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Student Q&A: Megan Nas, Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences

Megan Nas

Megan Nas, a seventh-year student in the Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences and Program in Public Health, is focused on infectious disease research. She studies drug-resistant bacteria in the laboratory of Nicholas Canciotto, PhD, professor of Microbiology-Immunology, and worked with the Healthcare Epidemiology and Infection Prevention Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital to address the association between high alarm volume and infection spread in the hospital environment.

Read a Q&A with Nas below.

Where is your hometown?

I grew up in Grand Blanc, Michigan, a small city southeast of Flint. I completed my undergraduate studies in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan.

What are your research interests?

I have a longstanding passion for studying infectious diseases. I am particularly interested in two major public health concerns: antimicrobial resistance and hospital acquired infections. My program at Northwestern has allowed me to research these topics in several different contexts.

What exciting projects are you working on?

As a PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Nicholas Cianciotto, I am studying the pathogenesis of the multi-drug resistant bacterial species, Stenotrophomonas maltophilia. This gram-negative pathogen is naturally found in soil and water but is increasingly being recognized as an important hospital acquired infection.

The study of S. maltophilia virulence is still in its beginning stages, and it has been exciting to contribute to the discovery process. I have begun to characterize the role of its type IV secretion system. One interesting phenotype I have discovered is the type IV dependent secretion of anti-bacterial factors. I have determined these factors act against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is interesting given that these two bacterial species co-colonize the Cystic Fibrosis lung.

I have also discovered that S. maltophilia produces a siderophore, important in chelating iron. I am working to characterize the structure of the S. maltophilia siderophore which we hypothesize is distinct from known siderophores. The discovery of a novel siderophore could have clinical implications in both antibiotic delivery and treating iron overload.

I am fortunate to be in a dual degree PhD/MPH program at Northwestern. I have been able to pursue exciting projects with Northwestern’s Infection Prevention team regarding multi-drug resistant organisms and factors leading to patient room contamination.

What attracted you to your program?

During my interview weekend for the Driskill Graduate Program at Northwestern, two things were immediately clear: there was inspiring science being performed and the faculty and current students fostered a supportive environment that was unmatched.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?
It is difficult to select just one best experience, but I have felt very fortunate to be a part of the discovery process in the Cianciotto laboratory. I am grateful to be advised by a principal investigator who is dedicated to my growth as a scientist and to be surrounded by supportive, creative lab mates. This group fosters inspiring discussions that, along with the importance of the work itself, make it enjoyable and fulfilling to be researching.

Another unforgettable experience at Feinberg was completing an internship with the Department of Infection Prevention as a part of the Program in Public Health. I was able to shadow Infection Preventionists and work on a project with them on the relationship between high alarm volumes in the hospital and contamination of the patient environment.

Additionally, I had the great fortune of being able to teach a microbiology course to Northwestern School of Professional Studies students. The challenge of leading this course and communicating science to a group of engaged and hardworking students was rewarding.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?
The Feinberg faculty so clearly care about both the work and the students. I have felt supported since I began the program in 2014. My PI, my thesis committee, and the administrators clearly communicate their interest in my scientific career while inspiring me with their science and their dedication.

What do you do in your free time?
In my free time, I enjoy various forms of exercise like yoga sculpt, weightlifting and dancing. I grew up playing the piano and that remains a good stress reliever every so often. I particularly find delight in learning Mozart Sonatas and Chopin Waltzes. Also, I am half Turkish and have recently loved learning from my parents to make some of the Turkish recipes I grew up indulging in.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I have many interests that I will explore as I enter the job search. I look forward to finding an avenue where I can combine my passions for scientific problem solving, infectious disease control, and science communication.