Inside an Interdisciplinary Lab

Minbiole lab

Kevin Minbiole, PhD, is not your typical chemist. Inside his interdisciplinary lab, Biology student Anthony Poltronetti ’18 CLAS and Biochemistry student Emily Doe ’18 CLAS are working on research that could lead to new discoveries in human medicine.

“I’m a chemist who works with biologists,” said Dr. Minbiole. “My biology collaborators find really interesting systems and pose great questions about what’s happening in nature, and if chemistry can figure out the nuts and bolts of it, that’s really exciting to me.”

Dr. Minbiole is currently working with Anthony and Emily on researching the chemical attack of a fungus—Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, also known as Bd—that is wiping out amphibians worldwide.

Funded by a $159,820 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation, the research is in partnership with Louise Rollins-Smith, PhD, Associate Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at Vanderbilt University.

Some frogs have been able to fight off the infection caused by Bd, often using their skin bacteria as a defense. However, the fungus shuts down the frogs’ immune system, suggesting the fungus is likely making immunosuppressive chemicals.

“If we can identify a new immunosuppressive agent made by the fungus, that could help us understand this ecosystem, and even have application to human medicine,” said Dr. Minbiole. “That’s best-case scenario, but it’s entirely possible.”

In medicine, immunosuppressive agents are used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs and tissues, treat autoimmune diseases and treat some other non-autoimmune inflammatory diseases. As pre-med students, this exposure to hands-on research has been paramount to Anthony and Emily’s education.

“Part of working in medicine is helping the field to progress in terms of medical treatment and diagnosis,” said Emily. “This progression is not possible without knowledge, and knowledge cannot be obtained until we start asking questions.”

“I wanted to pursue research at Villanova because I thought it would be a valuable experience to have as a medical school applicant,” said Anthony. “We work with biologists, who send us samples and we analyze them for metabolites. Recently, I was able to generate successful data for over 80 samples for one of our projects, which is exciting news.”

Dr. Minbiole is a testament to the College’s teacher-scholar model, as he consistently involves undergraduate and graduate students in his research. This two-way scholarship between students and faculty allows students to make deep discoveries.

“It’s awesome to get the students to study the world around them from a biological and chemical perspective,” he said. “It’s fun to inspire their curiosity about the world.”

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.

Media Contact

Jennifer Schu

Director of Communications, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences