PDCCC student researches vaccines

Published 7:07 pm Tuesday, July 4, 2017

By Mary Ellen Gleason

PDCCC English Instructor


What do the French Quarter in New Orleans, the American Society of Microbiology, and Paul D. Camp Community College have in common? The answer is Joel Fox, a PDCCC general studies student.

He presented his project in immunology at the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) meeting in New Orleans on June 11 at the recommendation of Dr. Carl Vermeulen, professor of microbiology.

Fox’s project introduced research at the convention on heat proofing vaccines, making them more transportable and safer for many underdeveloped countries. According to Fox, a common problem in some countries is transporting vaccines safely to towns and villages. Vaccines exposed to high temperatures in transit to villages by canoe, for example, can lose potency and effectiveness. Typically, temperatures can break down the vaccine before it reaches its destination.

A second problem is the mishandling of the vaccine once it is delivered. It is not uncommon for people in villages to use the same needle to dispense the vaccine, causing serious infections among the children receiving the vaccine.

Joel Fox, pictured in the PDCCC biology lab, presented research at a meeting of the American Society of Microbiology in New Orleans on June 11.
Mary Ellen Gleason photo

The PDCCC student’s project shows research that solves both problems. He and Vermeulen sought ways to inject vaccines into starch noodles. Once hardened, they can withstand temperatures up to 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, these noodles have a sharp point and are small, which enables them to be inserted under the skin. Thousands of the vaccines can be transported because of the small size of the hardened noodle and at a very low cost.

The American Society of Microbiology provided Fox with multiple opportunities for dialogue about immunology specifics to his project and exposure to many different mindsets in that field.

“Small details can be extremely important,” Fox said. He was approached by many graduate students who were interested in his project. He was amused when one graduate student asked him if he was post-doctoral. “I said, ‘No, I am a student at Paul D. Camp Community College.’”

Vermeulen described the importance of this research, explaining, “While Joel was in transit to the meeting, a lot of kids in the Sudan died from being given the measles vaccine that had become contaminated over the four-day period of injections without any refrigeration, and the use of only one syringe for the whole village, and because children were used to administer the shots.

“Our work promotes vaccines that don’t need refrigeration; the delivery device can only be used once and then disappears, and the method is so simple that inexperienced providers can do it.”

Fox anticipates that his research project at PDCCC will help him reach his academic goals and considers his experience in New Orleans a success.

“I connected with many people, some from places such as Manchester and Cambridge, while others were from Wisconsin and Alabama,” he said.

Vermeulen said Joel “made a couple of very important connections” at the ASM convention.

Fox grew up in Capron with his parents, Jeff and Kira Fox, and his older brother, Taylor. He graduated from PDCCC in May and plans to enroll at Christopher Newport University to major in molecular biology and chemistry. Along with his family and Vermeulen, he is quick to add that his work was supported by multiple students at PDCCC.

For more information about programs and classes at PDCCC, visit www.pdc.edu.