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Lyon students contribute to tuberculosis, lung cancer drug discovery research

Lyon students get the opportunity to perform undergraduate research as early as their freshman year.

This summer, a group of students assisted Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Irosha Nawarathne with her ongoing drug discovery research for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB) and lung cancer.

Nawarathne said Lyon received over $30,000 in summer research funds from the Arkansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE). The students not only had the opportunity to contribute research for published or soon-to-be-published articles in chemical journals, but they also had the opportunity to travel to the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock (UAMS) to tour their lab facilities.

The current research team is made up of Lola Beeser, Isabella Beasley, Dailyn Crain, Colin Gopaul, Nikkolette Perkins, Jake Smith, and Catlina Terlea. Hattie Milligan, Tyler Jackson, Michael Jorgensen, and Kim Ho have previously contributed research to the projects.

Sophomore Lola Beeser, of Batesville, said getting to do undergraduate research on potential lung cancer treatments as a freshman was an incredible experience.

“People in larger universities would hardly ever have the chance,” she said. “With Lyon having smaller classes, there are more opportunities.”

Beeser continued, “I think that’s amazing. I feel like I have a headstart because I was able to get this research experience pretty young.”

Junior Nikkolette Perkins, of Brookland, said it feels surreal to be one of the main contributors on a published scientific article. She started working with Nawarathne on lung cancer research after her freshman year and is excited to see it be finished.

“I have never truly felt like I was doing groundbreaking research,” Perkins said, “but now that it is being published into a scientific journal, I feel like I am doing research that truly matters.”

“Knowing what you learned in class could really make a difference in the world builds confidence,” said junior Dailyn Crain, of Batesville. “It made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself.”

Crain thought she had missed her chance to do research because she transferred to Lyon last year and did not know there was a deadline to apply. Fortunately, she had just taken Organic Chemistry with Nawarathne and approached her about doing lab research.

“It was one of my favorite classes, and I thought getting to do research with Dr. Irosha was an amazing opportunity.”

She got to apply so many lessons from Organic Chemistry that she never would have had to think through otherwise.

“It was so cool to use these things you learned and realize the knowledge needed for research is not something way above you,” Crain said.

Sophomore Isabella Beasley, of Walls, Miss., worked on the TB project, modifying the common antibiotic Rifampicin to be best-equipped for fighting multi-drug resistant TB.

“The first two weeks were very difficult,” she said, “because, as a freshman, I didn’t really know anything about what I was doing.”

Beasley continued, “What’s good is that we used a lot of the same techniques over and over again. Once you understand what you’re doing, it gets easier because it’s a process you can repeat.”

Junior Colin Gopaul, of Orland, Fla., said the experience was fun and a good way to learn about what goes on in a research lab. He was studying TB with Nawarathne while also working as a tutor mentor in the lab with Upward Bound Math and Science (UBMS) this summer.

“The UBMS students would go to their research class in the morning and make chemicals that would be used in the research lab later that day,” Gopaul said. “The coolest moment was actually using the model kits with the children to complete making the molecule that we would be using in the research lab.”

Crain said one of her favorite experiences was traveling to Fayetteville and seeing the UA lab’s massive nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) machines.

“They had one that was 700 megahertz and filled a whole room,” she said. “For reference, our NMR machine is 43 megahertz.”

Lyon typically sends its samples to the UA lab for mass spectrometry. This time, Crain said the students got to bring some of their samples and test them themselves. 

“That’s when I felt I really played a part in this project,” she said.

“When you sent stuff out, you didn’t know what was going on with it after,” Beeser said. “Seeing the machines they do it on really helped tie the process together in my head.”

Perkins said NMR testing is the final step the molecules for the TB and lung cancer research need to go through to ensure the correct product was made and completely purified.

“It’s a vital step, and it was very cool to finally see my compounds get tested.”

Several of Nawarathne’s students will be traveling to Puerto Rico later this semester to present their research at a conference. Beeser got to submit the abstract for the conference and is looking forward to the experience.

“It will be so cool to travel there,” she said. “I can’t wait to meet with all these other people from all over the place who know so much.”

“I’m looking forward to presenting our findings and hope that it will help people that need it,” said Gopaul.

Perkins said she is excited to fly for the first time and to go to a new place with some of her close friends.

“I am also looking forward to seeing the other types of chemical research people do around the country and the world.” 

Crain encourages students interested in research to work hard in their classes, as this is often how professors select their research assistants.

“And just because you didn’t like the class with that professor doesn’t mean you should take research off the table,” she said. “It’s totally different and is so enlightening.”

Beeser said getting to have a one-on-one relationship with a professional in the field is so important.

“They will help you grow in your classes and take your knowledge further and further.”


Several Lyon students have contributed to the research on multi-drug resistance tuberculosis and lung cancer. Below is a list of published and in preparation articles that feature this research, with the contributing Lyon students underlined:

Recent Work Published


  • Ford, A.; Miller, L.; Trant, J.; Nawarathne, I. N. A Minimalistic Approach to Single-Stranded DNA Circles, MethodsX , 2021, DOI: 10.1016/j.mex.2021.101300
  • Nawarathne, I. N. Lyon College and the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences at Little Rock, Compositions and Methods of Use, 2020, U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 63/042,255, Filed 06/22/2020 (A several Lyon students are contributors of this patent)
  • Sullivan, S.; Nawarathne, I. N.; Walker, K. CoA Recycling by a Benzoate Coenzyme A Ligase in Cascade Reactions with Aroyltransferases to Biocatalyze Paclitaxel Analogs, Arch. Biochem. Biophys., 2020, 683, PMID: 31978400, DOI: 10.1016/j.abb.2020.108276
  • Azido, Alkyne, and Triazole Incorporated Rifamycin Derivatives Show Promising Biological Activities (Armstrong, D.; Smith, J.; Jenkins, S. V.; Dings, R. P.; Voth, D.; Nawarathne, I. N. Abstracts of Papers, ACS Spring National Meeting, April 5-16, 2021, MEDI)
  • Comparison of Rice Bran Oil Composition Between Parental and Hybrid Lines (Fox, M.; Oliveira, C.; Shakiba, E.; Nawarathne, I. N. Abstracts of Papers, ACS Spring National Meeting, April 5-16, 2021, AGFD)
  • Amino- and Amidonaphthoquinones Lead to Novel Lung Cancer Therapeutics (Perkins, N. A.; Humphrey, M.; Smith, E.; Ho, K.; Jenkins, S. V.; Dings, R. P.; Nawarathne, I. N. Abstracts of Papers, ACS Spring National Meeting, April 5-16, 2021, MEDI)


Work in Preparation for 2021


  • Fox, M.; Newcomb, K.; Oliveira, C.; Shakiba, E.; Nawarathne, I. N. Facile Extraction and Reverse-Phase HPLC Analysis of Rice Bran Oil from Parental and Hybrid Genetic Variants, 2021, Manuscript in Preparation for J. Am. Oil Chem.' Soc.
  • Ford, A.; Nawarathne, I. N. Alkenes, Brought to You in Familiar Faces, 2021, Manuscript in Preparation for J. Chem. Educ.
  • Perkins, N. A.; Jenkins, S. V.; Beeser, L.; Terlea. A. C.; Smith, E.; Humphrey, M.; Dings, R. P.; Nawarathne, I. N. Sequential Coupling of Michael Addition and Click Reaction Leads to the Advancement of Lung Cancer Therapy, 2021, Manuscript in Preparation for J. Med. Chem.
  • Armstrong, D.; Smith, J.; Crain, D.; Beasley, I.; Gopaul, C.; Milligan, H.; Hodge, Z.; Jorgensen, M.; Fullerton, M.; Dragan, A.; Voth, D. E.; Nawarathne, I. N. Modified Rifamycins Through the Coupling of Enabling Reaction with Click Chemistry, 2021, Manuscript in Preparation for J. Am. Chem. Soc.