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Biomedical Conferences Feature Tech Scientists

SOCORRO, N.M. May 24, 2010 – New Mexico Tech students and professors were center stage at two biomedical conferences in Santa Fe in late March.

Undergraduates, graduate students, staff researchers and professors presented research and exchanged ideas with colleagues from around the state.

One group of Techies at the INBRE conference. From left are Siona Curtis-Briley, Dr. Rebecca Reiss, Isis Lyman-Dobberstein, Connor Cameron and Danny Ferraro.
Connor Cameron presents his research. He was selected from the student poster presenters to give a talk.
Dr. Jeffrey Arterburn of UNM congratulates Tech student Alexander Mikhalin, who won honorable mention for his research presentation. At left are Dr. Snezna Rogelj and Dr. Michaelann Tartis.
Elizabeth Larkin, a graduate student in materials engineering, presented research at the INBRE conference, along with the assistance of Mick Hahn and Jacey Gansz.

“We have a common goal, with various approaches,” biology professor Dr. Snezna Rogelj said. “Hopefully we will improve the health of the world one step at a time. Beautiful things happen when people pull together and work together”

The New Mexico Bioinformatics Symposium and the New Mexico Idea Network for Biomedical Research Excellence Conference were held consecutively in Santa Fe from March 25 to 28.

Undergraduate biology student Connor Cameron won a speaking slot at the Bioinfomatics Symposium. He spoke about his paper, “Cutting Through the Fat I: Statistical Analysis of Transcriptomic Data for Vascular Wall Gene Expression Changes in Rats in Response to a High-fat Diet.” With Tech professor Rebecca Reiss and former professor Dr. Jay Naik, Cameron studied how a high-fat diet affects the expression of genes.

Reiss said Cameron’s research attempts to find the genes responsible for a shift in metabolism that is a precursor to a host of diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. Cameron’s work is the first research project at New Mexico Tech to use second-generation genome sequencing equipment. Reiss said his research is truly interdisciplinary, merging biology, chemistry, computer science and mathematics.

“His work in analyzing the data has been exemplary,” she said. “He has a firm grasp on statistics and the programming. To analyze so many genes – that’s a steep learning curve and he did it on his own.”

Cameron said he was grateful for the opportunity to present his research.

“It was tremendous of Tech to send me,” he said. “It was fairly mind-expanding. Everyone was really supportive and the people from NCGR [National Center for Genomic Research] were really great.”

Cameron will be a research intern at the NCGR in Santa Fe this summer.

Graduate student Alexander Mikhalin won an honorable mention for his poster, “Purification of Drug Conjugated Liposomes By Spin Column Size Exclusion Chromatography.” A December 2009 master’s graduate in chemistry, Mikhalin has joined the biology graduate program. He is working with Dr. Michaelann Tartis on developing new liposomal drug-conjugates for targeted anti-cancer therapy.

Rogelj said she was very impressed that Mikhalin assembled such an impressive research project so quickly after joining the biomedical team.

Much of the biomedical research at New Mexico Tech is conducted under the auspices of the Chemical and Biological Screening Core. The group includes the disciplines of chemistry, biology and chemical engineering.

“We’re one big family working on both biological and chemical aspects, with the ultimate goal of discovering anticancer, antibacterial and antifungal drugs,” Rogelj said.

Several other Tech professors and students presented research posters at the conferences.

Dr. Peng Zhang, the Tech chemistry professor who has accepted a position at another university, also presented research and posters. Zhang’s research focus is nanotechnology, including nanoscience for biomedical research.

Undergraduate Alyssa Rose presented a poster on her interdisciplinary work in anti-cancer drugs and drug delivery. Working with Dr. Michaelann Tartis, Rose’s work involves characterizing and creating microbubbles that can contain therapeutic agents for delivery via ultrasound.

Elizabeth Larkin, a materials engineering graduate student, presented a research poster, with help from chemical engineering undergraduates Jacey Gansz and Mick Hahn. Working with Dr. Tartis, their research focused on drug delivery vehicles – microbubbles, liposomes and other biological materials.

Biology graduate student Seth Daly presented research into developing an antimicrobial drug that works against multi-drug-resistant staphylococcus.

Dr. Rogelj said she’s excited about Daly’s research because it re-sensitizes bacteria against other antibiotics.
Biology research professor Dr. Hong Tang presented a posted about her work in developing a novel antimicrobial agent made of chitosan, which is derived from exoskeletons of crab and shrimp.

Other students who attended the conferences were graduate students Danny Ferraro, Nikolai Evdokimov, Indranil Malik, Robert Johnston and Giovanni Luchetti; undergrads in attendance included Isis Lyman Dobberstein, Lomeli Carpio, Katrina Lepthien, Gina Nguyen, Siona Curtis-Briley and Alex Lutz. Several other students were credited as authors of the posters, but did not attend.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech