August 17, 2020

DHVI Biochemistry Team

Victoria Stalls, Megan Kopp and Katarzyna Janowska form the DHVI Biochemistry team within the Division of Structural Biology, led by Dr. Priyamvada Acharya. The primary role of the Biochemistry team is to produce and purify high quality SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins, HIV-1 Envelope proteins, antibodies and antigen binding fragments (Fabs) for structural studies.

One important aspect of the biochemistry team is method development and training. The team takes the lead in investigating, developing and piloting new methods for protein production, purification and analysis. They then work to disseminate and apply these new methods to various projects.

Overall, the biochemistry team plays a critical role in vaccine development through the development and application of methods for studying proteins. The team’s role in understanding the structural biology of SARS-CoV-2 has been invaluable. Below, we share what they love most about their job, how their work has changed since COVID and goals for the team.

Victoria Stalls

Victoria maintains cell lines and produces and purifies SARS-CoV-2 Spike, ACE-2 receptor, HIV Env, and human antibodies and Fabs. She explores and develops new transfection and purification methods, cell lines, and analysis techniques. Victoria is also responsible for preparing figures and graphics for publications. Additionally, she is part of the lab management team and takes care of all lab orders. 

What excites you most about your work? 

The impact that our work has. It’s very exciting to be a part of this work and to be able to make a difference in the pandemic. While working with the SARS-CoV-2 spike I made some key observations related to the thermostability of the spike that led to the discovery of the cold sensitivity of the SARS-CoV-2 spike. This contribution earned me co-first authorship on the paper that described this study (https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.12.199588v2). 

Megan Kopp

Up until 4 weeks ago, Megan’s role was as a cryo-TEM specialist and she worked primarily on imaging the COVID-19 spike protein and related complexes. Since restrictions have lifted, Megan has returned to the lab and has re-started Fab production. She recently started making Fabs for SARS related IgG antibodies and preparing aliquots for various assays. Additionally, she is working on cell culture and Fab preparation for a HIV project.  

How have your role and responsibilities changed since COVID? 

When COVID initially started and impacted lab time, I was able to spend all my in person time at the Krios microscope and any additional time at home. My projects shifted from HIV to COVID-19 almost completely and all in person work was 100% shifted to COVID-19. In the lab, our projects have now been able to include HIV and SARS projects. As a team we have to manage more throughout the lab since people have to maintain distance and avoid sharing instruments, so each person has taken on more overall lab responsibilities. That said, I am very excited about all the skills I have been able to learn since the Duke shutdown in order to be more independent and avoid contact with peers. 

Katarzyna Janowska 

Katarzyna leads the protein production team in the Structural Biology Division. She works closely with Victoria on cell maintenance and transfection scheduling. Katarzyna also makes Fabs for various structural biology projects and performs SPR assays. With the help of Megan, they have recently been able to prepare ~20 Fabs within a few days. 

Katarzyna is also the lab manager for Structural Biology Division where she is responsible for day to day lab operations. She works closely with Dr. Acharya to plan and implement the short and long terms goals of the Division.

What are your goals for the Biochemistry team?

My personal goal in the Biochemistry team would be to help us all grow and get even better in what we do. I think the group is doing fantastic job, but we would like to try different cells systems, different transfection agents, better and faster methods for purifying and analyzing proteins.