Student Research Spotlight July 23, 2018
Meridith Hawkins, MS/Biomed '18
Meridith Hawkins (left), MS/Biomed ’18, worked with Srujana Rayalam (right), PhD,
to study the potential anti-obesity effects of human milkoligosaccharide, Lacto-N-neotetraose
Georgia Campus – Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (GA-PCOM) graduate Meridith Hawkins, MS ’18, 24, grew up in Powell, Tennessee. She played collegiate
golf at Carson Newman University and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in biology
in 2016. She then earned a master’s degree in biomedical sciences from GA-PCOM in May.
During her time at GA-PCOM, Hawkins pursued a concentration in research focused on obesity. All experimentation was conducted at the GA-PCOM Pharmaceutical
Sciences Research Lab.
This fall, she will start medical school at Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College
of Osteopathic Medicine in Harrogate, Tennessee, where she is interested in pursuing
a career in pediatrics.
What did you study?
I worked under Srujana Rayalam, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, in collaboration with Dr. Donald Harn from the University of Georgia, to study the
potential anti-obesity effects of a human milk oligosaccharide, Lacto-N-neotetraose
(LNnT). Obesity is the single largest risk factor for developing chronic diseases
and is associated with an excessive accumulation of white adipose tissue. FDA approved
obesity medications are accompanied with adverse side effects and fail to directly
target adipose tissue expansion. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop effective
Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are the third most abundant component in human
breast milk and provide many beneficial effects to breastfed infants. Recent literature
has shown other HMOs such as LNFPIII to alleviate hepatosteatosis and increase glucose
tolerance and insulin sensitivity. The focus of our project was to determine if LNnT
could act as a therapeutic obesity agent by inducing the beiging of WAT.
What prompted you to pursue research?
I have always been interested in pursuing research. But being a collegiate athlete
hindered me from gaining this experience during undergrad. After starting at GA-PCOM,
I knew I wanted to become involved in research, particularly in a field that I felt
would correlate with my future career goal of becoming a pediatrician.
I was led to Dr. Rayalam, whose focus lies in the prevention and treatment of obesity,
understanding fat-bone interactions and identifying molecular targets for the prevention
of weight gain and bone loss associated with aging. Since childhood obesity has been
called “one of the greatest public health challenges in the 21st century”, I was very
interested in learning more about obesity and exploring potential therapeutic options
that may be treatment options in the future.
What were your responsibilities in your research project?
I conducted this research project, along with research assistant, Janaiya Samuels,
MS/Biomed ’17. Two different cell lines were cultured to determine the anti-obesity
effects of LNnT, 3T3-L1 adipocytes and RAW 264.7 macrophages. This project focused
on exploring the effects of LNnT on the transdifferentiation of white to beige adipocytes,
a process known as beiging, as well as on adipogenesis and lipolysis. Cells were treated
with LNnT directly or indirectly following 24 or 48 hours and several experiments
were conducted such as cell viability, western blotting, ELISA, RT-PCR and a variety
of biological assays.
I presented our data at PCOM’s annual Research Day in May and at the inaugural Nutrition
Conference in June. I also helped contribute to the publication of four abstracts
over the course of my project. As I move forward with my medical education, I hope
to continue work in the research field.
What is the broader impact of your research?
Over the past 30 years, the prevalence of obesity has more than doubled worldwide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obesity
was 39.8% and affected approximately 93 million adults in the U.S. in 2015-2016. As
one of the most pervasive chronic diseases, obesity greatly affects everyday life
and places a heavy strain on the United States healthcare system due to the major
consequences associated with the disease. It is known to lead to poorer mental health
and quality of life, along with greater risk of diseases and conditions such as coronary
heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular
disease and malignant disorders. While obesity may be preventable, the various contributing
factors and complex nature of the disease make it difficult to remedy.
Standard obesity treatment options depend upon the case and severity of the condition.
Several treatment options include healthy lifestyle changes, weight-loss programs,
medications and potentially surgery. Many times lifestyle changes are not enough to
combat obesity. Surgical procedures such as bypass surgery or gastric banding can
be highly expensive and present serious risks including bleeding, infections or even
death. FDA approved medications are accompanied with undesirable side effects and
don’t directly target the excessive accumulation of white adipose tissue, the main
problem associated with obesity.
On account of these issues, researchers have begun investigating healthier, more natural
treatment options focused on increasing energy expenditure and/or decreasing excess
fat accumulation and inflammation. Dr. Rayalam’s lab is dedicated to exploring natural
compounds such as phytochemicals, vitamins and HMOs with the ultimate goal of developing
pharmaceuticals or nutraceuticals for prevention and treatment of obesity and associated
diseases. We hope this research will lead to more effective therapeutic options for
patients with obesity in the future.
You May Also Like:
About PCOM Georgia
Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institute of higher education dedicated
to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia
College of Osteopathic Medicine, a premier osteopathic medical school with a storied
history. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and
physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences, medical laboratory science,
and physician assistant studies. Emphasizing "a whole person approach to care," PCOM
Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service
to the wider community. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center,
an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment.
For more information, visit pcom.edu/georgia or call 678-225-7500.
For more information, contact:
Senior Public Relations Manager
Office: 678-225-7532 | Cell:
Connect with PCOM Georgia