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Lyon Professor Selected to Speak at Arkansas INBRE Conference

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Irosha Nawarathne has been invited to speak at the Arkansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) conference at the University of Arkansas on Nov. 2.

INBRE is one of the largest undergraduate research conferences in the state for biology, physics, and chemistry.  Nawarathne is one of four speakers asked to discuss their research at the conference, and she will be the chemistry speaker.

At the conference, Nawarathne will share her research on tuberculosis (TB), titled “TB or not TB? That is not the only question.” She conducted this research with Lyon College students.

“Our research is mostly to look for drugs that would be effective for drug resistant TB bacterial strains,” explained Nawarathne. “The wide use of antibiotics creates resistance, especially due to the misuse of the drug. Rather than starting from scratch in search of a new drug, we make modifications to the existing drug using new chemical protocols, as it is beneficial to exploit a drug core that has already been proven to be a good therapeutic for humans.”

Nawarathne said her goals at the conference are to educate the audience and raise awareness about misusing antibiotics and the danger of drug resistant TB.

“Over 10 million cases of TB are reported every year around the world, and about two million people die annually because of TB,” she said. “Even though we would think that TB is gone, that’s not the case. It might come back as an epidemic due to rapidly expanding drug resistance. So we need to constantly make new drugs for TB and also for other infectious diseases.”

But this is not Nawarathne’s first time to share her research. In mid-October, she visited her alma mater, Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, where she was invited by her Ph.D. adviser, Dr. Kevin D. Walker, to speak to the MSU chemistry department. For this audience, she focused more on the specifics of the research and her own career path.

Nawarathne said it was “rewarding” to visit her “home” in the U.S. and see her professors from her doctoral program. She also saw some of her Lyon students, who are now in graduate programs at MSU. Samuel Brineman, ‘17, Nawarathne’s first research student, and Samantha Westcott, ‘18, one of Nawarathne’s academic advisees, were present for Nawarathne’s seminar. Lyon graduate Jonathan Dannatt, ‘14, also attended.  

Nawarathne said she received several compliments on the research, and she also heard several compliments on Lyon graduates’ performances in graduate programs at MSU. She said she is also excited about the possibility of starting a bridge program between Lyon and MSU, an idea that was brought up by several of her professors at MSU.