Going for the gold

After long hours of preparation in labs conducting research and at home practicing presentations, six students from the UF College of Medicine’s interdisciplinary program in biomedical sciences competed in the 40th annual UF College of Medicine Medical Guild Research Symposium April 1.

One by one, the students stood at the front of the Cancer and Genetics Research Complex auditorium and presented research that could impact treatments and therapies for health issues such as cancer, stroke and hemophilia.

“It boggles my mind that these young people have come up with these brilliant ideas to treat diseases,” said Lynda Bucciarelli, president of the UF Medical Guild, which provided grant funding for the research competition’s cash awards.

Prior to the event, each of the college’s six biomedical science interdisciplinary programs held departmental competitions and sent the top researchers to present at the symposium. For the competition, six students prepared 15-minute oral research presentations and participated in five-minute question-and-answer sessions. A panel of seven faculty judges then evaluated each presentation to determine who would take the top spot.

“These guys are the next generation of researchers,” said Thomas Rowe, Ph.D. ’82, an associate professor in the department of pharmacology and therapeutics who helped moderate the event. He added that it’s a particular joy to see how the older students who participate in this competition act as role models for the younger scientists and how the students evolve during their years of education.

“Experiences like these prepare us as young scientists to be truly successful in the larger scientific community,” said Douglas Bennion, who landed in first place during the competition thanks to his presentation, “Neuroprotection in ischemic stroke by angiotensin converting enzyme 2: a new direction for an old pathway.” He noted that without communication, even the most innovative research discoveries get lost in translation.

“I’d really like to see that our research has an impact in the lives of people who are suffering,” he said. “This event shows that that is possible, and this crop of scientists moving forward are the ones who have that capability.”

The following students were recognized based on their presentations:

  • Gold award: Douglas Bennion of physiology and pharmacology for “Neuroprotection in ischemic stroke by angiotensin converting enzyme 2: a new direction for an old pathway.”
  • Silver award: Rony Francois of molecular cell biology for “Targeting Focal Adhesion Kinase Overcomes Resistance to mTOR Inhibition in Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors.”
  • Silver award: Geoffrey Rogers of immunology and microbiology for “Unique role of the TLR9‐MyD88 signaling pathway in dendritic cells in AAV capsid‐specific CD8+ T cell activation.”
  • Bronze award: Fatma Ayhan of genetics for “Repeat Associated Non‐ATG (RAN) Translation in Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 8.”
  • Bronze award: Shweta Kailasan of biochemistry and molecular biology for “Structure‐guided Strategies for Vaccine Design against Pathogenic Human Bocaviruses.”
  • Bronze award: Regina Martuscello of neuroscience for “Diminished Progression of Glioblastoma with a Supplemented High‐Fat Low‐Carbohydrate Diet.”

As part of the Medical Guild Research Symposium, the following faculty members received the 2014-2015 Doctoral Mentoring Award:

  • David Bloom, Ph.D., molecular genetics and microbiology
  • Robert McKenna, Ph.D., biochemistry and molecular biology

The following students received the Advancement to Candidacy Award:

  • Brian Mahon, biochemistry and molecular biology
  • Brittney Newby, immunology and microbiology
  • Dane Phelan, genetics
  • Brittany Rife, biochemistry and molecular biology