University of Calgary


February 10, 2010

A paw up on human health

Radhmila Parmar is part of the USRP program in health and wellness.
/ Photo: Ken Bendiktsen
Radhmila Parmar is making sure that the cat does, indeed, come back.

The third-year biological sciences student is trying to determine the structure of a specific enzyme of feline calicivirus (FCV), a virus that targets the upper respiratory system of cats. 

Parmar says the implications of her research on human health are startling. “FCV’s enzyme polymerase has a structure similar to the human norovirus, which causes the simple stomach flu.” Polymerase is responsible for the replication of FCV and represents an attractive target for the development of antivirals.

There is currently no known method to alleviate the symptoms of FCV.

“Previous studies have given a rough estimate of the structure,” says Parmar, 20. “But a more comprehensive detailed structure will determine which antivirals could inhibit the virus from functioning.”

The norovirus is usually passed on through contaminated food or by being in close contact with infected people. By determining the structure of the FCV polymerase, Parmar will have a better idea of what antivirals will inhibit the human virus.

Parmar’s research is funded by the Markin Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) in health and wellness.

The USRP provides students early in their education with the rare opportunity to work with leading U of C scientists. The goal of the program is to enhance the undergrad experience and increase the possibilities of future success for the students.

The faculty mentor for Parmar’s work is biochemistry instructor Isabelle Barrette-Ng of the Department of Biological Sciences. “Her enthusiasm for teaching and learning alike are infectious,” says Parmar about her supervisor. “Her motivation to provide her students with the best tools for learning is the reason I became interested in conducting research in a biochemistry lab.”

During her time in the lab, Parmar hopes to learn how to troubleshoot areas where mistakes can be made while conducting an experiment with sequential steps, and use this newly acquired knowledge in her own class labs. “I’m sure that this experience will help me in my future studies and courses,” says Parmar.

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