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Garcia’s scientific pursuit leads to research in preventative medicine

Cal State L.A.’s microbiology major awarded Howell-CSUPERB research scholarship

Pictured: Jesse Garcia Castillo and Hyunsook Park.

Pictured: Jesse Garcia Castillo and Hyunsook Park.

As an elementary school student, Jesse Garcia enjoyed going on field trips to museums and science centers to explore different exhibits and interactive displays.

Fascinated by a visit to a science expo titled “Bacteria and Viruses,” he developed an early interest in how organisms work and how a single cell can be so important. A surgery also played an important role in determining his future.

“When I was a child, I was at a hospital for a surgery and I was amazed how the doctors were able to take care of my health, and treat different ailments, too,” said Garcia. “That is when I knew I wanted to understand the human body at the microscopic level, and help make a difference in the scientific realm.”

Today, Garcia is a microbiology major at Cal State L.A. who hopes to pursue a M.D./Ph.D. and a career in biomedical and biotechnological studies. His research has earned him a 2014 Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholarship, and participation in the 26th CSU Biotechnology Symposium held in January.

The CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) partners with the Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research to fund promising undergraduate student research projects in topics related to women’s health. The symposium, organized by CSUPERB, aims to make connections between innovative life science research and the impacts it has on society, to highlight cutting-edge biotechnologies, and to inspire students for success in the global economy.

Garcia feels very fortunate to have been one of 11 out of 23 candidates chosen for the scholarship from the CSU system.

“With the scholarship, I am happy to be able to further my research, which could potentially alleviate diseases impacting women, and others as well,” he said. “This research may also lead to further developments in fungal medicine. The goal is to target the fungus instead of the other cells that are needed.”

An Honors College student, Garcia is currently serving as secretary of the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honors Society and the Academic Honors Association. He is also a recipient of a Merkin Scholarship.

This spring, Garcia will work in Cal State L.A. Professor Hyunsook Park’s lab to conduct research on the “Role of Candida albicans yeast casein kinase I in governing the expression of secreted aspartyl protease required for initiating vulvovaginitis.”

In layman terms, yeast infections are generally caused by an organism called Candida albicans, a fungus existing as part of harmlessly microbes throughout the body. A yeast infection is believed to develop when the normal environment of the vagina is altered, causing it to become less acidic. This change results in an over-growth of this organism, causing a yeast infection or Candida vulvovaginitis (CV).

According to Professor Park, CV affects 75 percent of women once in their lifetime and these women resort to using ineffective vulvovaginitis medicine, which cause the infection to become recurrent and stronger with compromised immunity.

“The lack of fungicidal medicine is due to the lack of information on the mechanisms by which CV occurs,” she said. “To understand the mechanism by which Candida albicans cause CV, we will develop an in vitro infection model using Candida albicans and vaginal epithelial cells. We will be able to identify Candida albicans genes important for causing CV with this infection model. Epithelial cells control the exchange of substances among parts of the body and also between the body and the environment.”

Under the mentorship of Professor Park, Garcia will use immortalized vaginal epithelial cell line VK2/E6E7 for this study, which has demonstrated the most similar feature to physiological epithelial condition.

“By understanding how the expression of the virulence genes are controlled in Candida albicans during the initiation of CV, it will allow for the production of fungicidal medicine that is preventative and decreases the immunity of Candida albicans,” said Garcia. “This project has direct relevance to the betterment of women’s health.”

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Last Update: 01/12/2016