Student Researcher Identifies Potential Alternative to Antibiotics

~Lauren Petrick Isolates Promising Bacteriophage in SURE Project~

During a summer research project at Kent State University at Geauga, nursing student Lauren Petrick succeeded in isolating a bacterial virus that shows promise as an alternative to antibiotics in fighting off intestinal bacterial infections such as urinary tract infections, GI tract infections and even pneumonia.

In her microbiology class with Kent State Geauga Associate Professor Sanhita Gupta, Ph.D., Petrick became intrigued by a problem that plagues modern medicine: antibiotic-resistant bacteria that won’t respond to the medicine. While antibiotics were once considered miracle medicines, their effectiveness has waned over time and a new alternative is needed to replace them.


The grant-funded program provides selected students and their faculty mentors the opportunity to pursue eight-week research projects that hone the student’s research-related skills, including critical thinking, problem-solving, hypothesis development and usage of proper research methodology.

Petrick’s SURE challenge was to isolate bacteriophages from sewer water. Bacteriophages are viruses that use bacteria as their hosts, explained Gupta. “Phages may be found where their host is prevalent. So, sewer water is a very good source of phages that infect bacteria present in the human intestine.

“First discovered in the early 1900s, antibiotics were considered wonder drugs at the time,” Gupta continued. “However, in recent times, with the emergence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, alternatives to antibiotics have become very important. With resistant bacteria that can survive antibiotic treatment, infections are becoming harder to treat and scientists have begun to think that we have reached the post-antibiotic era. Phages could offer one of the alternate means of treating bacterial infections in humans and animals.”

Since phages are entirely dependent on their bacterial hosts for survival and reproduction, they may conceivably be used to kill bacteria that cause infectious diseases in humans and animals. In addition to their potential as an alternative to antibiotics, phages could also be used to purify water and food by eliminating contaminating bacteria.


Before Petrick could start conducting experiments, there were COVID-related obstacles to overcome in the lab, since it had not been used since the pandemic began, from Spring 2020 to Summer 2021. The instruments — Bunsen burners, centrifuges, autoclaves and incubators — had to be restarted in preparation for use.

Petrick recalled, “We had a challenge since a lot of the lab tools we used had not been used for a while and took longer to start working properly. We also did not have a working autoclave, which we needed to use to make media to grow our

Lauren Petrick examining bacteria with microscope
bacteria and bacteriophages on.

“I was able to go to Kent State Ashtabula to make media [thanks to academic lab coordinator Gary Misich, who is also the lab coordinator at the Ashtabula Campus.] We were able to use the various tools effectively after a while. One challenge we particularly faced was trying to look through a microscope with a mask on. The microscope kept fogging up and then we could not see. We were able to clean the microscope and about halfway through the summer, the mandate was lifted so we did not have to wear masks during the remainder of the project.”

In the lab, Petrick learned how to streak plate, make media and gram stain. She also learned how to search databases for additional research material.


Ultimately, Petrick was able to conclude that “the particular E. coli bacteriophage (coliphage) would be a good candidate for an alternative for antibiotics.”

Petrick presented her research project results on October 22, 2021, where she placed second in the competitive SURE event.

The experiment Petrick undertook over the summer was the next step in a project that had begun three years earlier with another of Gupta’s student researchers, Mark Mercanti, a pre-med/biology major.

“We hope that, in the future, we will have more students like Lauren who will help us in advancing this project,” Gupta said.

As Petrick pursues her bachelor of science degree in nursing, she has been eager to gain the type of lab experience the SURE program has afforded. After her anticipated graduation in Spring of 2023, she plans to work as a registered nurse for a couple of years, then attend graduate school to become a nurse practitioner.

Lauren Petrick and Dr. Sanhita Gupta at the SURE research presentations on October 22, 2021.
Meanwhile, Petrick is busy with her nursing coursework and clinicals. While she advances through her training, she can lean on her newly-acquired technical skills and awareness of the microbiological aspect of infectious diseases to help her be better prepared for her profession.

“As Lauren transitions into the clinical settings of her major, this hands-on experience will enable her to treat future patients more holistically since her knowledge of pathogens’ role in disease will relate to patient treatment throughout her career,” says Gupta.

POSTED: Monday, February 28, 2022 08:41 AM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 04:57 PM
Estelle R. Brown