By MISHA UMER
Asst. entertainment editor
A young boy decides to go swimming in a lake on a warm sunny day. He decides to cannonball, but accidentally inhales water. Later that day he starts getting a fever but ignores it. Less than two weeks later he dies as a result of the brain-eating amoeba, Naegle Fowleri.
After hearing about a similar story at a TriBeta meeting, the biology honors society Beta Beta Beta, senior Jean Ghosn decided to research N. Fowleri as his biology honors research project. After writing a proposal sent to the national TriBeta program, Ghosn received a $500 grant from the TriBeta Research Scholarship Foundation at the end of last semester to help fund his project.
Dr. Hannah Wingate, assistant professor in biology, submitted Ghosn’s proposal and became his mentor.
“He does all of the thinking and he’ll run it by me,” Wingate said. “I’ll give him some guidance and ideas, but he’ll do the research himself.”
Ghosn’s goal is to study the proliferation conditions of the amoeba and to discover whether there is a positive relationship between cyanobacteria and N. Fowleri, since cyanobacteria can house and feed the N. Fowleri. As a result, a significant amount of cyanobacteria in a body of water could indicate that N. Fowleri is also present.
“The goal of the research was to detect N. Fowleri in freshwater sources to see whether the claim by the CDC that N. Fowleri is not as ubiquitous is true,” Ghosn said. “The second point was to see what kind of conditions, like temperature, allow the amoeba to proliferate, and to correlate the N. Fowleri population with cyanobacteria populations.”
The research is important because the amoeba can cause Primary Amoebic Meningitis (PAM) when it travels up the nose and to the brain.
Currently there is no cure, and the infection has a 99 percent fatality rate. The infected usually exhibit symptoms similar to those caused by flu or meningitis. The symptoms persist for 1-14 days after contracting the infection, after which the infected pass away in the next 3-5 days.
Ghosn became interested in the topic after hearing Mr. Lewis, founder of The Kyle Lewis Amoeba Awareness Foundation (Kyle Cares) speak at a Tri Beta meeting, arranged by senior Milandri Kriel.
Kriel first heard about the foundation when she helped a lost-looking man in the emergency room at the hospital in which she volunteered.
The man turned out to be Lewis, who told her about PAM, which was the cause of his grandson’s death.
For this reason, the Lewis family decided to start the foundation to raise awareness about N. Fowleri.
Kriel got into contact with Lewis to have him speak at a meeting, and she decided to involve TriBeta in fundraising for the foundation and raising awareness about N. Fowleri.
Ghosn saw the importance of the cause, and this spurred his interest in developing a research project about it.
“Seeing that N. Fowleri is so close to home and that we have contact with a family that was directly involved with it, I decided to research it,” Ghosn said.
For the year-long research, the Kyle Cares program collected samples from Texas lakes in the Dallas and Forth Worth area.
The samples were then carefully filtered and the cells were extracted. After the cells were isolated, the DNA was extracted – a process that took several days.
The last step was to administer the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test to see whether the extracted DNA strands were identical to those of the N. Fowleri.
“This process was the most hazardous and the ingredients were difficult to use,” Ghosn said.
He plans to keep troubleshooting and obtain conclusive results by the end of this semester, with the hopes of getting publications by the time he graduates this May.