Me vs ACE2, and HIV

Hello everyone! My name is Janet Kim and I am currently a sophomore majoring in Chemistry, minoring in Economics, and pursuing certificates in Global Health and Children’s Literature. I received the Chancellor Undergraduate Research Fellowship under Dr. Ivona Pandrea, who works in the Division of Experimental Pathology. My work started with her in the summer of 2022 through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Pitt.

Dr. Pandrea’s lab focuses on studying mechanisms responsible for development of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)-associated comorbidities. My research project focuses on severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) which binds to angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) among other co-receptors. The number of ACE2 receptors in each person and in each tissue differ and factors that impact quantity are not well-defined. A high frequency of ACE2 in the tissues may be responsible for the severity of the infection. The importance of this research rose as the COVID pandemic quickly became one of the most critical global health problems ever known to mankind. SARS-CoV-2 has the potential to become a seasonal pathogen, similar to other respiratory infections, likely a significant cause of morbidity worldwide and thus it is imperative to understand the pathogenesis of this viral infection in numerous organs and systems and determine what are the population at risk to develop severe disease.

Increased COVID mortality was reported in aging people and in those with comorbidities, but the exact cause is not known. The role of the gut in COVID pathogenesis is also not completely elucidated.

The lab hypothesizes that a high frequency of the angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) which is the main receptor for SARS-CoV-2 in the tissues may be responsible for the severity of the infection. The number of receptors present on different tissues may vary based on different factors, which are not well known. It is therefore difficult to identify the people at high risk for severe COVID.

I hope to test the impact of age, sex, SIV status, antiretroviral therapy and diet on the frequency of ACE2 receptors in tissues such as lung, colon, jejunum, kidney, and liver. I focus on the expression of the ACE2 receptor with quantification by immunohistochemistry. 

Other than the work I do in the lab, I enjoy passing my time hammocking and eating any desserts that taste like strawberries. I also look forward to new experiences both in life and in my education. Through CURF, I hope to find a new community of peers to share my research and experiences with in order to expand my understanding of the everchanging scientific community at Pitt and beyond as I aspire for a career in medicine.

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