By Wendy Sarubbi | August 22, 2017 9:52 am

Ryan Marracino has always loved cars. In fact, when he is not in the lab researching cell mechanisms and enzyme functions, you can probably find him racing sports cars in time trial events across the country.

Marracino, who will begin his Ph.D. in biomedical sciences this fall, is one of 64 new graduate students who begin masters and doctoral programs at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences this week.

“Growing up I was very interested in engineering – hence the cars – but after going through two hip surgeries in high school due to sports’ injuries, I became intrigued in the medical field,” said Marracino, who graduated with honors from UCF with a bachelor’s in biomedical sciences in 2014. He considered med school but a UCF course in molecular biology taught by faculty member Dr. Robert Borgon showed Marracino “I truly have a passion for the science behind how life works at the fundamental level.

It’s kind of like the ultimate engineering problem when considering how all these molecules interact in a cell like pieces of a machine.”

Marracino is among 16 Ph.D. students, 47 master’s students and one M.D.-Ph.D. student joining the College of Medicine this fall. The semester also brings three new master’s programs in cancer, infectious diseases and metabolic and cardiovascular sciences. With the additional tracks, the Burnett School now offers a master’s in each of its research specialties.

“This expansion is a vision that we have had for the graduate program all along, which is to populate these research intensive divisions with outstanding graduate students,” said Dr. Griffith Parks, director of the Burnett School.

Of the 47 master’s students, eight students will do cancer research, five will enter the infectious disease track and four will be in metabolic and cardiovascular sciences.  Others will study neurosciences, biotech professional sciences and a biomedical nonthesis track.

Dr. Parks said he was particularly proud of the diversity of the students who were born in 16 countries including Brazil, Bangladesh, India, Jordan, Jamaica and Lithuania. The new grad students  include a classically trained singer, a national swimming champion, a track and field athlete, an Air Force veteran and a sergeant in the Marine Corps.

“We are also proud of the diversity in the type of research the students are working on, ranging from infectious diseases to various types of cancer, neurosciences, using nanoparticles for the treatment of diseases,” Dr. Parks added.

Master’s student Jane Jayakumar moved to the U.S. for her postgraduate studies because of the opportunities for advanced research and technology not available in her native India.

“Having gone through the profiles of faculty members in the Burnett School website, I found several professors working in research fields that perfectly reflected my own interests, cancer immunotherapy with a tinge of nanotechnology,” she said, “And I am very excited to work with them.”

Ph.D. student Aiste Dobrovolskaite from Lithuania wants to use her research to help people suffering from chronic noncommunicable diseases, in particular hypertension.

“Doing research associated with treating chronic diseases feels very rewarding,” she said.  “I know that the work I am doing can either directly help people or pave the way for other scientists that have the same goal.”

Dobrovolskaite, a competitive swimmer who has represented Lithuania in several world championships and holds several national records, chose UCF for its wide range of research areas in the biomedical sciences.

“Being a part of such a big team will give me access to various resources and information. I am very excited to a part of such an amazing and still growing program,” she said.

The new students were welcomed with a weeklong schedule of orientation activities that included a research colloquium featuring poster presentations from current graduate students.

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