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Natural Sciences Students Remain at the Forefront of Analyzing Latest COVID-19 Research

  • Eleanor Faherty ’23
As a global pandemic took off in 2020, MMC Natural Sciences faculty and students seized the opportunity to research and study the new and rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus. Over two years later, their work continues.

In the Spring 2022 semester, students have been looking at the consequences of COVID-19 after the acute infection phase.

Biology post-bac student Allison Sexton ’18 and Eleanor Faherty ’23 have been working closely with Department of Natural Sciences chair Dr. Ann Aguanno on collecting, organizing, and distilling primary literature articles regarding COVID-19 to understand the symptoms of “long COVID.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines long COVID as a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Sexton and Faherty have met regularly to discuss and analyze latest studies that shed new light on the systemic nature of the disease. “In our research it was interesting and concerning that the actual mechanism of how SARS-CoV-2 ‘enters’ the brain and results in neurologic symptoms (brain fog, loss of smell and taste, confusion, headaches, etc.) is still mainly unknown,” Sexton says. “Neurological symptoms are frequently reported symptoms of long COVID; therefore, it is critical that this mechanism of entry is better understood to help treat and prevent long COVID,” Faherty adds.

A hallmark of MMC’s Natural Sciences department is the opportunity for students to work closely with full-time faculty, often performing experiments during a wet lab (working with chemicals or other “wet” substances). Because the pandemic limited wet lab opportunities, Sexton and Faherty participated in a 6-month project focused solely on research; they carefully examined COVID-19 as fresh data came to light and new variants continued to emerge. “The skills obtained in this type of research will serve these students no matter which career path they pursue,” Aguanno says. For Sexton and Faherty, the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the opportunity to research the virus extensively at MMC, reaffirmed their professional paths.

Allison Sexton ?18 Allison Sexton ’18In addition to their continued academic studies at MMC, Sexton has been working in an emergency department as a medical scribe for the past year. “I’ve seen how burdened our hospitals and healthcare system have been by this pandemic and am grateful to support the amazing emergency medicine doctors that I get to work with, so they can continue to keep New Yorkers strong and healthy,” Sexton says. They will be applying to medical school soon. As a future doctor, she hopes to serve the LGBTQ+ community, by advocating for and practicing gender affirming medicine.

After Faherty graduates in 2023, she hopes to boost her clinical and research experience before applying to medical school.

We celebrate the students, faculty, and staff within MMC’s Natural Sciences department as they continue to dedicate their time and research to understanding COVID-19.