University of Kansas’s Schilly Named Inaugural Recipient of 2018 SLAS Visiting Graduate Researcher Program Grant

SLAS has selected Kelci Schilly, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Kansas, as the inaugural recipient of the 2018 SLAS Visiting Graduate Researcher Grant

SLAS (Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening) has selected Kelci Schilly, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), as the inaugural recipient of the 2018 SLAS Visiting Graduate Researcher Grant.

The SLAS grant will provide a stipend to cover Schilly’s expenses to visit the laboratory of SLAS President Sabeth Verpoorte, PhD, at the University of Groningen (The Netherlands) to further Schilly’s research in paper-based microfluidics and peptide labeling for mass spectrometric detection.

Schilly works in the laboratory of Susan Lunte, PhD, which develops analytical methods to probe conditions of cellular nitrosative stress in the context of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.  To do so, the group uses microfluidic separations that feature small sample volumes, short analysis times, and the potential for miniaturization for point-of-care analysis.

“The SLAS grant provides a great opportunity for me to learn some of the techniques and expertise of the Verpoorte group, particularly paper-spray ionization and paper-based microfluidics,” says Schilly. “I look forward to collaborating, seeing firsthand how a different lab functions and experiencing the dynamic of the global scientific community.” In addition to working with the group at Groningen, Schilly also will make an advance trip to attend the 2018 SLAS Europe Conference and Exhibition, June 27-29 in Brussels, Belgium, before her visit begins Sept. 1. 

Lunte comments that Schilly is an excellent candidate for this opportunity. “Kelci received this opportunity because of her ability to collaborate and communicate with team members. She is a natural leader and has proven that she is comfortable working in diverse research environments,” says Lunte, adding that a recent example of this was an internship Schilly completed last year at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA (USA), where she contributed to the development of a portable analyzer for amino acids to search for extraterrestrial life.

“The grant opens a door for students to expand their experiences,” says Lunte. “Kelci’s open attitude will help her succeed, and this visit will expose her to the global perspective of science. I encourage students to study abroad and discover how research is conducted around the world.”

Verpoorte agrees, adding, “I am especially proud to be hosting Kelci this coming year at the University of Groningen. The entire SLAS grants and awards program is very important for exposing our next generation of researchers to new opportunities in the life sciences. I look forward to seeing this program succeed for Kelci and SLAS.”

During the three-month research visit covered by the SLAS grant program, Schilly will learn, evaluate and apply a paper-spray ionization procedure currently in use by the Verpoorte group for introduction of peptide samples into a mass spectrometer. The goal is to develop a mass spectrometric detection method for the determination of the extent of mitochondrial protein nitration in the blood of Alzheimer’s patients, shown in preliminary studies to indicate the severity of the disease.

The successful method will isolate mitochondrial proteins from white blood cells, which Schilly will label with a fluorescent reagent developed at KU that selects nitrotyrosine residues. This reagent includes a cis-diol affinity tag for selective isolation of the derivatized proteins from the lysate. The mitochondrial proteins in the sample will first be isolated and then digested.  The resulting derivatized peptides can be captured on a boronate affinity matrix for fluorescence and/or mass spectrometric detection. Schilly’s proposed work will integrate the steps of this procedure into a microchip format. 

In addition to developing a diagnostic method, Schilly will use her expanded knowledge of these new technologies to expand the tool box of microfluidic methods – both in fabrication and detection – for the Lunte group to solve new research problems. Lunte and Verpoorte, who have collaborated in the past, anticipate expanded research capabilities through the shared knowledge and technology that come from the research visit supported by the SLAS grant.

The application process for the 2019 grant award will begin in the fall of 2018. For more information including application deadlines, requirements and judging criteria for the SLAS Visiting Graduate Researcher Program, the SLAS Graduate Education Fellowship Grant or our other awards and grants, contact SLAS Global Headquarters at 1.877.990.SLAS (7527) or e-mail