Montana State University Billings Assistant Professor of Microbiology Madison Collins, Ph.D., is engaging undergraduate students from multiple science and health majors in her groundbreaking research.

Collins’ research involves studying the drug resistant bacterial infection called Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and why it is infecting healthy individuals. This issue received prominent attention when it was discovered that MRSA not only causes nosocomial infections (acquired by patients in hospitals), but that it also has robust capability to infect healthy individuals. Collins’ research teases apart the mechanisms that enable MRSA to infect healthy people, and so far, she has narrowed it down to MRSA’s specific defenses that affect white blood cells. Collins says that if there is a defect in the function of the neutrophils (a type of white blood cell), individuals can experience recurrent staph infections. She also shares data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Around 12 to 13 million people contract MRSA staph skin infections in the United States per year, and around 11,000 Americans die from MRSA staph infections every year.

A Billings native and a Laurel High School graduate, Collins started her higher education at MSU Billings, then completed her Ph.D. at MSU Bozeman. She got her start in research working on pathogens that infect honeybees, sparking her interest in studying human diseases, which was the focus of her Ph.D. She then went on to conduct post-doctoral work at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases biomedical research facility in Hamilton, Montana, during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a trained bacteriologist, she worked on numerous COVID-19 projects, helped to create a new infection mesh research model, and worked on another project looking at making human immune systems younger and more efficient. She presented her most recent research findings at the Society for Leukocyte Biology Conference in Hawaii in 2022.

Collins has been teaching at MSU Billings since July 2022, and has not missed a beat. She has already gathered a nontraditional student research team which includes a pre-nursing student, two pre-med students, and one pre-dental student. Two of her students have their own INBRE fellowships, which support their ability to continue to conduct research and contribute to their field. Collins shares that none of these students had prior research experience and she is extremely impressed with their ability to ask questions and learn quickly. “They were hesitant to participate at first, but they are owning their own research,” she says. Collins adds that in the near future, she would like to open additional spots on her research team to more undergraduate students.

Biology major and member of Collins’ research team Dominic Estes says that he enjoys this research because he has the possibility of finding answers to questions that no one knows. He also shares that “Dr. Collins is an amazing instructor. She’s fun and lighthearted but also wants us to learn and understand what we are doing.” Nursing student and research team member Wynter Doyle shares that she was in high school during the COVID-19 pandemic and came to MSUB not knowing how to use a microscope. “The opportunity to work alongside a motivational and patient teacher who was also transitioning during an unfamiliar time in her life, has been a great support system to me. This opportunity has also given me a chance to try something new in college.”

Recently, Collins received a Montana INBRE grant to pilot her MRSA research. Her grant ($80,000) will help move her research forward, and support research costs and fund student researchers. She also received an MSUB CARE grant of $5,000 to support her research last October. Collins contributes her success in securing these grants largely due to the support and mentorship of MSUB Associate Professor of Molecular Biology, Lynn George, Ph.D., who is conducting ALS research with her own student research team.

In her second semester of teaching at MSUB, Collins says that she never thought she would leave Billings to continue her education and never thought she would return. It has now come full circle and she finds it soul fulfilling.  “There’s no question that the professors here know every student by their name and I like the close relationships I have with my students,” she shares. “There are many opportunities for students to grow at MSUB and they can really build their own adventure.”


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