Thursday, July 31, 2014

ECBC Offers West Point Cadets a Unique Summer Experience

West Point Cadets, Caitlin Anderson (left) and Carl Adams (right).
After completing an arduous junior year at West Point, Cadets Caitlin Anderson and Carl Adams were given a choice. Go on leave and be with their families or spend two weeks participating in life sciences research at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland. They chose the lab work.

“I got to participate in research about the effects of pesticide exposure on cell signaling in humans. This translates directly to developing better ways to help injured soldiers whose healing could potentially be impeded by chemical exposure,” said Anderson. “I helped grow and feed the mesenchymal stem cells in the lab, then differentiated them into bone cells.”

Adams spent his two weeks helping to encode binary data to be implanted into bacteria in the form of DNA. “I prepped the bacteria to make it ready to accept the encoded DNA. The idea is to see how much data can be stored and how the DNA will mutate so we can find out what that does to the fidelity of the data,” he said.

The Cadets were taking part in the Academy’s Advanced Individual Academic Development program. It provides Cadets with an opportunity to apply their course work to a real research lab project under the guidance of the Army’s, and the nation’s, leading chemical and biological defense scientists.

 “I had no idea how much research the Army has been doing to protect soldiers from chemical and biological threats. I was especially impressed by the advances in helping soldiers to heal from exposures,” said Anderson. Added Adams, “I could see that this research results in the constant improvement of chemical and biological protection systems. Make it a little lighter, a little more user-friendly, that can be the difference between life and death on the battlefield.”

Adams’ mentor at ECBC was Dr. Matthew Lux. “It was a wonderful experience to have Carl at ECBC. He was enthusiastic and took the initiative to shadow other scientists in the lab during his downtime in order to get the most out of his brief experience,” said Lux. Anderson’s mentor, biologist Amber Prugh, added, “Caitlin was excited to intern at ECBC and I was pleased to host her during her short time here. It was her first experience being in a customer-directed research lab. It’s very different from an academic lab. She got to learn about our emphasis on safety and security, and she participated in real world lab work.”

"Amber really took me under her wing,” said Anderson. “She made sure I got to see as many other research projects as possible, and she took an interest in my career ambitions giving me good advice,” she added.

Ultimately, Anderson, who hails from Edmond, Okla., plans to pursue research in the life sciences. In the meantime, she would like to start her Army officer career in military intelligence. Adams grew up in Bethesda, Md., and plans to either start out in military intelligence or artillery. He, too, hopes to ultimately end up in a medical field.

Wherever they go while in the Army, when they are issued their chemical/biological protection gear they will have a unique appreciation of all the research that made it possible.