We’re delighted to share an interview with Dr. Kyle Brawner, 2021 Christian Scholars Foundation-ESN Grant Recipient. Learn more about the CSF-ESN grant for junior faculty here, and please consider applying!
Biography for Kyle Brawner
I grew up in the Nashville, TN area and received my bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology from Lipscomb University in 2012. I subsequently pursued doctoral studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where I researched Helicobacter pylori, the leading cause of stomach cancer. After receiving my Ph.D. in 2017, I stayed at UAB another three years for postdoctoral studies. I joined the Biology faculty at Lipscomb in August 2020. At Lipscomb I teach Introductory Microbiology and Molecular Basis of Human Disease in the undergraduate curriculum and Biomolecular Laboratory I, Immunology, and a course on the microbiota in the Master’s program in Biomolecular Science.
Interview with Kyle Brawner
1. Would you tell us a little bit about your field and specific area(s) of study within that field?
I have a Ph.D. in Microbiology, but I consider myself more of an immunologist. My primary interest is how the gut microbiota, the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the small and large intestine, influences both the gut and areas outside the gut. Most recently, I have studied how diet and stress alter the microbiota composition and the effects of that altered composition in contributing to gut inflammation.
2. Would you describe your Christian Scholars Foundation Grant project for our readers?
The project revolves around a disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). NEC is characterized by rapid-onset and often severe inflammation of the intestine, almost exclusively in premature infants. In fact, NEC is a leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. The ultimate goal of the project is to identify molecular biomarkers for NEC, which would allow infants at-risk of NEC to be identified and therefore treated for NEC sooner than they otherwise would be. We are exploring several candidate biomarkers that are produced by metabolic reactions within our own cells as well as candidates produced in metabolic reactions by the microbiota. In the short term, students in my lab are conducting cell culture experiments to determine if these metabolites exacerbate or ameliorate gut inflammation. In the long term, we plan on acquiring intestinal tissue and fecal samples from NEC patients and non-NEC controls and measuring the levels of these metabolites and the enzymes that produce them. If a metabolite is higher in the NEC group, it might suggest inhibiting that metabolite or blocking the metabolic pathway that produces it could be a treatment strategy for NEC. On the other hand, if levels of a metabolite are lower in the NEC group, it might suggest providing a purified form of that metabolite to infants could be a viable therapeutic approach.
3. How does the Christian Scholars Grant support you in this work?
The CSF grant has allowed me to purchase the supplies and equipment necessary for the project. My goal is to gather enough preliminary data to apply for a larger grant and ultimately publish our research. The support from the CSF will also allow me to fund travel to conferences where my students and I can present our work.
4. This is a big question, but I know our readers will be interested in at least the short version of your answer to it. How does your faith influence your scholarship and teaching, and vice versa?
I often begin the first day of my courses by reading Romans 1:20 to my students: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made”. What a statement! Every facet of creation, from atoms to galaxies, not only testifies to the existence of God but also reveals some aspect of his character. I therefore view my study of God’s creation as an act of worship in which I am repeatedly reminded of God’s brilliance, wisdom, kindness, and power. I challenge my students as we are learning about complicated biological pathways that occur in a cell to not let the details overshadow the amazing truth that the mindboggling complexity and organization we are really only scratching the surface of what came from the mind of God. It is a privilege to get just a glimpse into how his mind works. Furthermore, I want to model for my students the idea that science and Christian faith are wondrously compatible. Good science and good theology will always agree. They do not tell opposing stories but rather tell different aspects of the same story.
I strive to see my students not just as minds waiting for me to deposit information, but for what they truly are: made in the image of God. I pray for them and over them. I love having them over to my home for a meal. I try my best to treat them with kindness and respect. I want them to know I care about them and desire for them to not only succeed professionally but to experience the joy and peace that only come from knowing Christ.
5. What else would you like to say to other emerging scholars who are followers of Christ?
A. Apply for this grant and any others you can find! There are many funding opportunities out there specifically for early-career scholars.
B. Actively seek out collaborators for your research. Collaborations are especially important if you’re at a smaller institution with limited access to research equipment and supplies.
C. Don’t be shy to ask more senior faculty in your department or even outside your department what teaching strategies and pedagogies have worked for them. Take advantage of the collective wisdom of the seasoned colleagues around you.
D. Never forget you are made in God’s image, and your performance as a scholar does not give you value. You already have infinite value by being a child of the King of the universe.