John C. Young scholar Trong Phung ’19 studies viruses and biofilm during yearlong research

This article is part of a series featuring Centre College’s 2019 John C. Young (JCY) Scholars. Centre’s JCY program, now in its 29th year, is designed to serve highly motivated seniors, allowing them to engage in independent study, research or artistic work in their major discipline or in an interdisciplinary area of their choosing.

As a John C. Young Scholar, Trong Phung ’19 (Bowling Green, Kentucky) aimed her research on isolating the test viruses in combating bacterial biofilm, one of the major barriers to antibiotic penetration, in her project titled “Combating Fire with Fire in Medicine: Can We Fight Bacteria with Viruses?”

The idea for Phung’s research came from the course “Phage Hunters” that she took as a first-year student. Throughout the semester, the class isolated, propagated and named their own viral strains. This course, along with other biochemistry and molecular biology courses, as well as her summer research experience abroad at the University of Copenhagen and University of Cambridge, all helped prepare her for this research opportunity.

“I am working to become a physician in infectious diseases, whether that be viruses or bacteria, and I know that antibacterial resistance is progressively becoming more and more prevalent to the point that drug use for bacterial infections are becoming hopeless and, at times, dangerous,” she said. “Imagine something as treatable as strep becoming one day life-endangering, but what if you could treat bacterial infections with another kind of infection, virus or organism that can autonomously evolve and adapt itself to the bacteria where drugs cannot.”

While she was unable to confirm that the viruses can be used to defeat the biofilm, Phung is still working on isolating high concentrations of viruses for someone in the future to continue this work.

Phung said this learning process was filled with humbling experiences that taught her what research is really all about and how much motivation it takes to fight through failures to complete the research.

She said her faculty mentor, Marie Nydam, assistant professor of biology, was extremely encouraging and informative in the face of self-doubt. Throughout the process, she taught her the need for perseverance and flexibility in adapting to adapt to the results of the research.

After Centre, Phung will take a gap year to perform independent research before attending medical school.

by Kerry Steinhofer
June 7, 2019