsons, whom I wrote about last week.

He focused on two approaches. First, he tried to increase BPA pro­duc­tion by infil­trating the cell cul­ture system with hefty loads of puri­fied yeast extract. The Cal­i­fornia poppy makes BPA to pro­tect itself from pathogens, Shea told me, and this yeast attack mimics pathogen impact, set­ting off a spike in BPA production.

He also worked with an extracting agent (clev­erly named XAD-​​7) to pull the BPA mol­e­cules out of the cells to over­come the neg­a­tive feed­back effect that nat­u­rally takes place. Nor­mally, once BPA levels reach a cer­tain point, the cell shuts down pro­duc­tion. By removing the chem­ical, cells never get the mes­sage to stop working. This work allowed him to increase BPA pro­duc­tion 65-​​fold, said Shea. “These results are encour­aging, as increasing BPA pro­duc­tion using cell cul­ture can have real world appli­ca­tions in industry if pro­duc­tion can be increased enough.”

Shea’s work, which he pre­sented at a poster pre­sen­ta­tion in the spring, earned him an award from the Inter­na­tional Society for Phar­ma­ceu­tical Engineering.

He’s now enrolled in grad­uate school at Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity where he was recently accepted into a research lab that uses micro-​​fluidic chan­nels to study cancer metas­tasis. “By adjusting the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the chan­nels, one can mimic in vivo con­di­tions pro­viding a phys­i­o­log­i­cally rel­e­vant envi­ron­ment for the study of cancer metas­tasis,” said Shea.