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As pandemic persists, student’s research holds new importance

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s a sixth-grader, Emma Lendy was the only girl in her class to choose the category, How Things Work, for her science project. In helping her build a telegraph, Lendy said her father, a mechanical engineer, “fostered my interest in delving into why things work, not just taking them for granted.” 

Lendy’s inquisitiveness and Purdue’s reputation drew her to the university. While an undergraduate student, Lendy worked in the lab of Barbara Golden, a professor of biochemistry. 

“Being able to take up research as a freshman makes you feel your professor has faith in you,” said Lendy. “It was an incredible experience and cemented that research was the right career path for me.”

Emma Lendy at the Lab
Emma Lendy

Lendy then entered the Purdue University Interdisciplinary Life Science (PULSe) program as a graduate student. After a year of rotations, she joined the lab of Andrew Mesecar, Walther Professor in Cancer Structural Biology. 

“I knew that I wanted to go into some sort of virology or drug design,” shared Lendy, who had taken Mesecar’s class as a senior. “Dr. Mesecar is great about pushing you into situations you’ll get a lot of personal growth out of.” 

In the lab, Lendy worked on two research projects.  The first focused on designing selective drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes. 

“When we’re targeting human diseases like these, we want our drugs to be selective and bind only to the target protein,” she explained. 

Lendy used X-ray crystallography to visualize how drug molecules fit a target. “This allows us to design the drug to specifically exclude interactions that could occur outside of our target.” 

Lendy’s second project involved designing broad-spectrum drugs to inhibit the entire coronavirus family. 

The lab designs drugs with the potential to bind multiple targets when drugs are focused on proteins in viruses or bacteria. 

“The whole lab has been working 24/7,” said Lendy, who emphasized the importance of a broad-spectrum antiviral in the context of COVID-19. 

Lendy planned to complete her Ph.D. in May but said the pandemic could delay her graduation. Her future plans include a postdoctoral fellowship or a position with a pharmaceutical company where she can continue contributing to drug design. 

“Knowing that the work I’m doing now could be directly translated to patient care, to find a great drug or a cure is exciting.”

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