Charis Royal may be an undergraduate, but she is already conducting research that could lead to improvements in disease detection and emergency response to pandemics.
Royal is tackling the problems infectious diseases pose for society by investigating biological processes.
“I am looking at things like the ways in which diseases rapidly mutate and infect host cells; cellular processes that affect the expression of asymmetric carriers; and translation from infectious agent to host cells – and how to interrupt these processes,” she explains.
The anthropology and biological sciences double major recently presented at the 2014 International Research Conference held by Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society. More than 100 outstanding high school, undergraduate and graduate students participated in the event. Royal was ranked as one of the two top presenters in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology category.
Royal’s research and presentation involved the analysis of the transmission characteristics of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) in the Arabian Peninsula.
“Charis has focused on understanding similarities and differences in the epidemiology of SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS, two closely related coronaviruses,” notes her research adviser, Gerardo Chowell-Puente, an epidemiologist in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Chowell-Puente is impressed by Royal’s productivity and the depth of her research. He says, “Her detective work could help us increase our ability to detect the emergence of MERS variants with pandemic potential.”
Royal studied case outbreaks, looking at patient histories and comorbidities. She evaluated the potential of MERS becoming a pandemic, narrowed down the most susceptible population and showed a rough estimate on what an outbreak of MERS would look like compared to the 2003 outbreak of SARS based on fatalities, health care worker incidents, gender and age.
As a child, Royal’s life was affected by serious and chronic illness that made her realize the importance of understanding how infectious diseases can impact populations.
When it came time for college, Royal chose ASU because of its multidisciplinary focus and because it houses the Institute of Human Origins and the Biodesign Institute. She appreciates the university’s emphasis on academic excellence and the hundreds of opportunities it affords in this vein.
Royal intends to continue studying infectious diseases and pursue more in-depth biological research in graduate school.
“I plan on one day being in the first line of defense against an outbreak, to be one of the few who hit the ground running to determine what disease is spreading, how it is spreading and how to prevent it from continuing,” she says. “To me, one of the best defenses we have is to understand what we are up against, and we must continue to improve and advance how we distinguish one disease from another in order to stop the spread of preventable infectious diseases.”