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Seniors Participate in Science Research Symposium
Posted 10/25/2017 07:00AM
On October 24, the Science Department hosted its 6th annual Science Student Research Symposium. Thirteen amazing senior scientists from the Class of 2018 spent their summers in research labs across the country. The students worked to complete graduate-level projects with their mentors, demonstrating their love of scientific learning. The students presented their experiences and research, followed by their poster presentations.

Here is a synopsis of each student's work:

Gabrielle Alston
Enhancing Cardiomyocyte Proliferation to Improve Cardiac Cell Therapy

Gabrielle Alston spent this summer as an intern under the mentorship of Dr. Robb MacLellan, Dr. Daisy Nakamura and Dr. Danny El-Nachef at the Center for Cardiovascular Biology at The University of Washington-South Lake Union campus. The main focus of research was to differentiate human stem cells into cardiomyocytes (heart cells) and then get those cells to proliferate. This will in turn help with heart muscle regrowth during heart disease. During this experiment, differentiated cells which were seen beating, and viruses carrying a cell cycle gene to help with proliferation, were used to infect differentiated cardiomyocytes in hopes of seeing cell division.

Bria Beauvais
Testing a Cas9 Producing Transgenic Zebrafish Line

This past summer, Bria Beauvais interned at the University of Washington in Seattle, under the mentorship of Dr. Eleanor Chen, in the department of Pathology. There, she developed a tool to assist in the research of the cancer Rhabdomyosarcoma and to test the efficiency of the CRISPR Cas9 cutting protein on genes in Zebrafish. CRISPR Cas9 causes double stranded breaks in the genome at specific locations, which result in mutations in order to disrupt the gene function. With this prior knowledge Bria spent her summer creating a color-generated tool to know if and where exactly this Cas9 protein is cutting. To create this tool Bria had to conduct many forms of microinjections of color constructs, such as dTomato and GFP, into the Zebrafish cells to locate where these Cas9 proteins would be held. Using information gained by Bria's work locating the Cas9 proteins and their guideRNAs, researchers will be able to manipulate the genes in the future, providing a quicker and clearer path to eradicating the cancerous Rhabdomyosarcoma gene.

Caroline Buchner
Increasing Fog2 Gene Expression in Cardiomyocytes Using a Plasmid

This past summer, Caroline completed research as part of the Gene Therapy Program for High School Students at the University of Pennsylvania, under the direction of Dr. Jim Wilson. She worked in the Rader Lab of the Smillow Center for Translational Research in the Perelman center along with her mentor, Dr. Marie Guerraty. During Caroline's time at the Rader Lab, she worked to perform further analysis on Fog2, a co-transcription factor involved in the formation of new blood vessels, to determine its role in coronary development by increasing Fog2 expression. Caroline and her research group hypothesized that increasing Fog2 expression across a culture of heart muscle cells could lead to treatment of, and a potential cure for, Coronary Microvascular Disease.

Sanjana Dixit
Electrophysiological Signals of Language Impairment in Autism Spectrum Disorder

This past summer, Sanjana Dixit interned at the Center for Autism Research at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She worked alongside child psychologists, MEG and MRI technicians, and pediatric neurologists and gained experience in all aspects of the clinical and medical processes of the neuropsychological evaluations for these children: observing technicians during the MRI and MEG scans, shadowing doctors as they conducted studies and spoke to families, and learning about and scoring cognitive tests. For her presentation, Sanjana is focusing primarily on the study of the traces of language impairment in autism spectrum disorder and the differences between structural and electrochemical compositions of autistic and typically developing brains. In addition to expanding her knowledge of pediatric autism, the internship experience offered her a holistic insight into the world of pediatric psychiatry.

Olivia Landes
Determining the Hydrogen Bonding Properties of Carboxylic Acid Isosteres

This past summer, Olivia Landes interned at The University of Pennsylvania in Dr. Marisa Kozlowski's Organic Chemistry research lab. She worked under Thomas Paniak, assisted along the way by Dr. Marisa Kozlowski and the entire Kozlowski research group. Organic chemistry is a branch of chemistry focused on compounds containing carbon, which is an essential element to the basis of all life on earth. It studies the structures of and reactions relating to carbon compounds, properties and reactions of these carbon compounds. The Kozlowski group focuses specifically on new catalysts and procedures that will be useful in organic synthesis. Olivia performed a series of titrations in order to test the hydrogen bonding effects and properties of various phenols, carboxylic acids, and carboxylic acid isosteres. The ultimate goal of this research is to continue to find valid and efficient substitutions for carboxylic acid in medicines. This will help maximize effectiveness in drug design while still maintaining similar biological activities.

Rhea Li
Effects of Ultrasonic Sensitizing Agents and Interfacial Roughness on Ultrasonic Welding Strength and Efficiency of Polypropylene

During the past summer, Rhea conducted her research project at Wuhan University of Technology under Professor Jun Wang. Her project focused on ultrasonic welding of thermoplastics. During her research, she modified polypropylene and tested its performance in ultrasonic welding. The material was specifically modified in two ways: by adding a sensitizing agent, glass fiber, and by roughening the welding interface. Eventually, she conducted DMA and tensile testing on the welding product samples to examine the welding strength and quality. The ultimate goal for this research is to find the most efficient and beneficial material modification in the broader context of ultrasonic welding. This will help promote welding product quality when applied to mass production.

Hilary Liu
Virtual Screening and Drug Discovery: Finding Drugs that Inhibit BCR-ABL1

Hilary Liu conducted her research project at the Department of Systems and Computational Biology in the Drug Discovery, Systems and Computational Biology (DiSCoBio) program of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) Summer Academy. Her project focuses on virtual screening, a novel computational technique used in drug discovery to identify small molecules that are most likely to bind to a drug target such as a protein receptor. Through molecular docking and virtual screening, Hilary found about 10 specific compounds predicted to bind to the ABL-BCR oncoprotein, which is closely linked to chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). After experimental testing, these compounds may be used in the future to treat CML.

Carly McIntosh
Observations of Quorum Sensing in Methylobacter tundripaludum Using Protein Docking Simulations

This past summer, Carly McIntosh interned in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Washington. Carly worked closely with Dr. David Beck and Dr. Aaron Puri to research a methanotroph found locally in the sediment of Lake Washington. Methanotrophs are bacteria that use methane as their sole source of carbon and energy. Thus, in a high concentration they can be used to combat the rise in methane emissions and stall the increase in global temperatures. To learn about M. tundripaludum and its interactions with its environment, Carly studied its use of Quorum Sensing: a cell density dependent system that allows groups of bacteria to coordinate behavior and regulate protein production. Prior to her arrival at the lab, it was discovered that M. tundripaludum produces an extracellular molecule during Quorum Sensing. In the presence of this molecule, the production of a set of quorum dependent proteins is upregulated, while the production of another set is downregulated. Beyond this information, the actual function of the small molecule is unknown. The lab wants to use protein docking simulations with the regulated proteins and the small molecule to discover its natural target and function. This summer, Carly used a negative control, tryptophan, and the regulated proteins to establish a precedent for docking quality before the small molecule is tested.

Sydney Silberg
Creating A Generation of Self-Inactivating Cas9 System

This summer, Sydney interned at University of Pennsylvania's Gene Therapy Lab. She worked with Jia Zhang and the cloning team to complete her project. Currently, Crispr/Cas9 systems are used in gene editing but become less effective and begin to cut unintended genes the longer they stay in the cells. The goal of her project was to create a generation of self-inactivating Cas9 systems. Sydney cloned plasmids with edited DNA with guides and targets to inactivate the Cas9 in the genes. She then transfected cells with the edited DNA and observed the amount of SaCas9 mRNA after editing. Although the project did not see success this summer, hopefully in the near future the Penn lab will be able to create a generation of self-inactivating Cas9 system which can be used to improve future accuracy of gene editing.

Grace Steelman
More than a Mutation: The Origin and Far-reaching Effects of Retinoblastoma

This past summer, Grace Steelman interned in the Ocular Oncology Service at Wills Eye Hospital under the supervision of Dr. Carol and Dr. Jerry Shields. She worked alongside visiting medical students and the Oncology Department to gain research and medical experience. Her participation included: shadowing ophthalmologists during eye surgeries and clinic diagnostics, researching the ocular abnormalities seen in patients and assisting with vision tests and ultrasounds. She specifically researched the genetic mutations behind Retinoblastoma with the assistance of Dr. Carol Shields, world-renowned ophthalmologist. Her findings covered the varieties of mutations that cause Retinoblastoma, a malignant retinal tumor found in infants, and the effects associated with the different origins.

Pranshu Suri
A Case Study: Machine Learning Analysis of Maryland Judiciary Records

This past summer, Pranshu attended the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences, where she worked on a team of students with research professor Dr. Andy Pavlo at Carnegie Mellon University. Her project focused on the accessibility and usability of digitized records. In developing her framework, she was able to transform static records into functional data. Specifically, she and her research group performed complex data analysis—including sophisticated SQL queries and machine learning algorithms—to extract both objective data and predictive trends from judiciary records. The underlying concepts of her research can be applied to virtually any field to extract, store and analyze relevant data, especially those in which records are obfuscated by archaic websites.

Sara Syed
Using Technology with the Token Economy System for Children with Autism

This past summer, Sara Syed interned at the Drexel Human-Computer Interaction and Empathic Research Lab under Dr. Gabriela Marcu. The token economy system in special education classrooms has been a commonly used method of behavior modification; however, the potential for incorporation of technology into the system has been identified but is still widely unknown. Sara's research revolved around the study of a specific mobile application created by Drexel called SCORE, which combines the use of the token economy system with technology. Based on her findings, Sara evaluated the effectivity of the app, as well as the psychology behind it, and created improvements for the future school year. Her research concluded with the writing of a literature review and co-authoring of a research paper.

Zihan (Hannah) Yin
Targeting Metabolism As a Potential Pancreatic Cancer Therapy

This past summer, Hannah Yin interned in the Department of Surgery at Thomas Jefferson Pancreas, Biliary and Related Cancer Center with Dr. Jordan Winter and Dr. Jonathan Brody on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) research. Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatments for pancreatic cancer. Recent research has shown that glucose deprivation is associated with the induction of the resistance against chemotherapy of pancreatic cancer cells. During her internship, Hannah conducted experiments to identify the role of glucose metabolism to pancreatic cancer cells with and without chemotherapy. Her experiments validated the results from previous research on glucose metabolism in pancreatic cancer cells and allowed researchers to further explore the pathways that pancreatic cancer cells undergo as a potential target for novel cancer therapy.

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