Students present at biomedical research conference

Students Present Research at Biomedical Research Conference for Minorities

Jan. 29, 2019

Four Maryville College seniors presented at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), which was held in Indianapolis, Ind., Nov. 14-17. This is the College’s second year sending students to the conference. The attendees were biochemistry major Manal Abbas ’19, biology and chemistry double-major Alyssa Ward ’19, biochemistry and business management double-major Cheyanne Croft ’19, and biology major Boomer Russell ’19.

According to Dr. Angelia Gibson, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and associate professor of chemistry, the conference was established to enlarge and enrich the field of opportunities in biomedical research.

“We need more people doing biomedical research, but the biomedical research community tends to be very white and tends to come from a higher socioeconomic group and [from] people who have families who are educated,” Gibson said. “The conference was designed to make more seats at the table and a more diverse group of people who are doing biomedical research. It’s open to anyone.”

Gibson first became familiar with the conference last year after collaborating with Dr. A. Valance Washington in the Department of Biology at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR).

“UPR has always been a big participant in the conference, and so last year I had a student who was doing research there, and [Washington] suggested she attend the conference,” Gibson said.

This student, biology major Victoria Deal ’19, was the first Maryville College student to attend ABRCMS. Her research originally involved cloning a human antibody and studying TLT-1, a protein found on platelets and thought to be involved in blood clots that form as a response to inflammation. At last year’s conference she presented on another project that she completed with guidance from Dr. Jessica Morales-Ortiz, in Washington’s lab last summer, investigating the role of TLT-1 in Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.

All four attendees in this year’s conference presented research in poster format that built upon Deal’s TLT-1 research in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico.  

They each studied specialized aspects of the TLT-1 protein, enhancing the basis of understanding for this molecule's role in the realm of human health. In this way, every undergraduate conference attendee has contributed to advancements in the medical field.

Abbas’s poster was titled “Developing a FRET Method to Analyze Molecular Interactions of Protein TLT-1.” Abbas used the technique known as FRET, which stands for Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer, to closely observe the approach between TLT-1 and other molecules.

Entitled “Investigating the Impact of sTLT-1 on Fibrinogen Thermal Stability and Its Susceptibility to Coagulation and Fibrinolysis,” Ward’s research focused on TLT-1 as it took on a soluble form following platelet activation and its tendency to bind to fibrinogen, another soluble protein found in the blood. In addition to a competitive travel award, Ward received a Ledford Scholarship through the Appalachian College Association (ACA) to attend the conference.

Russell presented his research, titled “Characterization and Quantification of Fibrinogen and TLT-1 Binding Properties.” The goal of his research was to specifically study how TLT-1 and fibrinogen interact.

Croft’s poster was titled “Analysis of TREM-like Transcript as a Predictor of Clinical Outcomes & ICU Burdens for Patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).” Her research involved careful statistical analysis to determine how TLT-1 might be used as a clinical predictor for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. She also received a competitive travel award to attend the conference.

Croft realized after attending the conference that her future job opportunities were broader than she originally envisioned.

“I was able to see that there are more opportunities in the medical field than just medical school and pharmacy school, which we typically think of,” Croft explained. “After doing all of the research, I realized that’s something I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to go about getting into the medical field without doing something in the lab or directly hands-on in the clinical aspect. I was introduced to a lot of different programs that involved computer science, which is something I hadn’t really thought of before [but] lined up with [my] research.”

According to Croft, the conference also allowed her and other students to form relationships and connections with esteemed scientists as well as plan for graduate school.

“We got to meet different types of scientists from all over the country and from Puerto Rico, with whom we share our research,” Croft said. “There was a lot of networking going on. I got to meet with several graduate programs that were interested in me, and I’ve been in contact with them since then.”

Hoping to enroll in a Ph.D. program for biochemistry and molecular biology after graduation, Russell agreed that the conference served a broader purpose than just the presentation of research.

“I also attended many seminars that covered different findings in the scientific community and offered good advice for applying to graduate school and how to be a scientist,” Russell said. “It was so eye-opening to talk to different scientists from different backgrounds and hear their stories.”

Gibson said she plans to continue to take students to such conferences in the future as an opportunity to continue collaborating, connecting and sharing research and ideas.

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”