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Notre Dame students compete in NBC trivia show

A team of three Notre Dame students recently appeared on “Capital One College Bowl,” a trivia show on NBC hosted by Peyton and Cooper Manning. The trio appeared on the season two premiere episode, which aired Friday, September 9th. Competing for academic scholarships, the team went up against rival Ohio State University and successfully moved on to the next round.

“We played Ohio State in the first round, which I see now was a much needed victory,” contestant Caitlyn Cato, a junior, joked after Notre Dame’s defeat in its first two football games.

The three Notre Dame students on the team included Cano, an environmental engineering major in Pasquerilla East Hall, Maya Kvaratskhelia, a sophomore physics and violin double-major in Johnson Family Hall, and sophomore Noah Coffman. Each of the students applied for a spot on the team in the spring and was selected after being interviewed.

“There was an interview, and then there was a plane ticket, which was crazy,” Cano said as she recounted the experience.

Filming took place in Atlanta in June over the course of about a week. The show initially consisted of 16 teams, from colleges including Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas and Oklahoma, but each round resulted in the elimination of several teams. While the entire series has been filmed, only a few episodes have aired so far. 

For many contestants, it was their first time appearing on television, and both Cano and Kvaratskhelia agreed that it was a nerve-wracking and intimidating experience.

“It didn’t feel real until I got there. Then I was like, wait a second, that’s actually Peyton Manning standing in front of me,” Kvaratskhelia said.

Since the premiere of the episode, the contestants have gained more recognition and have even been approached on campus. Kvaratskhelia recounted a recent encounter when a woman recognized her at the Marshall football game. 

“Her only connection to Notre Dame was that her grandson went to Holy Cross, and she was like, ‘I saw you on TV.’ It’s crazy. That’s me,” she said.

The incentive of the show is scholarship money — each contestant receives $5,000 in tuition money for participating, and the incentive increases with every round they win. The final winners receive $1 million for their education.

“In the end, it’s a scholarship competition that’s made a world of difference on my tuition this year,” Cato said.

While the most obvious rewards of the show are scholarships and fame, the students who competed say the experience went beyond that. Throughout the filming experience, they say they got to bond not only with their teammates but also their competitors. While Kvaratskhelia said that while she can be very competitive, she enjoyed getting to know the other contestants.

“The thing is, I feel like you view them as competitors when you’re in it, but outside of that, they’re just other people from college experiencing the same wacky thing you’re experiencing,”  Kvaratskhelia said.

The contestants say that while the filming may be over, the friendships are not. The Notre Dame teammates hadn’t known each other before going on the show, but Cano says they left as friends.

“It’s so special, like such a unique experience that we’ve shared now,” she said.

The most recent episode can be viewed on Peacock. The next episode featuring the Notre Dame team is anticipated to air in early October on NBC.

Contact Elena Que at eque@nd.edu

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New study improves monoclonal antibody analysis

A recent Notre Dame study conducted by the College of Engineering has developed an improved method of analyzing monoclonal antibodies, which can be used to treat various diseases.

Monoclonal antibodies are often used to treat cancers and arthritis because of their ability to boost the immune system.

Merlin Bruening, a professor of engineering at Notre Dame, worked as principal investigator in this study.

“We’re working on capturing specific monoclonal antibodies that you might be taking for a treatment for some diseases,” Bruening said.

The project has been ongoing for over five years, but the researchers made more significant progress in the last few. Monoclonal antibodies have only recently risen as a viable source of treatment and became especially relevant due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Bruening said their process could be used in analyzing antibodies to treat this virus.

“It’s amazing to me that antibody proteins are now drugs,” Bruening said.

Because monoclonal antibody drugs are harder to produce than other small molecule drugs, they take more time to develop. Junyan Yang, a fourth-year doctoral student in the chemical and biomolecular engineering department, has played an active role in conducting the experiments surrounding the antibodies and refining the process of capturing them.

He said the researchers analyze antibodies by first flowing a “fermentation broth” through a membrane filter in order to capture the monoclonal antibody. From there, they use a secondary antibody that binds to the captured one and measures its fluorescence in the form of a light signal so they can determine its concentration.

“We want to make sure this batch of the monoclonal antibody has enough concentration that people are looking for so that they are safe,” Yang said.

Once they determine that the monoclonal antibody has the correct conditions, it is ready for patient use and can go out from the lab. 

In the future, the research group aims to develop tests that can quickly test the fermentation broth for the right characteristics, such as the correct concentration and functional groups. By doing so, adjustments can be made to reach the right conditions in a matter of minutes rather than days.

The project has important ramifications for the manufacturing process of monoclonal antibodies. According to Bruening, instead of creating a new system for every new monoclonal antibody that a pharmaceutical company may develop, these filters may be applied to any process, making it far more efficient.

While this process has come a long way, Bruening clarified that it is constantly evolving. In fact, the research group hope to eventually make it publicly available. They have a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, which opens the doors to the commercialization of the membranes. They are also currently working with a company to bring it to the market, because it is too difficult for people to make themselves.

In the meantime, improvements continue to be made, and the group plans to further refine and develop the process while remaining optimistic about the future.

“We need to improve it first,” Bruening said. “And then hopefully commercialize it.”

Elena Que


Contact Elena at eque@nd.edu