Special UNLV class takes a hands-on approach to discovering viruses

A special class at UNLV is taking a hands-on approach to discovering viruses. (KSNV)

Say the word "virus" and most people think of disease -- something to be avoided at all costs.

However, at UNLV, students are getting their hands dirty to discover something that could keep us healthy.

It's something we can all relate to ... digging in the dirt as a child, or maybe gardening in your backyard. But have you ever considered what's growing in the dirt?

A brand new class at UNLV has students collecting samples, all in the name of research.

Tiffany Jeanite knows when it comes to advances in science and medicine, it all starts in the lab.

"I might be nerding out a little bit, but I'm really interested in viruses," said Jeanite, a student. "I'm hoping to go into pre-pharmacy."

As an undergrad student at UNLV, she and her classmates are being given a unique opportunity.

Forget the idea of 90 minutes in a lecture hall. This biology class is strictly hands-on, looking for brand new viruses.

"Viruses are everywhere. And the type we're working with affect bacteria, they're completely harmless to humans," said Dr. Kurt Regner with UNLV Life Sciences.

Dr. Regner says only about 100 schools across the country offer this class.

In our region, UCLA and BYU are the two closest.

While not every experiment here will be a success, students working in a lab setting, he says, have higher retention and graduation rates.

"And students have a chance to be published in a peer review journal. And all the skills they learn are applicable to other viruses, whether it's HIV or influenza," said Regner.

Real world application? Students might better understand for instance, how medications are processed in the body.

"Let's say one of us is able to find a unique bacteria phage that can be used to administer an allergy medication, that's something we could do, that's a possibility," said Jeanite.

Jeanite says her ultimate goal is to work in pharmaceutical research. It's a goal now possible, thanks to her time at UNLV.

The semester that began in the dirt ... could lead to a real contribution to science.

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