Montana State University

Whitefish student finds research intriguing after all

January 15, 2003 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU Research Office


Jeremy Mitchell in the lab   High-Res Available

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Jeremy Mitchell used to think of research the way some people think of watching sewing tips on TV.

Bor...i...ng.

But his opinion began to change after he volunteered at the Gallatin Community Clinic in Bozeman. There he met Jeff Leid, another volunteer, and Leid told him about the research he was doing at the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE) at Montana State University-Bozeman. He suggested Mitchell give it a try.

"It sounded like it would be boring, but I got really excited about it once I started doing it," Mitchell said. "Now I really enjoy it."

The Whitefish native is growing bacteria for a project that could lead to a remedy for people who've gotten a type of staph infection called Staphylococcus aureus. The infection can affect people with weakened immune systems or artificial implants. Mitchell, an MSU senior majoring in chemical engineering, is involved in the project as part of the university's Undergraduate Scholars Program.

"I enjoy the people that I work with, and I enjoy seeing the reason we are doing the research and where it's going and how it might be beneficial to medicine eventually," Mitchell said.

Mark Shirtliff, assistant research professor in microbiology and the CBE, said, "Every year in the United States, thousands of people die and many more suffer from the debilitating effects of chronic bacterial infections. These infections cannot be resolved by the host immune system or antibiotic therapy. In our laboratory, we have had the genuine pleasure to have Jeremy Mitchell work towards understanding these infections and discover potential candidates for vaccines against these infections.

"The vaccines against bacterial infections to date have concentrated on factors produced during an early, acute phase and have met with limited success," Shirtliff continued. "Jeremy is growing bacteria in a system to mimic a chronic infection. He then uses a technique ... to identify bacterial factors specific to this growth condition. By using these factors as vaccines, we hope to spur the immune system on to attack these bacteria before they are able to develop into a chronic infection."

Mitchell is applying now to medical schools. He's interested in biomedical engineering, too. But his outlook on research has changed so much, that he could otherwise pursue a career in research.

If he does go into research, Mitchell said he might want to take on projects with a little broader focus than his current work.

That's an approach that seems to fit the rest of his life, as well.

When Mitchell isn't studying or analyzing proteins, he may be spending time with his new wife (He and Sarah Bent of Whitefish were married Jan. 4), playing guitar, hiking, backpacking or skiing. He's been president of MSU's chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ and traveled to Oregon and Japan on summer mission projects. When he was in elementary school, he and his family spent three summers together in England where his father was working. His parents are Phil and Belinda Mitchell of Whitefish.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu