Bea Angella Penaredondo is a UNT undergrad student in her third year, majoring in Medical Laboratory Science and minoring in Chemistry. She was recently the recipient of an undergraduate research fellowship and has already presented work at the 61st annual SOT (Science of Toxicology) Conference and at UNT Scholars Day.
Since the winter of 2020, Bea has been working under Dr. Amie Lund in her research lab. Their research explores how environmental (air) pollution exposure contributes to various diseases in the human body, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, neurovascular disorders, dementia-related disorders (like Alzheimer's), as well as changes in the microbial diversity in the lung and intestine.
"My research specifically looks into the role of air pollution exposure in the exacerbation of atherosclerosis, specifically the dysregulation of the renin-angiotensin system, which is the body's main blood pressure monitor system," said Bea. "My interest in understanding the mechanisms and pathways of the human body encouraged me to pursue this research."
Science is something that Bea has been very passionate about since a young age. In high school, she took almost every STEM course available knowing she wanted to go into science in college. Her first exposure to research was with her Microbiology Lab TA, Danielle (UNT Ph.D. graduate, 2021).
"She was an amazing TA and her research on the changes in microbiota of the small intestine seemed fascinating to me, so I reached out to her and asked if she had any openings in her lab," said Bea. "By the end of the semester, she invited me to do some immunofluorescent imaging over the winter break, and I was incorporated into the lab to help out with other graduate students in analyzing data, staining, sectioning, or imaging. Eventually, I was able to have my own project, which was the poster I presented."
Because ambient air pollution is one of the largest contributors to 4.2 million deaths per year by contributing to the exacerbation of multiple diseases, like stroke and heart disease, the work of the Lund Lab looks into the impact of air pollution and diet on the exacerbation of atherosclerosis. Bea wants to make this knowledge easily accessible to the public in hopes that their efforts might help support legislation or the production of drugs that can accurately address the issues they uncover in their research.
"I believe that is why research exists in the first place, for the world to have information about how we can make it better," she said.
Bea says that conducting research has been an ongoing lesson in patience and perseverance, but that it is also very rewarding.
"I am proud that I am able to contribute to our growing understanding of how something as simple as the air we breathe can majorly affect our lives in the long term," she said. "I believe that as we develop a deeper understanding of the causes of cardiovascular diseases, we ultimately are opening doors for solutions to issues that are prevalent in so many people's day-to-day matters, allowing us to hopefully build a better, more sustainable future. It was also through this research that I discovered and strengthened my skills in communication, time management, lab experience, and more, which I look forward to using with my future goals."
Bea cites Dr. Lund has been a wonderful mentor for her throughout her research. "She always does her best to guide me by offering advice, knowledge, experience, and wisdom and is always super positive and encouraging as well," she said. "I am also thankful for the other graduate members such as Danielle, Leah, and Tyler, who are always willing to help me with training, exploring other procedures, and lab techniques that I can use. Their enthusiasm to share their knowledge and experience, and to also reassure me whenever I make mistakes while I learn has made this entire experience one to remember and I will always cherish it."
Her advice for other students interested in pursuing research?
"Give yourself the opportunity. I know it can be intimidating, but talk with your TAs and professors and see if their research aligns with something you would like to be a part of. Allow yourself time to explore specific research topics that interest you most. When I first began as a freshman at UNT, all I for sure knew was that I was here to learn, but after this research experience, I also now know that I am here to expand what's already being taught in classrooms, and I believe we as students should be allowed to feel confident in that aspect."