Madison Mix ’17

Madison Mix is researching the possible connection between the gut microbiome and Alzheimer's disease.

Madison Mix is researching the possible connection between the gut microbiome and Alzheimer’s disease.

With steady hands, Madison Mix ’17 began the delicate process of decapitating the fruit fly on her microscope slide. After more than 12 months of working with the tiny insects, the task took only seconds.

Mix, a neuroscience major from Cedar Falls, spent the summer studying gut bacteria in traditional fruit flies and those predisposed to developing Alzheimer’s disease to determine how the stomach’s microbiome impacts the brain. Dr. Douglas Brusich, visiting assistant professor of biology, is overseeing her research.

“If we can characterize what is an advantageous gut bacteria versus one that is not advantageous, we can give a human a probiotic that promotes the colonization of that gut bacteria,” Mix said.

This was Mix’s third summer working in her future field. She spent the previous two at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix and the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania as part of the Summer Undergraduate Program for Educating Radiation Scientists.

“In both of those experiences, I had clinical research experiences where I was working with neuroimaging scans, like PETs and MRIs for patients,” she said. “That work is very valuable and it interests me a lot as I want to pursue my MD-PhD, but I was lacking in basic research experience. This summer I focused more on the underlying causes or methodologies that lead to a particular disease rather than characterizing how we can make patient care better.”

She is continuing her research this year through a senior capstone course. Though Mix hasn’t settled on her final career path, she knows the work she’s doing at Wartburg will help her moving forward.

“The topics that interest me most right now are neurology, immunology, and gastroenterology. The project I am working on now encompasses all of them: neuroscience because I’m looking at Alzheimer’s, gastro because I am exploring this new area of gut microbiome research, and immunology because of the interaction between the brain-gut axis,” she said. “This is a great opportunity I’ve been given.”