Bridget Eklund Works with Cockroaches for Cystic Fibrosis Research

JAIME JARMIN | THE SPECTRUM Bridget Eklund, a sophomore double majoring in biotechnology and microbiology, works with bacteria in the Van Es lab using amoeba models and cockroaches.
Bridget Eklund, a sophomore double majoring in biotechnology and microbiology, works with bacteria in the Van Es lab using amoeba models and cockroaches.

While numerous stu­dents may earn money in college by serving food at a restaurant, selling clothes in retail or making coffee, one NDSU student is injecting cockroaches with bacteria as a way to earn money.

For Bridget Eklund, a sophomore double major­ing in biotechnology and microbiology, working as an undergraduate laboratory as­sistant in the Van Es building has been a building block to­ward discovering new ways to study bacteria outside of the traditional classroom and textbooks.

Completing research in the lab with Nathan Fisher, a department of veterinary and microbiological scienc­es assistant professor, has given Eklund a clear picture of what she wants to do with her education. “I came to NDSU because they have such a strong focus on re­search, and I’ve always had an interest working in a lab setting,” Eklund said.

Last semester in the lab, Eklund experimented with an amoeba model that helps with the understanding of how bacteria avoid phago­cytosis, also known as the process of “being eaten,” as Eklund explained. After this project, Eklund attended and presented at a conference in South Dakota in October de­tailing her work with these amoeba models.

Similarly, this semes­ter Eklund’s latest project also deals with phagocyto­sis. However, this project consists of cockroaches, catheters, antibiotics and biofilms. This research with cockroaches is designed to potentially help understand the connection between how the bacteria Stenotrophamo­nas maltophilia affects cys­tic fibrosis patients.

“This bacteria is oppor­tunistic, so it attacks patients that already have a com­promised immune system,” Eklund said. “Cystic fibrosis patients are really suscep­tible to an infection to this bacteria.”

Eklund explained that cystic fibrosis patients could develop various bacterial infections from using cath­eters. In order to study this phenomenon, Eklund and her lab partners are injecting cockroaches with catheters containing bacteria. Then, the cockroaches will be given various antibiotics and Eklund will later study the biofilms that were formed after taking the catheters out of the cockroaches.

Basically, Eklund is re­searching how biofilms compete with antibiotics in catheter-injected cockroach­es.

Even though at first Eklund was uncertain about having to work with cock­roaches, she discovered shortly after that this ex­periment has rarely been done before and the findings could have life-changing benefits for those afflicted with cystic fibrosis.

“At first I was a little leery about working with cockroaches,” Eklund chuckled. “But this project gives us a better understand­ing about what is actually happening in a patient be­cause there is no way to do this experiment in a human.”

As Eklund’s love for science and the natural world has since grown from working in the lab with Dr. Fisher, her initial apprecia­tion for the field is largely contributed to her family’s background.

Growing up, Eklund was always fascinated by watch­ing her father work in a sci­ence lab. “I always watched my dad work in the lab, and I always thought it was su­per cool,” Eklund explained. “It’s intriguing to know how all of the little, tiny things work so perfectly in the nat­ural world.”

Eklund’s lab experience working with the amoeba and cockroach models has since helped her realize that pathology is her passion. Her plan is to go to graduate school to pursue a focus in pathogenic bacteria.

“Working with Dr. Fish­er has been really beneficial for figuring out my pas­sion,” Eklund said. “Getting hands-on experience has been really fun. I guess I was lucky and found out what I liked right away by working in the lab.”

Eklund plans to present her cockroach model data in Valley City later this month.

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