It’s not uncommon for a Glynn scholar to get excited when talking about his or her research, but when that research is on the microorganisms living in the human gut, it is still a bit startling. “I have a passion for the microbiome and gastroenterology,” says Mary Catherine Camacho, a junior in the Glynn program and a major in Notre Dame’s Science Pre-Professional program. Mary Catherine’s passion for what lives in our guts, and how those microorganisms live symbiotically with us, was ignited by her own experience with ulcerative colitis and a clostridium difficile (“c. diff”) infection. She has channeled her personal story, her enthusiasm, and her growing expertise in multiple ways, including founding and running a support group for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation here in South Bend.
Last summer, Mary Catherine pursued her passion at Emory University, in the lab of Dr. Andrew Neish. Working with Dr. Neish and graduate student Bejan Saeedi, Mary Catherine investigated the mechanism by which one gut organism (lactobacillus rhamnosus GG) signals the release of a protein that protects the human liver from being damaged by acetaminophen, an analgesic found in most homes’ medicine cabinets. The results of that research were recently published in Cell Metabolism, with Mary Catherine as co-author, her first publication in a frontline research journal.
Here at Notre Dame, Mary Catherine conducts research in the lab of Dr. David Boone, who shares a joint appointment with the Indiana University School of Medicine. In Dr. Boone’s lab, Mary Catherine is studying the role of the gastrokine protein in inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. This work will form the basis for her Glynn senior thesis. After graduation, Mary Catherine plans to attend medical school. And once you hear Mary Catherine’s enthusiasm for the gut, there is no surprise in her planned specialty – gastroenterology, of course.