Originally published October 18, 2011

A team of students from Laconia High School explored and modeled the toll-like receptor, a key protein in the innate immune response, for which the 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded. With their teacher, Jodie Garb, the students participated in the MSOE Center for BioMolecular Modeling SMART Team (Students Modeling A Research Topic) program. The Laconia SMART Team worked with Dr. Deb Newman and Ben Tourdot, researchers at the Blood Research Institute, to explore the role of the Toll-like receptor 4 protein (TLR4) in sepsis.

On Monday, Oct. 3, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was announced. Bruce Beutler received the award for his work in finding and characterizing the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) receptor – the “toll-like receptor” (TLR).  LPS is a bacterial byproduct that can initiate an immune response by the host, and if left unchecked, can cause septic shock, a life threatening condition that results from the overstimulation of the immune system.

This is the same TLR that the Laconia students modeled for their SMART Team project last year.  In the spring, the students presented their work during a poster session at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The team then traveled to the Experimental Biology meeting in Washington D.C. to present their project at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) undergraduate poster session.

In the past ten years, more than 2,000 high school students have participated in MSOE’s SMART Teams program. They collaborate with researchers and scientists at universities and laboratories across the country. These SMART Teams construct physical models of proteins to help researchers investigate important proteins—and they’re doing it as an extracurricular activity.

The program was developed by MSOE’s Center for BioMolecular Modeling (CBM) and grew out of a collaboration between the CBM and researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin, UW-Milwaukee, Marquette University and the Blood Research Institute. Funding for the local SMART Team program is provided through grants from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Center for Research Resources.

Many of the students who were part of a SMART Team have gone on to pursue degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

MSOE is an independent university with 2,500 students. MSOE offers 18 bachelor’s degrees and 10 master’s degrees in the engineering, engineering technology, building and infrastructure engineering, computer, business, nursing and health-related fields. The university has a national academic reputation; longstanding ties to business and industry; dedicated professors with real-world experience; and extremely high placement rates and starting salaries. MSOE graduates are well-rounded, technologically experienced and highly productive professionals and leaders.