The department of chemistry hosted their weekly seminar series, which featured the research of two Georgetown graduate students, Nadia Sarfraz and Jordan Tanen, both seeking their PhD, on Oct. 12.
Since 2000, the seminar has allowed 7th semester graduate students to present their findings on work they have done. The presentations are hosted by the research advisor of each student.
Sarfraz, a student in biochemistry, presented her research on Riboglow-FLIM, a tool intended to analyze multiple ribonucleic acids (RNAs) at once. Proteins can be identified by their fluorescence of certain colors, like red-fluorescent proteins, but RNA doesn’t have any natural fluorescence to be identified with.
“Everybody has heard of DNA and everybody has heard of proteins, but the third piece is RNA, which is one of the least studied areas,” Sarfraz told The Hoya. “What I do specifically is tool development. I look at what is available in the world right now in terms of our systems and labeling devices, and ask ‘how many things can we see at the same time?’”
Sarfraz believes the ability to multiplex, or analyze multiple RNAs at once, will be integral to understanding and solving different issues that challenge humanity because RNA is everywhere.
“Through the pandemic, RNA was our secret weapon. We saw vaccines popping out,” Sarfraz said. “The opportunities are unlimited. We’re talking about disease models related to cancer. We’re talking about inherent genetic diseases. We’re thinking about nutrition and food, and how RNAs in plot models work.”
In the second part of the seminar, Tanen, a graduate chemistry student studying ionization methods, presented her research on quantifying the amount of fluorine in fluorochemical compounds.
“When you’re studying a huge class of compounds, like fluorinated compounds, in which there are thousands of different kinds, your analysis can get complicated,” Tanen told The Hoya. “If you just have a way of quantifying the compound that is not based on structural characteristics, then you have a new pathway for understanding it.”
Tanen said that her research is fundamentally simple, as it deals only with measuring fluorine. She said that the applications of the work could be positive for the environment.
“This is research on developing a method on fluorine detection,” Tanen said. “This isn’t research that is looking to address actual issues with fluorine in the environment or in biological samples, but obviously we have collaborations and are looking to use this in those applications.”
Kaveh Jorabchi, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and Tanen’s research advisor, said that fluorinated compounds change over time into different compounds, and can be harmful to the environment in ways that scientists previously have not had the ability to measure.
“We are contaminating the environment, but the environment tries to take care of itself and transforms these chemicals on the way,” Jorabchi told The Hoya. “We don’t understand how much of these chemicals are out there to begin with or what these chemicals turn into.”
The research that Tanen and Jorabchi have done aims to gain a deeper understanding of the amount of compounds in the environment.
“How does the environment continue to evolve with this contamination? To answer this, you need methodologies that measure the amount of these chemicals, which is where we come in,” Jorabchi said.
Jorabchi believes that Tanen’s research will be vital not only in tracking environmental harm, but also in reducing pharmaceutical costs and bolstering production of new drugs, which often contain fluorine.
“One thing that we’re actively working on is drug metabolite quantitation,” Jorabchi said. “Per compound that they develop, pharmaceutical companies spend upwards of $500,000. Roughly about 50% of drugs these days have fluorine in them, so we can apply this technology to drug development and expedite discovery.”
Sarfraz says that the specificity of graduate research brings more proximity to solving real-world issues.
“As time goes on, things are more complex and more simple than we realize,” Sarfraz said. “It’s easy to sit down and be intimidated by science when you’re having to memorize the Krebs Cycle. But real issues only focus on one part of that. It’s why I believe science is so beautiful and simple.”