By Wendy Sarubbi | May 14, 2015 3:59 pm

Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences students and faculty closed out the 2014-15 school year with a day of creative discussion and scientific learning at the 10th annual Graduate Research Symposium May 7. Sixteen Masters and Ph. D. students presented their research – on topics ranging from tuberculosis to cancer — to the event’s largest crowd ever. “Each of these students have been going strong for at least two years, It’s a great opportunity for them to showcase their work,” said Dr. Mollie Jewett, assistant professor and symposium chair.

Presenting their research to a diverse group of biomedical scientists gives graduate students a chance to practice one of the most vital tasks of a researcher— sharing their findings with others. “Being able to clearly communicate your work to an audience, and get them excited about it is extremely important to becoming a scientist,” Dr. Jewett said, noting that being able to explain science to a wide range of people can help them secure funding.

Burnett School Director Dr. Griffith Parks urged students to use their presentations to generate creative discussions with colleagues about future scientific efforts. To that end, the symposium had “student conveners” in the audience who were charged with encouraging interdisciplinary conversations after each presentation.  “My hope is that you will engage people in the work you’ve done, stimulate new areas of research, and hopefully start the cycle once again,” Dr. Parks said. “It’s all about moving to the next stage.”

Graduate student projects showed the variety of diseases the Burnett School is researching, with young scientists talking about developing better treatments for disease or isolating the biomedical causes for such conditions. Ph.D. student Philip Adams received the “Biomedical Sciences Directors Award” for his work on Lyme disease. Working in Dr. Jewett’s lab, Adams is isolating the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium believed to be the cause of the debilitating disease. By learning more about the life cycle of the bacterium, the researchers hope to find ways to hinder the infection’s growth in Lyme disease patients. “In the past, I’ve been able to speak with patients,” Adams said of the disease’s effects, which include nervous system damage, heart problems and arthritis. “Hearing their stories and having their influence in my research really motivates me to pursue the work.”

Masters student Karel Alcedo said that the symposium offered a great training ground for defending her thesis in the future. She presented her research with Dr. Saleh Naser on Crohn’s disease and identifying the cause of the debilitating gastrointestinal disorder. Dr. Naser believes the bacterium Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP), found in milk and beef, is the culprit. During her presentation, Alcedo detailed how she is testing tissue samples from Crohn’s patients for the presence of MAP and comparing those findings with individuals who do not have the disease . “There are a lot of brilliant minds in here, and I want to have their input on what we can add to the research or change in order to better our results,” she said. Alcedo added that she hopes to show UCF medical students her presentation to bridge the gap between bench research and patient care. “We want the medical students to see what goes into the medicines that they’ll be giving, and learn about the pathogenesis of the diseases they study,” she said.

Vice President for Medical Affairs and College of Medicine Dean Dr. Deborah German introduced the symposium’s awards, calling medical research “an invisible safety net for all of us, the foundation that determines if our futures are filled with health and wellness or disease.” She talked of the increasing number of research grants the Burnett School is securing, noting that in just two days, Burnett researchers Drs. Cristina Fernandez-Valle, Annette Khaled and Kyle Rhode received more than $1 million for their work in neurofibromatosis, cystic fibrosis and cancer. Dr. German praised the students and faculty mentors for their dedication to finding healthcare solutions. “Your spirit of inquiry and discovery are not only thrilling to me and your faculty,” she said. “They are thrilling to the patients who will ultimately be helped by your work.”

Six students received awards for their presentations and cash prizes donated by faculty members Drs. Parks, Alex Cole, Sampath Parthasarathy and Dinender Singla. Several of the prizes were named in memory of faculty family members:

Biomedical Sciences Director’s Award ($250, Sponsor: Dr. Griffith Parks)

1st Place Ph.D. student

Philip Adams (M. Jewett lab)

“Identification of novel Borrelia burgdorferi regulatory RNAs expressed during murine infection.”


Everett W. Cole, Jr. Memorial Award ($100, Sponsor: Dr. Alex Cole)

2nd Place Ph.D. student

Bracken Roberts (D. Chakrabarti lab)

“Discovering Antimalarial Compounds with Novel Mechanisms of Action.”


Everett W. Cole, Jr. Memorial Award ($50, Sponsor: Dr. Alex Cole)

3rd Place Ph.D. student

Marisa Fuse (C. Fernandez-Valle lab)

“Inhibition of PI3K Reduces Viability of Merlin-null Mouse Schwann Cells by Inducing Caspase-Dependent Apoptosis.”


Kalyani Parthasarathy Memorial Award ($250, Sponsor: Dr. Sampath Parthasarathy)

1st Place M.S. student

Christopher Parrett (T. Jewett lab)

Chlamydia trachomatis transformants expressing a mutant Tarp effector are deficient in bacterial invasion of mammalian host cells.”


Maya Singla Memorial Award ($100, Sponsor: Dr. Dinender Singla)

2nd Place M.S. student

Jesse Harrison (H. Roy lab)

“tRNA-dependent alanylation of diacylglycerol and phosphatidylglycerol provides antimicrobial resistance to Corynebacterium glutamicum.”


Maya Singla Memorial Award ($50, Sponsor: Dr. Dinender Singla)

3rd place M.S.

Taylor Johnson (D. Singla lab)

“PTEN Inhibitor Reduces Cardiac Remodeling in Doxorubicin-Induced Cardiomyopathy.”

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