By Stephen Schrauger | April 22, 2024 4:13 pm
Drs. Parks and Naser with the top 3 placing students

For the first time in four years, graduate students from the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences presented their research in-person at the annual BSBS Spring Graduate Symposium.

“I am excited to see you here in person for the first time in years, it is much better than looking at your faces on a screen,” said Associate Dean for Research of the College of Medicine and Burnett School Director Dr. Parks to more than 100 audience members, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, mentors, judges and Ph.D. presenters. COVID-19 caused previous showcase events to be held on Zoom.

Ten students presented their research, with topics ranging from swabbing high-touch surfaces to monitor the spread of COVID-19 to building 3D maps of the heart. Judges evaluated the students on their science and presentation skills with cash awards going to the top three. 

“This event plays an important role in developing in-person presentation skills, which is very different than presenting on Zoom,” said Dr. Parks. “The exchange of questions between the asker and the researcher, but also between the audience allows people to jump off others and build community.”

Ph.D. candidate Elisabeth Shiffer placed first, presenting her research on using the body’s Natural Killer cells to treat pediatric neuroblastoma. Weeks before, she presented the same research in Barcelona at an international virology conference.

“A lot of pediatric cancers are challenging to cure because traditional therapies are aggressive, and children’s bodies aren’t able to handle them,” said Shiffer. “So my project is focused on how we can find more targeted approaches for the populations that needs them.”

Her solution used a protein from an influenza virus — parainfluenza virus 5 (PIV5) V – to energize the Natural Killer cells to attack and destroy the cancer. Shiffer was mentored by Dr. Parks, a virologist, and worked in collaboration with Dr. Alicja Copik, a College of Medicine researcher focused on strengthening NK cells to kill cancer.

Dr. Jackie Zhao, a College of Medicine faculty member and the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program Coordinator who led the event organizing and presentation evaluation, was happy that students had a professional scientific conference-like platform to share their research in-person.  

“This event isn’t just about practicing their oral presentations skills for conferences,” he said. “It allows them to showcase the progress of their dissertation research in a place where the whole school and program can witness. It also provides the graduate faculty of diverse research programs with a great opportunity to interact face-to-face and build research collaborations.”

Event Awardees

1st Place, Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program Award – Elisabeth Shiffer | Mentor: Dr. Griffith Parks

Topic: NK Cell-Mediated Killing of Neuroblastoma Cells is Enhanced by Expression of

the Parainfluenza Virus 5 V Protein

2nd Place Biomedical Sciences Director’s Award – Ala’ Alhendi | Mentor: Dr. Saleh Naser

Topic: Blockade of IL-6 signaling during Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis infection

exacerbates intestinal epithelial damage

3rd Place Maya Singla Memorial Award – Jenna R. Alquino | Mentor: Dr. Griffith Parks

Topic: Defective Interfering Genomes Reduce Complement-mediated Lysis of Cells

Infected with Parainfluenza Virus 5

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