A company called NephroGenex is currently developing a compound discovered in Hudson’s lab that protects against diabetic kidney disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is getting close to approving a Phase III clinical trial to test the compound, Pyridorin, in more than 1,000 diabetic patients.
In 2009, Hudson and his colleagues discovered a novel sulfilimine bond, in which sulfur and nitrogen are double-bonded together, in type IV collagen. This bond exists in all animals but had not been found previously. Hudson says they have now established that an enzyme from the peroxidase family makes the unusual bond, and they think the enzyme and the sulfilimine bond emerged more than 500 million years ago as a primitive form of innate immunity.
Back to the roots to solve a problem
|Students participate in a science lab fun by the Aspirnaut Initiative.
But even with decades of scientific success under his belt, Hudson hasn’t forgotten his beginnings and has returned to rural America in hopes of helping younger generations replicate his success. “He hasn’t turned his back on people who are in the same position as he was earlier in his life,” says Hanson.
The current crisis in U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, caused by inadequate numbers of students taking an interest in these fields, could be helped if the needs of rural students were addressed, says Hudson. Twenty percent of the K – 12 student population in the United States lives in rural areas. “It’s an untapped pool of talent in rural America that can be brought into the STEM workforce,” he says. “The talent is there, but students need to be presented with opportunities.”
Aspirnaut Initiative’s first bus program rolled into something bigger within a year. Julie Hudson says it quickly became obvious that time on the school bus needed to be managed better, so the couple started an after-school class twice a week to work with the students. That class in turn grew into something else, which the Hudsons now consider to be the flagship of the initiative.
These days, researchers at Vanderbilt University hold weekly science labs via videoconference with children in rural schools. The Hudsons explain that they base the labs on those developed by the Vanderbilt Student Volunteers in Science program, which takes science kits to students attending Nashville-area schools. But with Internet-based videoconferencing capabilities, the Aspirnaut program now makes it possible to reach schools not physically near Vanderbilt. “We have a real-time interaction with the class, where we’re bringing the intellectual assets of a research university, in partnership with the school, to give students hands-on, inquiry-based, critical-thinking activities,” says Billy Hudson.
The science labs, built around real-world issues, now get beamed into classrooms in Arkansas, Tennessee and Maine. Hudson gives the example of the theme they built around his research area of diabetes. The children first learn about electricity, magnetism and the concepts of nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometry. Next, they learn about metabolism and how metabolic malfunctions cause diseases like diabetes. Then they hear about how researchers use tools like NMR spectrometry to develop therapies against a given disease. “Rather than say ‘Here’s a kit in chemistry. Good luck,’ we try to relate science and math concepts to their everyday lives through hands-on activities,” explains Hudson.