Undergraduate Research Program

Nisha BK

Major: Neuroscience
Mentor: Edward Kelly (School of Pharmacy)

Contact: nishasen@uw.edu

Current Research project: 

I am a sophomore at the University of Washington majoring in Neuroscience. My passion lies in integrating my undergraduate education in neuroscience and research and its application for medical advancement. At the Kelly Lab in the School of Pharmacy, I am working with a PhD student on how Ochratoxin A (OTA) nephrotoxicity potentially relates to the cause of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology (CKDu).


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) disproportionately affects marginalized agricultural communities, specifically those in developing countries in Central America and South Asia where medical care is not readily available. It has become a public health crisis as the cause of CKDu is still a medical mystery. In tropical regions like Central America, and South Asia, CKDu is responsible for urinary-tract-related hospitalizations and deaths. Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a mycotoxin found in many foods such as cereal, coffee, wheat, soy, rice, beans and meat. The average OTA concentration on food of plant origin is from 0.1 to 100 ng per gram of food. According to previous animal studies, OTA causes nephrotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, genotoxicity, and carcinogenesis. In humans, OTA is associated with CKDu progression, but OTA-dependent nephrotoxicity needs to be studied more closely because OTA in foods is inevitable and chronic exposure is a major concern. To explain the mechanism of toxicity in renal disease, our lab uses kidney microphysiological systems (MPS) also known as “organ-on-chips.” MPS mimics in-vivo 3-D microenvironments as it is embedded with primary human proximal tubule epithelial cells (PTECs) and expresses drug-metabolizing enzymes and transporters.



When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I have been involved in undergraduate research since the summer before entering my freshmen year. I was placed in the Kelly Lab as a lab intern through UW GenOM ALVA. During high school, I took a Biomedical Sciences class where we worked with yeast culture, bacterial transformation, and other basic biomedical techniques. This class grew my passion for research as I was able to see the possibilities it provides for medical and technological advancement.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
I have experience impostor syndrome especially in research spaces which has held me back from taking initiatives like wanting to apply for research conferences. I would advice students who are considering getting involved to not let research intimidate them, but allow their passion and curiosity for a subject to motivate them.