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Research Fellowship studies healthy benefits of antioxidants

It is commonly believed that foods such as tomatoes, dark chocolate, walnuts and blueberries are good for your health because they have high concentrations of antioxidants –a variety of natural chemicals that offer beneficial health effects against a range of chronic diseases.

Yet, not much is known about the role antioxidants, such as beta-Carotene and resveratrol, play in making those reactions happen. Pre-med students Giovanni Baiamonte ’18 of Ashley, Pa., and Andrea Nale ’17 of Kunkletown, Pa., spent the summer in Hafey McCormick Science Hall as part of Misericordia University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program (SURF) to determine how antioxidants work, their impact on cells, and what protection they offer against free radicals that cause diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and autism. Under the direction of Charles F. Saladino, Jr., Ph.D., professor of chemistry and biochemistry, the team used an ultraviolet/visible spectrophotometer and luminometry to observe antioxidant reactions at work and evaluate their effectiveness under different conditions.

“The more we look, the better understanding we have of what works where in the body,”says Dr. Saladino. “For example, we looked at the antioxidant glutathione, which when deficient in red blood cells results in their breakage, causing hemolytic anemia. We have the window of a nanosecond – one thousand millionth of a second – to capture the reaction.”Conducting more than 1,500 experiments during the 10-week research program, Dr. Saladino said Baiamonte and Nale developed an exceptional work ethic in the laboratory based on patience, dedication and intuition. “They are no longer technicians carrying out experiments –they have developed into independent investigators who have learned how to interpret their results and take their experimentation to the next level. I feel as though they are no longer just students doing research– they have grown to become colleagues of mine in the laboratory,” he says. The two began their preliminary work during classes in the spring so they could “hit the ground running” for when the SURF program started in June, according to Dr. Saladino.

Nale, a biology major with a chemistry minor, admits drawing inspiration from her mother, Sandra Nale, and father, Paul Nale, an advanced placement biology teacher at Pleasant Valley High School, who involved her in after-dinner science projects as a youngster –everything from playing with bugs to building circuits. “My dad was impressed with the biology curriculum at Misericordia and I came here because of the four charisms of the Sisters of Mercy –Mercy, Service, Justice and Hospitality – fit well with my personality,” she says.

As part of her research, Nale tested the antioxidant resveratrol to determine if it does inhibit chemiluminescence of free radicals in reactions. The research is the first of many long steps in determining if the compound may someday lead to improved treatments for diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. She presented her findings at the American College of Nutrition’s 58th annual conference in Virginia in November.

In the Mercy tradition, she tutored in organic chemistry and calculus, and regularly volunteered at the Geisinger Wyoming Valley and Wilkes-Barre Veterans Affairs hospitals. She also spent a spring break on a Campus Ministry service trip to aid the homeless in New York State. As she hoped, Nale believes the one-on-one mentoring she experienced from expert faculty, in addition to her experiences serving others, had an indelible imprint on her future. She received a remarkably early acceptance to medical school – two full months before receiving her undergraduate diploma at Misericordia’s winter commencement. “My research in biochemistry really was a key component that sparked my interest in the biochemical processes that occur in our body – and cause diseases such as Type 2 diabetes,”saysNale, who plans to become a family practice physician or an internal medicine physician with a specialization in endocrinology. “Dr. Saladino really made us focus on the way research is supposed to be done. We needed to be in the moment and be present. He trusted us to do a good job … and he taught us how to start from scratch, and not always follow what others have done.

”A senior chemistry and biochemistry major, Baiamonte is the son of Mark and Dawn Baiamonte of Ashley, Pa., and is the third sibling in his family to attend Misericordia. Eldest sister Melissa Luksh ’06 is a teacher in the Hanover Area School District and middle sister Gina Baiamonte ’16 preceded Gio, as family and friends know him, as a chemistry and biochemistry standout. Valedictorian for the Class of 2016, Gina is currently a second-year medical student at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in Scranton, Pa. “Thanks to my sisters, I knew Misericordia well before I got here and knew that smaller classes would allow me to get to know my professors,” Baiamonte says, “and help me stand out when I applied to med school. Doing research since my sophomore year, I feel I have gained confidence in the research process, and in working with equipment and analyzing data.

“We have proven that our system works,” adds Baiamonte, who is applying to medical school in anticipation of May commencement. “Now we can start applying it to trials with bacteria and small animals, such as mice. By having a better understanding of the biochemical systems in the body and how they impact different drugs, what we are doing here might lead to the development of new and better drugs in the future.”In addition to his research and part-time work as an emergency medical scribe at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, he is a member of the Dead Alchemist Society student chemistry club. In his spare time, he takes classes in sign language so he can assist others this summer at Camp Hero, a camp for deaf children in Millville, Pa. The student’s research continued through the fall semester. Dr. Saladino plans to expand upon their efforts by collaborating with Anna Fedor, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, to have students isolate polyphenols to study the antioxidant effect of polyphenols found in green tea.