MANSFIELD, PA – Three Mansfield University biology students attended and presented at the 21st Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Chemical and Biological Sciences held at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) on Saturday, October 20th. Adrianna Vaskas (senior from Wyalusing, PA, Cell and Molecular Biology), Tyler Walters (senior from Danville, PA, Cell and Molecular Biology), and Jason Chilson (junior from Towanda, PA, Cell and Molecular Biology) each presented original research at this prestigious conference. The students were accompanied by their research advisors, Dr. Kristen Long of the Department of Biology and Dr. Elaine Farkas of the Department of Chemistry. The students were judged on their research content, poster display, and their oral communication and defense of their work.
Ms. Vaskas’ poster, titled “Effects of Curcumin on Pancreatic Cancer”, won second place in the biochemical and molecular biology category, besting competing presentation from James Madison University and University of Maryland Medical School, among others. Ms. Vaskas was advised by Dr. Long and her work was supported by a research grant from the NASA Space Grant Consortium of Pennsylvania. Her project explored whether the immune system can impact the effectiveness of curcumin, a potential plant-based cancer therapy, in a mouse model of pancreatic cancer. Early findings suggest the immune system plays a role in resistance to this therapy, as treatment with curcumin did not slow tumor development or increase the overall survival of mice. Ms. Vaskas states, “I am now working to conduct the same procedure with a different pancreatic cancer cell line to further support the importance of the immune system in response to therapy.” Mr. Walters, also advised by Dr. Long, presented his research on “Protective Effects of Cranberry Juice on Alcohol-Related Liver Damage.” Walters also used a mouse model, and explored the extent of liver damage in mice exposed to ethanol. According to Mr. Walters, “Preliminary findings suggest the ethanol dosing was effective in creating liver damage. We are now working to evaluate whether cranberry juice had any protective effect.” Mr. Chilson was advised by Dr. Farkas and Dr. Long, and presented research on gene expression in tardigrades. His poster was titled “Differential Gene Expression in the Tardigrade Tun State: Osmotic Stress versus Dehydration”, and explored the unique adaptations these strange creatures can make in order to withstand environmental conditions that would be lethal to other forms of life. Mr. Chilson commented, “It was exciting to see science in action. Specifically, there is limited knowledge when it comes to tardigrade DNA sequences, which made some assays difficult. Dr. Farkas has been extremely helpful with this process.”
The Mansfield University students were three of nearly 300 abstracts and poster presentations at this symposium, and universities in attendance included the University of Pennsylvania, Yale College, University of Delaware, Duquesne University, and many additional larger schools with ties to graduate and medical schools. Overall, the conference was a great opportunity for these young scientists to network and explore active scientific research in their field. Mr. Walters adds, “The conference provided me the opportunity to talk to students and professors from different universities and gain a different perspective on the applications and potential methodology for my research.” Ms. Vaskas agreed, “This conference allowed me to not only gain experience presenting my research orally, but also gave me the opportunity to collaborate with other professionals within the field of biomedical research.” Mr. Chilson concluded, “It was a very eye-opening experience to see how well the scientific community communicates with each other about their research. I am highly motivated by the enthusiasm shown by Drs. Farkas and Long and their ability to keep students actively involved in research so that we can participate in these types of events. It’s because of dedicated professors like them that we have the opportunity to pursue high caliber research and attend scientific conferences.”