In 2017, Baltimore was home to a total of 343 homicides, 301 of which were committed with a gun. The impoverished neighborhoods where this violence is known to occur have a severe lack of facilities to treat gunshots or stab wounds in their area. Our team, the Baltimore Bio-Crew, is a group of high school students from all over Baltimore and its surrounding counties, all brought together by our love of science. We meet weekly at the Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS), a community laboratory in central Baltimore.
We wanted to address these disparities with treatments. We decided to not be bystanders, but to address this problem by focusing on blood clots and how they could be helpful with quick treatment of open wounds. However, when doing this research we learned of the potential dangers of blood clotting, such heart disease, which killed 292 out of every 100 thousand people in Baltimore during 2017. Realizing that blood clots are a double edged sword inspired the idea of both creating blood clots to stop bleeding, and breaking down blood clots to treat heart disease and as a way to control our own artificial clots. Through this, we want to empower Baltimore communities to help solve their problems.
In order to clot blood effectively and quickly, we decided to use Russell Viper Serine Protease, an enzyme that is derived from the venom of the Russell Viper. In order to use this enzyme in our project, we chose to cause our enzyme to be expressed in an Escherichia coli vector. We chose to modify it by adding a second construct that will help localize the coagulation.
To eliminate blood clots in heart disease patients, we resolved to use Tissue Plasminogen Activator (TPA). While regular TPA is already used to treat some types of heart disease, we needed to regulate the TPA so that it only functions in the presence of the low oxygen conditions around blood clots. We we determined the best way to do this was to modify the base TPA by creating redox switches with cysteine. This more targeted and specialized TPA will prevent the harmful side effects that the TPA currently used can cause (such as hemorrhages, bleeding in the gums/nose, and a small chance of bleeding in the brain). In addition to treating heart disease, this protein could be used to help prevent unwanted blood clotting during dialysis, or even as a failsafe if the blood clotting gel gets into the bloodstream.
The Baltimore Bio-Crew is a part of a larger network of nonprofits and creative community spaces within Baltimore city, who are committed to resolving issues that disproportionately affect our community. Nonprofits and community resource spaces such as Baltimore Cease Fire, Safe Streets, and B-CIITY are contributing to changing the narrative of Baltimore city by empowering communities to provide unique solutions to systemic issues such as violence and health disparities. We hope to remediate these community issues through a scientific approach by inspiring solutions that address the multifaceted symptoms of health disparities and other systemic issues that directly impact our city.