DWU’s Fortuna presents at state capital for SD BRIN

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Tyler Fortuna, DWU senior, stands next to his SD BRIN research poster in capitol building in Pierre, SD.

Tyler Fortuna, a senior biochemistry major at Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell, S.D., was selected to represent South Dakota BRIN Monday, Feb. 26, at the South Dakota capitol building in Pierre for the South Dakota Student Research Poster Session.

This is an annual poster session in the Capitol Rotunda allowing the legislators to view an example of undergraduate research around the state. One to two posters are chosen from each state university, as well as one representing EPSCoR and one representing South Dakota Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN) – 12 in all.  Dakota Wesleyan, being a private university, has not been invited to attend until this year, when SD BRIN asked Fortuna to represent the program with his team’s research, “A comparison of cytotoxicity of two types of airborne particulate matter in murine astrocyte cells.”

“Students presented for three hours and were then introduced to both houses of legislature, receiving a standing ovation,” said Dr. Paula Mazzer, associate professor of biochemistry at DWU and research adviser.

The research was conducted on campus under the advising of Mazzer with Fortuna, who worked on the research initially with DWU students Peyton Price, Kevin Lopez and Andrew Schwader, all 2017 graduates.  In addition, Bethany Mordhorst and Peter Vitiello from Sanford Research collaborated on the research.

“We investigated how airborne particulate matter chemically affects astrocyte cells of the brain,” Fortuna said. “Many epidemiological studies have linked living in urban areas that are high in air pollution with having a greater chance of acquiring a neurodegenerative disease. They have also shown that these people’s brains inside the city have shown oxidative stress and amyloid beta accumulation – these are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The team then chose to analyze urban dust and diesel exhaust particulate matter as two model types of air pollution.

“So far, we have found out that diesel exhaust is inducing apoptotic cell death – healthy cell death,” Fortuna added. “While urban dust is inducing a different form of cell death that is causing oxidative stress, which might lead to inflammation inside the brain. Our results tell us that urban dust is more harmful to our brains than diesel exhaust due to the mode of cell death and oxidative stress.”

Fortuna has presented this research twice before with his team – all whom graduated last year – but as with all research, it continues, which is why he and Mazzer have worked this past semester on furthering their results.

“Thanks to the collaboration with the Vitiello lab at Sanford, we have been able to use some advanced techniques to probe the oxidative state of the cells,” Mazzer said. “That collaboration has really allowed us to verify the oxidative stress we are seeing with the urban dust.”

Mazzer and Fortuna are now working on a paper, based on this work, of which Fortuna will be the primary author.

“Dakota Wesleyan University has provided me with amazing opportunities that I would have never been able to pursue elsewhere,” Fortuna said. “Being a biochemistry major, I was privileged with being able to perform innovative toxicological research that couldn't have been done without my supportive professors, coaches and fellow students. This research project has opened my eyes to what future career path I would like to take.”

Fortuna, who is also a member of the Tiger football team, was recently accepted to the Integrative Systems Biology (biomedical science) Ph.D. program in the fall of 2018 with an emphasis in neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.