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Seniors Participate in Science Research Symposium
Posted 10/24/2018 09:00AM

On October 23, the Science Department hosted its 7th annual Science Student Research Symposium. Twelve amazing senior scientists from the Class of 2019 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:

Simi Bleznak
The Role of the Anti-MOG Antibody in Pediatric ADEM Patients

Simi conducted her work at the Bar-Or Lab in the Neuroimmunology Department at Penn Medicine. Working under post-doc Giulia Fadda, Simi analyzed and interpreted patient data for children with an autoimmune disease similar to Multiple Sclerosis, called Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Specifically, she examined the role that the anti-MOG antibody plays in the phenotypic presentation of the disease. Myelin Oligodendrocyte Glycoprotein (MOG) is an adhesion molecule found in nerves in the central nervous system, and some of the patients observed had the antibody to this protein. Thus, Simi analyzed the differences between those who presented the antibody and those who did not.

Cici Cui
m6A RNA Modification and Neurodegeneration

This past summer, Cici interned in the Song lab at the University of Pennsylvania, under the supervision of Dr. Guo-li Ming and Dr. Hongjun Song. With the guidance of her mentor, Dr. Eunchai Kang, she analyzed the function of N6-Methyladenosine (m6A). By using the PCP2-Cre:METTL14 knockout mice, lack of m6A shows both a physical and molecular phenotype. The main focus was to determine the time point for RNA sequencing according to the number of Purkinje cell loss and intensity of GFAP signal, which will provide a more precise profile of RNA in the future. Cici will continue to work with Dr. Kang throughout the school year to complete the research.

Anisha Devas
Quantification of Organic Compounds' Hydrogen Bonding Strength as Hydrogen Bond Donors

This past summer, Anisha Devas interned at The University of Pennsylvania in Dr. Marisa Kozlowski's Organic Chemistry research lab. Anisha worked alongside Thomas Paniak and under the guidance of Dr. Kozlowski, performing a series of titrations to test the strength of various organic compounds as hydrogen bond donors. Hydrogen Bonding is a major component of our existence, especially related to drug design, because stronger Hydrogen Bond donors can dissolve in water better. This causes higher desolvation energies, which are responsible for a compound's ability to permeate through cell membranes, making the drug more efficacious. While pKa values can be used to deduce Hydrogen Bonding abilities, they neglect secondary interactions and binding geometry, which is why they are only useful in comparing compounds that have similar structures. The Kozlowski group designed a method involving a UV-vis Spectrophotometer to be able to uniformly measure and compare various compounds' ability to be Hydrogen Bond donors. The goal of this research is to create a table of strong Hydrogen Bond Donors in order to streamline drug design and discovery. Anisha tested over 25 compounds and produced results that helped deduce the future direction of choosing compounds to be tested.

Alexa Diecidue
Cryptochrome 1 (CRY1) Modulates DNA Damage Response (DDR) in Prostate Cancer

Alexa followed post-doctorate fellow Dr. Ayesha Shafi in Dr. Karen Knudsen's Cancer Biology Lab at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center of Thomas Jefferson University. There, she studied the molecular mechanisms that have roles in Prostate Cancer (PCa). Alexa specifically researched the role of the circadian protein Cryptochrome 1 in the DNA damage response of PCa cells by over expressing and knocking down the protein in various cell lines. In addition to her research at Jefferson, Alexa volunteered in several departments of the hospital including Neonatal Intensive Care, Labor and Delivery, Emergency Medicine, Orthopedics and Oral Surgery.

Meriel Doyle
Construction of a Chimeric Adeno-Associated Virus/Human Parvovirus 4 Vector for Gene Therapy

This summer, Meriel interned at the University of Pennsylvania Gene Therapy Lab. She worked under the mentorship of Dr. Weiran Shen and his team at the Wilson Lab. Although adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors have recently proved to be a safe alternative to the widely used retroviral and adenoviral vectors, the human body produces neutralizing antibodies that block the AAV from entering into human tissues. In addition, the AAV genome size is small and the specificity of its tropism may be further improved. In the search for better, more efficient vectors, researchers are trying to incorporate the most useful features of different viruses to create hybrid vectors. During Meriel's time at the Wilson Lab, she worked to create a novel chimeric AAV/PARV4 vector that might exhibit higher transduction efficiency and lower immune response upon infection into host cells.

Anoushka Gidh
Choroidal Nevus and Choroidal Melanoma: Characteristics, Treatments and Complications

This past summer, Anoushka Gidh interned at the Wills Eye Hospital where she shadowed Dr. Carol Shields, Dr. Jerry Shields, Dr. Sara Lally, Dr. Arman Mashayekhi, and the entire ocular oncology research team. She worked alongside these doctors and surgeons to observe patients with choroidal nevi and/or choroidal melanoma. She also observed several surgeries for the treatment of choroidal melanoma and other ocular cancerous diseases. Choroidal nevi are benign lesions in the choroid, located at the posterior segment of the eye. These lesions can sometimes develop into choroidal melanoma, a rare cancer. The main focus of the research was to differentiate between the two diseases. Other parts of the research include imaging techniques, the genetics of choroidal melanoma, treatments for choroidal melanoma and complications that may arise with both diseases and the treatments.

Helen Ji
Comparison of Immunofluorescence Signals Between Amplification Techniques

This past summer, Helen Ji conducted research as part of the Gene Therapy Program at the University of Pennsylvania under the direction of Dr. Jim Wilson. Working in the Wilson Lab of the Translational Research Laboratory along with her mentor, Dr. Elizabeth Buza, Helen worked to analyze immunohistochemical staining, a process used to detect antigens in the cells of tissue sections. Her findings covered the various strategies deployed to boost signal in staining tissue involving secondary antibody techniques and avidin-biotin techniques.

Shiyu Li
Using Zebrafish Lateral Line to Identify Modulators of Mechanosensory Hair Cells

Shiyu Li conducted her research project at State Key Laboratory of Medical Neurobiology affiliated with the Eye and ENT Hospital of Fudan University. She used zebrafish posterior lateral line as a platform to test for compounds affecting survival, proliferation, and regeneration of mechanosensory hair cells. Through the chemical screenings, Shiyu identified two compounds that have the protective effect on hair cells, and she will further test them in mammalian models. After experimental testing, these compounds may be used clinically for hair cells protection. In addition, Shiyu explored the mechanisms of hair cell regeneration in the zebrafish model and identified the time period during which hair cells exhibit maximum regenerative ability.

Alexis Shatzman
The Effect of Acute Ethanol Injections on Dopamine Release in the NAc of Mice

Alexis Shatzman worked under the direction of Dr. Mariella De Biasi, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Dr. De Biasi has made major contributions to the understanding of the role of nAChR in anxiety, in substance abuse and in withdrawal. This summer, Alexis studied the concentration of dopamine released in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) in response to intraperitoneal ethanol injection on adult C57BI/6J mice. Under anesthesia, a probe was inserted into the mouse NAc in order to collect CSF in vivo. Baseline dopamine samples were obtained and concentrations compared to those after intraperitoneal ethanol injection. Coronal sections of the sacrifice mice were studied to confirm cannula placement.

Angelina Shi
Preparation of Porous and Recyclable PVA-TiO2 Hybrid Hydrogel

This past summer, Angelina Shi interned at the Institute of Chemistry Chinese Academy of Sciences under the direction of Dr. Gen Li and Dr. Mingshu Yang. Her research focused on purifying polluted water by using a semiconductor, TiO2, as the photocatalyst. Nano TiO2 particles are the most efficient in reacting with pollutants, but they are hard to be recycled. The goal of the project was to improve the photocatalytic rate of TiO2 while making it recyclable to achieve environmental sustainability. A porous PVA-TiO2 hybrid hydrogel was prepared by etching calcium carbonate from hydrochloric acid, and methyl orange was selected as the model pollutant. The experiment took place in the photochemical reactor under the ultraviolet light of 365±15nm. The result shows that the porous PV-TiO2 hydrogel has significantly high photocatalytic rate and can be prepared in large quantities in a safe, green, and simple method.

Anjali Sukhavasi
Decreasing Pancreatic Cancer Cell Viability by Increased ROS Levels Through IDH1 Inhibition

This past summer, Anjali Sukhavasi interned in the Department of Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University under the guidance of Dr. Jordan Winter and Dr. Ali Vaziri-Gohar, and conducted research on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), which is soon to be the 2nd most common cause of cancer-related death in the United States. PDAC cells are characteristically under extreme metabolic stress due to nutritional deficiency, which leads to increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Isocitrate-dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1) enzyme production is upregulated in PDAC cells to protect against ROS-induced cell death. If IDH1 were inhibited in PDAC cells, then the high ROS levels produced by the cells will kill the cells and decrease cell viability. During her internship, Anjali tested this hypothesis by conducting experiments to test the efficacy of an IDH1 inhibitor in decreasing PDAC cell viability. In addition, Anjali had the opportunity to observe Dr. Vaziri-Gohar as he conducted animal trials, as well as shadow Dr. Winter during patient visits, thereby recognizing the translational nature of pancreatic cancer research.

Taylor Trapp
The Role of Mitochondrial Haplogroup Variants Determine Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Clinical Outcome in Pediatric Sepsis

During this past summer, Taylor Trapp had the opportunity to study the role of mitochondrial haplogroup variants to determine mitochondrial dysfunction and its relationship to a clinical outcome in pediatric sepsis. The mitochondria is known to be the powerhouse of the cell because it converts energy through the process of cellular respiration. She worked in a lab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia underneath Dr. Frank McGowan, Dr. Scott Weiss and John McCann in the Department of Anesthesiology. Taylor's research will continue further with testing by Next Generation Sequencing. Taylor has been in this program since 8th grade and plans to continue in the medicine field.

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