Pictured above: Student Sabastine Arthur and professor Kristen Gibson working together in the Food Science lab. | Photo by Matt Reynolds
Your head is pounding. Your stomach is in knots. Your entire body aches as the fever spikes. And the worst is yet to come.
You have the human norovirus, the stomach flu also known as gastroenteritis, the most common foodborne illness in the United States. Symptoms can be severe and last from 24 to 48 hours, and there is currently no cure.
Sabastine Arthur, a graduate student in cell and molecular biology, wants to change that by putting an end to norovirus infections.
Human norovirus is difficult to study because it cannot be reproduced in a lab. So Arthur’s first step is to find a way to study the virus in a laboratory setting. The only way currently to learn more about the virus is through human volunteer studies — which are cost prohibitive and complicated to conduct — or to identify viruses that mimic the human norovirus that can be used as surrogates.
Arthur focused his research over the last two years on the Tulane virus and porcine sapovirus as potential surrogates for the human norovirus study. If he is able to successfully establish that these viruses are the most suitable surrogates to use in this endeavor, it will open the door for scientists to begin exploring possible control strategies for preventing contamination and infection.
Relatively little research has been conducted on Tulane virus and porcine sapovirus in the United States. Arthur’s research is helping scientists learn more about the viruses by adding literature and data to the field and validating existing research.
“It is difficult to propagate the viruses so that we get high yields, which makes it challenging to create a standard protocol to produce the virus in the lab,” Arthur said.
Though there have been some obstacles in the lab, there have been plenty of noteworthy discoveries for Arthur as well.
“One of the most interesting things I have come across is how cells grow. Sometimes they grow over five days and sometimes over three days,” he said. “There are many inconsistencies.”
This was Arthur’s first time studying viruses, so he relied on Tulane virus and porcine sapovirus experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and The Ohio State University to keep him on the right path by ensuring he follows proper protocols.
Perhaps the most significant support Arthur has received throughout the process, however, has been from his adviser Kristen Gibson, assistant professor of molecular food safety and microbiology with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and the Department of Food Science in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.
“Dr. Gibson is ever-ready to listen and to allow me to do what I think is right; and when I am wrong she directs me to the right course,” he said.
Gibson was one of the reasons Arthur chose the University of Arkansas. He learned about her research pursuits while exploring graduate programs and found that his interests aligned well with hers. Arthur, a native of Ghana, came to the University of Arkansas in 2013, after completing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Cape Coast in his home country.