Kelsey Wilson-Henjum has lost count of how many compounds she has tested in the last two years, but she does know that she’s looked at more than 20 for her honors thesis project alone.

Kelsey is working on an antimicrobial project with Dr Kyle Seifert and two chemistry professors who synthesize antimicrobial compounds called amphiphiles. After the compounds have been synthesized, Kelsey tests their antimicrobial properties, using minimum inhibitory concentration assays, minimum bactericidal assays and time kill assays to figure out what concentration of the compound can kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria and how long it will take. 

In addition, she looks at correlations between the structural qualities of the compounds and their effectiveness as antibiotics, in an effort to uncover what properties make a good antimicrobial compound. Because amphiphiles kill the bacteria by lysing the cell membrane, they may not be appropriate for use as medicines (the patient’s cell membrane may also be vulnerable), but they hold great promise for use in cleaning products. So far, she has found that many of these compounds are much more effective against the hard-to-kill gram negative bacteria than currently available cleaning products.

When Kelsey started at JMU, she had not considered research as a possible career path (she is pre-med), but now that she is a senior, her perspective has changed. “Now I am applying to post-bac programs,” she says, “instead of trying to go straight to med school.” After getting some lab experience in that setting and seeing what it’s really like to work in biomedical research, she thinks she will probably go on to do a MD-PhD.

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