Persistence reaps rewards

Catarina Bittencourt wearing a lab coat, standing next to a counter inside a laboratory.
Catarina Bittencourt, a junior in genetics, has learned to conduct ELISA tests and other lab procedures as an undergraduate researcher at Iowa State.

By Whitney Baxter

Catarina Bittencourt exemplifies the phrase, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Her drive to not give up led to her winning a national award for research in immunology.

Bittencourt, a junior in genetics, came to Iowa State University from her home country of Brazil. Her passion for genetics was sparked during a high school biology class, where she was intrigued by the logic behind the field of study.

She quickly became involved in research as an undergraduate student on campus. After working in a plant pathology lab, she found her home in the lab of Marian Kohut, professor of kinesiology, testing for antibodies against COVID-19.

“She’s amazing,” Bittencourt said of Kohut. “She encourages me, and she trusts me.”

Last summer, Bittencourt spent many hours in the lab conducting ELISA (enzyme-linked immunoassay) tests, seeing how an individual’s stress levels impacted the number of antibodies they developed against COVID-19 after receiving the COVID booster.

Despite all the work, the results were inconclusive. This frustrated her. She called her parents in Brazil, who encouraged her to keep trying. Bittencourt said she is grateful for her family’s unending support and credits much of her success to them.

“I’m the type of person who does not give up easily. I’m going to use my mistakes to make adjustments so I can get good results and grow in my research experience,” Bittencourt recalled telling herself after speaking with her parents.

So, back to the lab she went, and she soon began seeing the results she was hoping for.

She submitted an abstract to present her research during a workshop at the American Association of Immunologists Autumn Immunology Conference, held in Chicago in November. There, Bittencourt was presented the AAI Young Investigator Award.

“I was very honored that my work was recognized,” Bittencourt said. “To have that opportunity to see that someone is watching my work and know that I’m helping advance the research world made me very happy.”