Project Summary
The underlying problem this project is addressing is the global health concern of Asthma. Over 300 million people suffer from Asthma worldwide. Approximately 250,000 people die annually from Asthma. The global economic cost of this disease exceeds that of HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis combined. 
 
More specifically, this project is investigating a common household mold known as Alternaria Alternata. This mold grows in 87% of American homes, can be found in virtually every country, grows in many agricultural crops and is the leading cause of Asthma in children. Exposure to Alternaria Alternata doubles an adult's risk of developing Asthma. Despite this, the mechanism by which Alternaria Alternata causes Asthma remains unknown. 

Objective:  
The overall goal of my project was to determine how Alternaria Alternata causes Asthma. This is important because if the mechanism is known, the dangerous health effects of Alternaria Alternata can potentially be neutralized.
In order to gain a comprehensive view of the role Alternaria Alternata plays in Asthma, this project was divided into two stages.
Stage One: What active enzymes are present in Alternaria Alternata?
Stage Two: What effect do these active enzymes have on cellular signalling pathways?

Hypothesis:
Stage One: If the composition of Alternaria Alternata is analysed, tests will show that it contains serine proteases. This is because A. Alternata is known to cause Asthma. The presence of serine proteases in Alternaria Alternata could account for its inflammatory properties.
Stage Two: If the behavior of A. Alternata samples are analysed then tests will show that A. Alternata activates Protease Activated Receptor 2 (PAR2). PAR2 is commonly activated by serine proteases and when activated, it triggers a cascade that leads to inflammation. This could be the mechanism by which A. Alternata causes Asthma.

The Stage One hypothesis was tested using two main tests - activity assays and activity based probes.  These tests dectect active enzymes in samples. The results concluded that trypsin, a serine protease, is present in the samples.  This result supports my original hypothesis.

The Stage Two hypothesis was tested using a intracellular calcium signalling assay which tests for the activation of PAR2.  This test found that the samples have the ability to activate PAR2, supporting my hypothesis.  

With the mechanism known, a product could be created to neutralize the harmful effects of Alternaria Alternata.  An aerosol of Soybean Trypsin Inhibitor (STI), which is not harmful to humans in moderate doses, could be created.  Marketing in a wide variety of forms such as an aerosol can and an automatic dispenser for mold-prone homes could improve upper respiratory health worldwide.  People in high risk situations could purchase this product to protect themselves and their children from developing Asthma.  High risk situations include people living in older or mold prone homes, agricultural workers and those who live in agricultural areas.    

The following links to my project poster