Honors Program

Project Presenters

Heidi Nissley

Title: “Finding the Best Protocol to Evaluate Immune Function in Fish”

Major: Biology

Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Ahmed Mustafa (Biology)

External Reviewer:  Dr. Elliott Blumenthal (Biology)

Honors Program Council Liaison:  Dr. Becky Jensen (Nursing)


During her time at IPFW Heidi Nissley was active in several organizations on campus. She was Secretary of the Biology Club for one year and Vice President for two years. She was inducted into Beta Beta Beta, the National Biology Honors Society in 2012. Heidi was the Vice-President of IPFW’s chapter of Beta Beta Beta for two years. She was also a member of the Pre-Med Club and apart of the Honors Student group. Heidi did research and assisted graduate students with their research projects in Dr. Mustafa’s lab, which focuses on stress and physiological changes of farmed aquatic animals. Heidi was also an active in the community during her time at IPFW, volunteering at Lutheran Children’s Hospital for three years and Clinica de Madre de Dios for two years. Heidi also volunteered her time coaching a competitive cheerleading team for two years at Indiana Cheer Elite. Outside of school Heidi also worked part time as a certified nursing assistant for four years. Heidi will graduate this May with a Bachelors of Science in Biology and a Minor in Psychology. After graduation Heidi plans to apply for medical school.


With an increased demand for high proteins for our growing population, along with the overharvesting of many fish populations, aquaculture is growing in importance. However, like all benefits this solution comes with costs, which include a suppressed immune system due to living in stressed conditions which lead to an increased spread of disease and mortality.  It is, therefore, important to evaluate the health status of fish reared in farming conditions. There are many different assay protocols that are useful in assessing the health status of fish, one of which is the evaluation of macrophage functions. Macrophages have important roles in the immune system. They engulf any foreign substance that gets through the first line of defense and then present processed antigens to the acquired immune system for further action.

In this study, we investigated six protocols to determine the most feasible and yet would give the best result to the fish farmers. The six protocols we investigated included: (1) phagocytic capacity of macrophage cells isolated from inter-renal cells, (2) phagocytic capacity of macrophage cells isolated from blood, (3) respiratory burst activity of macrophage cells isolated from inter-renal cells, (4) respiratory burst activity of macrophage cells isolated from blood, (5) lytic activity of lysozyme using turbidity assay, and (6) lytic activity of lysozyme using lysoplate assay. Each protocol was conducted according to validated methods and then compared to the other protocols based on performance, convenience, and cost efficiency.  We used tilapia, a commercially important fish species, reared in our aquatic facility. Based on our criteria, we determined that the best protocol to utilize is the evaluation of phagocytic capacity of macrophage cells isolated from inter-renal cells.