October 01, 2017
When gas prices peaked in 2008, diesel fuel, with its higher efficiency and lower cost, became more attractive to consumers. But studies have found diesel exhaust to be carcinogenic to humans.
Sophomore Shaneeka Emile is contributing to this research through her internship at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Emile, a biology major from East Orange, N.J., is studying how the particulate matter in diesel exhaust (small particles and liquid droplets that get into the air) affects the cells that line the bronchial tubes in the lungs.
“We’re focusing more specifically on how particles found within diesel fuel trigger different cytokines in the lungs,” Emile said. “Cytokines are secreted proteins that can have an inflammatory or anti-inflammatory effect on nearby cells.”
Emile is conducting her research under the mentorship of Patricia Silveyra, assistant professor in the College of Medicine at Penn State University.
Silveyra’s research is primarily focused on the study of lung inflammation associated with air pollution, with particular emphasis in sex differences and the role of sex hormones. Her lab uses a combination of molecular biology, immunology and endocrinology to study the cellular response to environmental exposure.
“In the lab that I am currently working in, there are some other students, as well as graduate students, who are working on projects independently,” Emile said. “There are times when I look over their shoulders to see their progress, and it’s so interesting once they explain to me what exactly they are doing.
“I’ve had many aha moments.”
Emile credits Margaret Peeler, professor of biology at Susquehanna, for teaching her the skills necessary to embark on this early research experience.
“There are definitely lots of projects revolving around genetics,” she said, “and in my biology class we’ve covered so much material involving RNA and DNA. Dr. Peeler definitely prepared me.”
After graduation, Emile hopes to pursue a career in medicine either as a physician or as a researcher.