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SOAR Distinguished Speaker Panel and Science Poster Presentation

May 01, 2017

Laura Lemire
Communications and Marketing
(603) 641-7242

Aliesha Grandison '17 presents her research at the SOAR Science Poster Session

On April 27, Saint Anselm College's SOAR programconcluded its month-long celebration of academic excellence with the New Hampshire Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (NH-INBRE) Distinguished Speaker Panel and the SOAR Science Poster and Reception. While the speakers focused on their specialty of genomics, the student presenters displayed a diverse selection of topics as they showcased the results of the research they have been conducting this semester and in some cases, throughout the academic year.

The NH-INBRE/SOAR Distinguished Speaker Panel featured prominent speakers from the community who specialized in the topic of genomics and health. The panel was composed of Dr. Christopher Amos, professor and chair of the Center for Genomic Medicine at Dartmouth, Hanover, NH; Colleen Dansereau, R.N., MSN, manager of Gene Therapy Program at Children's Hospital and director of the Dana Farber/Boston Children's Center for Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders; Dr. Ann Hoen, assistant professor of Epidemiology, Biomedical Data Science and Microbiology and Immunology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC); and Sheila Upton, licensed genetic counselor, Department of Medical Genetics at DHMC.

Genomics is a branch of molecular biology that is primarily concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of genomes. According to Amos, the field originated in 2003 with "primarily technological applications." Today, researchers are still discovering new ways that genomics can contribute clinically to treat various illnesses. Amos is primarily focused on researching how gene therapy can be used to treat cancer.

Dansereau, who specializes in gene therapy, spoke about the accomplishments already wrought through studying and mapping genomes. After explaining the process of gene therapy, which is the addition of a correct or more functional copy of a gene into a body that contains a defective copy, Dansereau highlighted the results stemming from ongoing clinical trials. She explained that many diseases like sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) have all been met "in open clinical trials with good success." She shared pictures of two boys from Turkey and Argentina that now have fully healthy immune systems thanks to gene therapy.

Hoen conducts research into a fledgling field branching from genomics, which involves investigating the human microbiome. "We think of bacteria as pond scum and the stuff growing in your unwashed Nalgene bottle," she joked. "In reality, the diversity of the human body is incredible vast."

Hoen is hopeful that her research will illuminate how humans can manipulate our own genetic makeup in order to cure or prevent diseases.

The final panelist was Sheila Upton, who serves as a Licensed Genetic Counselor for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. She specializes in cardiac genetics and neurogenic conditions, including heart diseases and Alzheimer's disease. Upton spoke about the challenges of helping people understand the medical, psychological, and familial impact of genomics. She explained how she walks families through the process of being tested for genetic disorders while providing counsel and easing their concerns.

After the panelists spoke, they opened the floor to discussion and answered questions from students and faculty.

Student Research on Display

The SOAR Science Poster Session Reception was held immediately following the Distinguished Speaker Panel. There were 64 student researchers showcasing 60 presentations at the science poster session and reception. The presenters spanned all four grade levels, with 43 seniors, 16 juniors, four sophomores, and one freshman contributing to the event. The participants also varied in area of academic interest, as students from the applied physics, biochemistry, biology, chemistry, forensic science, natural science, and physics as well as computer science, history, nursing, and psychology departments all presented.

Senior nursing major Kylee Granholm presented her research on the Influence of Acculturation on Body Mass Index and Healthy Weight Perceptions among Asian-Americans. She received a grant from NH-INBRE to conduct her research while coordinating with Saint Anselm Professor Chi-Chien Huang of the sociology and social work department.

The ultimate goal of Granholm's research was to show how acculturation, the process of adopting the cultural traits of another group, has affected Asian Americans, which in turn led to an increase in obesity. She discovered that Filipinos are more obese after coming to the United States, and more prone to hospitalization. Although the area is not studied extensively, Granholm said that it is "a huge problem" since "Asians face more health problems at lower BMI's, including diabetes and cardiovascular problems."

Her research was "not for clinical application," but sought to establish the need for more research. "We need to find out what's causing the Filipino sub-group to be obese," said Granholm. Now that she has identified the issue, Granholm believes it is imperative to focus on countering the negative impact of acculturation to promote healthy lifestyles in the Asian-American community, which will in turn benefit society as a whole.

Granholm hopes to work as a registered nurse in the intensive care unit of a hospital after graduation. She also looks forward to continuing her research into the obesity epidemic among Filipino-Americans.

Zabrina Marino, a senior natural science major, presented her research project, entitled, American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) Leaf-Flushing Phenology: Historical patterns and Contemporary Results from restoration Trees in A Southern New Hampshire Test Orchard. Her project is part of a six-year study conducted by students and supervised by Professor Eric Berry of the biology department.

The cumulative project is focused on combating the chestnut blight, an epidemic that is responsible for the near eradication of the American chestnut tree. By cross-breeding the American chestnut with Chinese chestnut trees that are resistant to the blight, Berry and Marino hope to produce a new strand of American chestnut that retains the aspects of the original tree, with the added fortitude of blight resistance.

Marino gained interest in the study after taking a plant biology course with Professor Berry. Through her research, she has discovered that the hybrids have regional adaptability, which is a promising sign for the future of the new strain of chestnuts.

After her graduation in May, Marino will continue working for the research department of New Hampshire Hospital, a state run psychiatric hospital where she interned this semester. There, she will continue to facilitate the implementation of new procedures designed to increase the safety of the patients and personnel of the institute.

Michael Pedro '17, a computer science major, presented a poster, called, Processing Apps for Android. As the name suggests, the senior developed his own application for smartphones. Pedro originally designed and produced the integrated game for his operating systems course. After viewing his work, his professor, Mihaela Malita, encouraged Pedro to present at the SOAR Poster Session.

"I've always been interested in designing apps," Pedro commented. "I'm excited to turn it into a job."

Pedro has already secured employment at Motivis Learning in Salem, N.H., after graduation. After working for Motivis as an intern for two semesters, the company offered him a position. He will continue to use his degree in computer science to build products that will achieve the company's mission of furthering education through technological advancements.

The mission of SOAR is to foster excellence in undergraduate scholarship, creative work, and research in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. SOAR began as a grassroots effort among faculty in April of 2012, but has grown into a month-long, campus-wide event celebrating exemplary undergraduate research, writing, and art. In addition to the Science Poster Session and Distinguished Speaker panel, SOAR also held music concerts, the Mind Over Major conference, and the Outstanding Student Research Symposium.

The SOAR Planning Committee is comprised of seven Saint Anselm faculty members from a diverse array of departments. Professors Josh Dannin, Lori LaPlante, and Deborah McCarter-Spaulding, Thomas Shell, Rajesh Prasad, and Joshua Tepley facilitate the program sessions by organizing the events, inviting distinguished speakers, and by encouraging student participation.

Story by Jonathan Burkart '18

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