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Fighting the Flu From the Laboratory

Rebecca McKenzie in the lab with a microscope.
Rebecca McKenzie – a self-proclaimed “science nerd” – says the thrill of discovering new and useful things keeps her loving lab work.

By Tara Roberts

The flu virus sickens millions of people across the world each year. Rebecca McKenzie, a junior microbiology student at the University of Idaho, hopes her research will lead to treatments to ease its symptoms and even prevent deaths related to the virus.

McKenzie, who is from Idaho Falls, studies the anti-inflammatory effects of resveratrol, a substance found in foods such as red grapes, red wine and huckleberries. She is a recipient of a Hill Undergraduate Research Fellowship that supports her work, under the supervision of Tanya Miura, an assistant professor of biological sciences.

In her lab work, McKenzie examines whether resveratrol has any influence on influenza A, a common variety of the flu virus. Influenza A causes cells to release cytokines, which cause inflammation, fever and tiredness. She investigates whether resveratrol reduces inflammation by comparing the cytokines released by uninfected cells to those released by infected cells with resveratrol and infected cells without resveratrol.

If her tests show positive results, McKenzie will move on to studying the effects of resveratrol on mice infected with influenza A. She also plans to study whether the substance can reduce the virus’ life cycle.

Without the Hill fellowship, McKenzie’s research would not be possible.

“We didn’t have any money to continue the research as it is,” she says. “It may have been put on the back burner or may not have continued at all.”

The hours spent in U-Idaho labs have been valuable for McKenzie’s future. She was interested in viruses when she began working in Miura’s lab, but McKenzie had no hands-on experience working with them. Now, she hopes to continue her work and study virology or immunology in graduate school.

“Not a lot of people seem to know a lot about viruses,” she says. “It’s interesting how a virus gets into the body and can use host cells and the immune system to its advantage.”

McKenzie – a self-proclaimed “science nerd” – says the thrill of discovering new and useful things keeps her loving lab work.

“When you have an experiment that really works the way you want it to, it’s really exciting and rewarding,” she says.