Biology and dance might, on the surface, seem as if they belong on opposite ends of the academic spectrum, but to Nicole Rondeau ’18, the connection is clear. “Every discipline is about problem-solving,” said the research technician and dancer. Whether someone is negotiating space in a dance scene or investigating a potential treatment for cancer, Rondeau believes that creative problem-solving is everywhere in academia.
For the past three years, Rondeau has used her analytical skills while working with JJ Miranda, an assistant professor of biology at Barnard, supporting the Miranda Lab research team at Barnard and acting as a mentor for current students involved in the lab’s research. At the lab, she studies host-virus genome interactions and the repurposing of small molecules for use as therapeutics in virus-associated malignancies such, as those caused by Epstein-Barr virus (a common herpesvirus). Additionally, since the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in 2020, Rondeau has played an integral role in the campus-run mission to monitor coronavirus in wastewater.
In May 2020, working alongside professors Miranda and Brian Mailloux, co-chair of the Environmental Science Department, Rondeau helped develop and validate the protocol for how to use wastewater to test for SARS-CoV-2, which they published in Microbiology Resource Announcements. And that following June, Rondeau and Miranda copublished research on repurposing nitroxoline as a possible treatment for tumor growth in The Journal of Antibiotics.
Outside of the lab, Rondeau performs as a professional dance artist and teaches various types of dance classes at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn. Since her senior year at Barnard, she’s worked for Dance for Parkinson’s Disease, a program of the Mark Morris Dance Group, where she feels most connected to the basic joys of dancing and movement alongside people with Parkinson’s.
Here, Rondeau talks about her work with the Miranda Lab and how Barnard continues to shape her as a woman in STEM.
How would you describe your research into nitroxoline to a lay audience?
Our research investigated the repurposing of a known antibiotic, nitroxoline, for use in inhibiting Epstein-Barr virus-associated lymphoproliferation. We found that nitroxoline works effectively to reduce cell and tumor growth in multiple cell lines and in a small animal model. Additionally, it works faster than a known drug, JQ1. The main outcome from this work is that nitroxoline seems to be an ideal candidate for rational repurposing, or use of a known drug for different-than-intended purposes. We have continued our work on nitroxoline to further understand how it works to inhibit these cancer cells.
What was your role?
I was a collaborator. This paper was the culmination of time spent in the Miranda Lab by our researcher, Maite Ibanez ’20, and served as her senior thesis. I performed the cell work to determine how quickly nitroxoline acted. Additionally, I helped edit and finalize the manuscript. Recently, I have also spent time as a mentor for students in the lab, because it’s important to help the students feel comfortable to ask the questions that they want and to celebrate their accomplishments and failures.
Why is it important to study?
It is [necessary] to investigate known drugs for additional uses because the process for FDA approval is lengthy and costly. By looking at already approved drugs for new uses, the approval process part of the equation can be completely removed. Studying nitroxoline specifically is important because it may have therapeutic opportunities. Treating cancer is a difficult task that often requires many kinds of drugs, so to be able to add to knowledge regarding the presence of an additional treatment option is important.
Why was it important to trace COVID-19 in wastewater?
We were inspired by the multiple municipalities around the globe utilizing wastewater-based epidemiology to aid in their fight against COVID-19. Professor Mailloux approached Professor Miranda about working together on the project since he is the microbiology professor at Barnard and our lab works on viruses. With our combined research expertise and the help of Oliver Rose from facilities, we were able to set up the program. We felt it was a way we could use our skills as scientists to directly aid our community and ensure its continued health and safety.
Over the course of the past year, we have monitored the COVID levels on campus. Our data is one of the many metrics the College’s Pandemic Response Team uses to inform their decisions regarding community health policies.
How have your different research experiences been useful to you since graduating?
I have worked for Professor Miranda since the summer of 2018. Every opportunity to be involved in a research project provides tons of room for intellectual growth. Barnard has allowed me some incredible opportunities to grow as a scientist and scholar. I’ve not only developed my skills as a research technician but also had the opportunity to develop my own role as a mentor to the students.
I plan to attend graduate school this fall to begin pursuing a Ph.D. in microbiology.
—MAYA GILBERT ’22