Sharing Our Stories: Alumnae Stories from the Pandemic

Rayna Addabbo 11Rayna Addabbo ‘11 was inspired to pursue a Ph.D. in biophysics through her experiences in Professor Jean Baum’s research group studying the protein collagen while she was an undergraduate. She earned her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2018, where she was a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow. Her dissertation focused on protein folding in the context of the cellular environment. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Molecular Virology. Rayna stays connected with the AADC and sister alumnae through our virtual programs, such as AADC Virtual Tea with Tina. Here is her story, shared on August 13, 2020.

I am a postdoctoral researcher in the Mueller and Mansky research groups in the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Molecular Virology. Our collaborative research team studies a type of virus, called retroviruses. More specifically, our research is focused on HIV and another cancer-causing human retrovirus called human T-cell leukemia virus.

When the country closed in mid-March, the university halted most research operations. Classes were moved online, students left campus and local businesses closed their doors. I started walking to work, as public transportation was deemed unsafe. My twin sister Darlayne (also class of ’11) drove eight hours from Indiana to stay with me as her teaching and research at the University of Notre Dame was shifted online.

A couple of days before the university shut down, my research mentors approached me about studying the SARS-CoV-2 virus during the lockdown. I rapidly shifted gears and started working on a COVID-19 portable testing device and other coronavirus research. Since the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a coronavirus and not a retrovirus, there was a lot about its biology that I needed to learn quickly. My collaborators and I also had to strategize to efficiently obtain the required reagents to conduct our new work.

Due to the restrictions on normal research operations, the building I work in became very quiet. We needed to post signs on our lab doors indicating our special status being allowed to work. I meet regularly with my mentors and collaborators electronically over video chat as it is still not safe for us to meet in person.

The portable testing device we are working to develop aims to provide a rapid diagnostic test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that will facilitate the safe reopening of the country. It works by converting a smartphone into a fluorescence microscope. I have been using non-infectious virus particles to validate a mechanism for fluorescently labeling the virus so that it can be visualized with the portable device. I am continuing to work on Sars-CoV-2 research and have long-term research plans to continue studying it.

The pandemic has given me a heightened sense of things I care about, mainly my family and friends, and my work. I feel a sense of gratitude that I have been able to continue conducting experiments and my research. It gives me comfort and a sense of normalcy. Having the opportunity to do what you love is always a gift and it feels even more so of one during these unprecedented times.

I also think often about how much the AADC has supported me and continues to support me and my work. I am grateful for my AADC mentor Dr. Carole Sampson-Landers ‘69, who I have stayed in touch with during the pandemic. I have also been fortunate to be able to participate in virtual AADC events. I feel extremely grateful to be a part of the alumnae community.

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