WSU students land awards at multicultural STEM conference

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Two Washington State University seniors received awards for their undergraduate research presentations at the annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) on Nov. 13.

Jenna Pederson, a general studies in biological sciences major from Silverdale, received one of 13 awards in the physiology and pharmacology category, which was sponsored by Merck & Co. and the Society for Leukocyte Biology. Her research project is titled, “Can Human Pain be Modeled in a Rat?” Her WSU faculty mentor is Rebecca Craft.

Ezra Mead, a genetics and cell biology major from Olympia, received an award in the category of immunology, sponsored by the American Association of Immunology. Mead’s research project is titled, “Characterizing the Role of Insulin-mediated Immune Signaling During West Nile Viral Infection in Diabetic D. melanogaster Models.”  He is mentored by Alan Goodman and graduate student Chasity Trammell.

Projects on pain and immunity

Both students described their research in abstracts.

Pederson said human pain severity is often assessed by the extent to which it disrupts normal activities such as working and exercising; for her research, she looked at a normal behavior of rats—burrowing. She conducted experiments to determine whether pain can be reliably measured by deficits in burrowing behavior, and whether commonly used pain relievers can reverse pain-suppressed burrowing. She reported that while further study is needed, utilizing burrowing behavior in rats may be a good model for measuring pain and the impact of drugs on that pain. Ultimately, data obtained may improve translation of pre-clinical drug studies to the clinic.

Mead said in his abstract that when West Nile Virus arrived in North America in 1999, human diabetics were shown to be statistically more likely to acquire severe West Nile disease. His study uses a fruit fly model to attempt to characterize the mechanism of insulin-mediated immunity during West Nile Virus infection. In his experimental model, fruit flies that are deficient in insulin production and secretion are infected with West Nile Virus. The study furthers our understanding of disease mechanisms and links diabetes to West Nile Virus susceptibility at a molecular level, with the goal of improving therapeutics for diabetic individuals.

WSU representation at ABRCMS

ABRCMS is one of the largest communities of underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Its yearly meeting allows thousands of students to share their research, network, and attend professional development sessions. The 2020 conference was held virtually due to COVID‑19 considerations and had the theme of “Visualizing a Better Future in STEM.”

WSU was well represented at this year’s ABRCMS. Three WSU faculty members—Mary Sanchez Lanier, Ray Herrera, and Wipawee “Joy” Winuthayanon—attended and served as judges for student presentations. A total of 10 undergraduate students attended, with three making presentations.

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