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Savannah Patterson: Medical applications from tree root extracts

Savannah Patterson in the lab.Savannah Patterson's interest in medicine go back several years to when she started as a nursing student at North Idaho College. Now, about to graduate with a degree in Biology and preparation for medical school, Savannah's undergraduate experience has been enriched by working on a project in Onesmo Balemba's lab. “Onesmo knew I'd be interested in it,” she says of the investigation into the effectiveness of a tree bark extract from sub-Saharan Africa in the treatment of diarrhea. “One in five children under age five who die, die of diarrhea – it's a huge health issue,” she says.

The tree bark in question is sometimes used in Africa as a treatment, and previous work by students in the Balemba lab has  shown that it does have some effect as an anti-motility agent. The extract was fractionated into eight components, and over last winter break, Savannah got to help test the eight components to determine which showed promise as anti-diarrheal treatments. That experience hooked her on the project, and she's now been working at further testing the results of fractionating the most promising compound from among those eight. The ultimate goal, of course, would be to find a way to easily isolate or synthesize the compounds that give the tree bark its anti-diarrheal properties.

Savannah's research experience was helped by receiving the Department of Biological Science's Sundquist Award.