Luther College student researches HSA protein applications

August 14, 2017

Human serum albumin is the most abundant protein found in human blood plasma. Emily Starman, Luther College senior of Coralville, Iowa, is using steady-state fluorescence spectroscopy to research how curcuminoids, a major component of the spice turmeric, bind with HSA for her summer research project at the college.

The curcuminoid-HSA complex has many potential applications, including use in a cancer treatment called photodynamic drug therapy. Curcuminoids are photoactive molecules “” they react to a specific wavelength of light “” and once excited, react to form active oxygen species. A reactive oxygen species can then trigger cellular apoptosis, programmed cell death, leading to the death of the cancer cell. The HSA protein carries the drug (curcuminoid) to the cancer site before it is excited, and then the drug is released, allowing for the therapy to occur.

Starman, the daughter of Elizabeth and the late Keith Starman of Coralville, is a 2014 Iowa City West High School graduate.

“You have to have confidence in your own abilities and ask lots of questions to get the most out of research,” Starman said. “Research is a great way to test yourself on concepts that you have learned in the classroom, as well as expand your knowledge about things that you do not have the time to go into depth about during normal lecture periods.”

Starman is working with Olga Michels, Luther professor of chemistry, on the project. “In the current educational climate it is key for undergraduate students to have opportunities to truly engage in cutting-edge research. It is a pleasure to work with some of our brightest students on these research questions and contribute to literature in our fields of study. Providing these opportunities right here on Luther’s campus is an integral part for all of our science departments,” Michels said.

The group’s collaboration is funded through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The Student-Faculty Summer Research projects provide students an opportunity to research topics of interest alongside Luther faculty. This program is one of a wide selection of experiential learning opportunities at Luther intended to deepen the learning process and that are part of Luther’s academic core.

The results of the project will be presented at Luther’s Student Research Symposium in 2018.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,150, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college’s website: