cornwell research team

Investigating Inflammation at Beth Israel

This summer, several student-faculty teams are tackling research projects in the arts and sciences—from asthma to accounting audits, bilingualism and women in leadership. Some are funded through the Provost’s Summer Research Fellowships, and others are individual projects. Throughout the next few weeks, we’ll cover the teams’ progress as they seek to answer complex questions in their fields.

Several summer research projects are taking place on campus, but Dr. Angie Cornwell (biology) and Courtney Olbrich ’18 are taking their studies to Boston—at Gordon alumna Dr. Lisa Spencer‘s allergy and inflammation lab at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Spencer ’95 has done significant research in basic immunology and is a recognized expert on a special type of white-blood cell named for its red-staining cytoplasmic granules: eosinophils. The Cornwell-Olbrich team is studying the role of these eosinophils in allergen-triggered inflammatory responses.

Eosinophils were previously thought to be involved primarily when larger parasites, such as hookworms, invaded the body, says Dr. Cornwell, but in more recent decades, “investigators have been learning that eosinophils play a much greater role in the immune system response. We are examining one molecular signaling pathway, and trying to understand how eosinophils may affect allergic reactions through that particular pathway.”

To that end, they are working on generating mutant mice that do not have key proteins believed to be necessary for eosinophil activation during allergen-induced respiratory tract and gastrointestinal tract disorders.

“If we can significantly block the severity of the asthmatic response in these mutant mice, we will understand more about how eosinophils function,” Dr. Cornwell explains. The research could eventually lead to the development of more effective therapies for asthma and food allergies.

Courtney started doing research with Dr. Cornwell last fall. This summer she is enjoying the opportunity to focus her attention full-time on research at a prestigious institution without the competing demands of the academic year. “The project will expose me to working with various scientists and observing new techniques and assays associated with scientific medical research,” she says.

“We make very good lab partners because we have similar work ethics, and similar philosophies on organization and safety in the lab,” says Dr. Cornwell. “It is difficult for us to leave the lab at the end of each day.”

The research could eventually benefit patients, but in the meantime, Courtney is benefitting by gaining experience. “I will be able to take this experience and the skills I learn back to Gordon. I am passionate about medical research, as it is the only way to improve and advance medical treatments for patients.”

In addition to hosting the Cornwell-Olbrich research team in her lab, Dr. Spencer has welcomed other Gordon students over the years: Michael Mann in 2013 and Sam Maldonado in 2010, both of whom went on to medical school. She has published over 20 papers on eosinophil biology, including review articles.

Read about Dr. Jonathan Gerber (psychology) and Hannah Reimel ’17 >>
Read about Dr. Kaye Cook (psychology), Taylor-Marie Funchion ’18 and Si-Hua Chang ’16 >>
Read about Dr. Karl-Dieter Crisman (math), Min-Sun Kim ’17 and Luke Cui ’18 >>
Read about Dr. Melinda Eichhorn (education) and Courtney Vitale ’18 >>

By Morgan Clayton ’19, history