UST Biology Students Win Big at UT Research Symposium
By Brittani Wright
University of St. Thomas’ Biology students won first place in the fall Undergraduate Research Symposium (FURS) at University of Texas in Austin. Undergraduate researchers from UT and across Texas were invited to present their research projects in the biological and chemical sciences.
Sheighlah McManus, Francisco Lopez and Jerry Amomoy walked away with “Best Presentation Award.” The event was hosted by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), UT Chapter among other student organizations and UT faculty members. This is the second year UST students participated.
“The success of our students,” Dr. Gabriel Villares, biology assistant professor, said, “at FURS—where we competed with students from more than 15 universities in Texas—demonstrates how well our University prepares them. The caliber of these students and the research they conducted, their presentation skills and their ability to answer questions was unmatched.”
“My research is a unique,” McManus said. “My focus is cancer research in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). I conduct my research at M.D. Anderson, as part of the CPRIT-CURE program. The program places undergraduate students in summer programs to conduct research. Our goal is to understand if there is an increase of a protein in the body that could potentially be a target for new treatment.”
“My group's research concerns toluene,” Lopez said, “and the resulting toxicity effects on offspring development in drosophila melanogaster. Our research started 10 years ago, when an unauthorized release of chemicals led to toluene polluting the air in Deer Park, TX. Six months ago, the same company was responsible for an enormous fire that exposed the greater Houston area to various chemicals, toluene being among them. We are interested to know how toluene effects the reproductive system.”
“There is growing evidence,” Amomoy said, “that stress plays a vital role in the growth and metastases of cancer. Essentially, whenever you experience stress, it activates your sympathetic nervous system causing the release of certain hormones known as catecholamines. For this research, we are looking specifically at the catecholamine norepinephrine (NE). So, the release of NE causes an increase in cancer progression, eventually leading to decreased patient survival. Our results show there may be potential for new drug treatments. But more importantly, this may lead to supportive therapies that emphasize mental care.”