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Mari Heghinian

Background: Mari is a PhD candidate working with Frank Mari in the Chemistry and Biochemistry department. Frank Mari's lab studies cone snails, which are venomous marine predators whose venom is a complex mixture of modified peptides (conopeptides). Conopeptides have direct specificity towards voltage, ligand gated ion channels and G-protein coupled receptors. These conopeptides can be used as therapeutics for diseases or as biological probes for disease pathways. Mari conducts bioassay-guided fractionation to discover novel conopeptides. This method requires minimal amounts of sample and evaluates, via in vivo electrophysiological measurements, the effect of conopeptides on the functional outputs of a well-characterized neuronal circuit, the giant fiber system of Drosophila melanogaster. The approach utilizes reversed phase HPLC fractions from venom dissected from the ducts of Conus brunneus. Fractions are individually tested for activity and they are re-fractionated and re-tested to narrow down the compound responsible for activity. Through this method, Mari has successfully identified new conopeptides and is currently working on the full characterization of these novel conopeptides.


JoAnn Roberts

Background: JoAnn is a Master's student in the Biomedical Sciences program at FAU and is currently investigating the role of p21-activated kinase 6 (PAK6) in tumorigenesis. In this project, she aims to elucidate possible functions of PAK6 in the tumor environment which can lead to potential therapeutic options as well as increased knowledge of the normal function of PAK6, since little is known about it. She endeavors to continue her education and complete a Ph.D program concentrating in Molecular and Cell Biology. In her future career plans she would like to work in the research industry full time and make herself available in academia part time.


Ahmad Alex Hijazi

Background: Ahmad Alex Hijazi is currently working in his masters in chemistry. He currently works under Dr.Deguo Du to investigate analytical applications to study the aggregation of protein. The research will allow advancement in diseases such as Alzheimer’s. He is involved in the GK-12 Fellowship Program where he works at Olympic heights with Mrs.Kenyen to train the next generation of scientists.


Ashley Campbell

Background: Ashley is a first-year Integrative Biology PhD student working with Dr. Terry Maple. Her research focuses on the conservation of endangered species. She is currently working on the Roatán Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura oedirhina) in Honduras. They are endemic to one rapidly developing island in the Gulf of Mexico off the northern coast of Honduras and have not been well studied. Her project will track their population and habitat usage through surveys and aerial mapping in order to identify areas critical to nesting and foraging.


Brittany Stinson

Background: Brittany graduated from Norfolk State University with a Bachelors degree in Biology. She is currently attending Florida Atlantic University as a PhD student in Biological Sciences. As a student at FAU, she is working under the supervision of Dr. Keith Brew to characterize binding mechanisms of proteins that may have importance in human disease. Her work involves a biochemical approach to the biomedical sciences. Upon graduation, she hopes to become a research scientists either working for the government or in industry.


Diana Navarro

Background: Diana is a Master’s student in the college of medicine. Her thesis research is on antioxidant enzymes and tissue protection in aging. There is substantial evidence that increases in cellular oxidative stress contribute to the aging process and are a major contributor to age related diseases including stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. Key antioxidant enzymes have been shown to protect the heart and brain against oxidative stress and these enzymes are also capable of enhancing life-span when over activated in a genetic model of aging. We are employing a cell culture model of neurons from the turtle brain to analyze the genetic switches that are responsible for induction of antioxidant enzymes under physiological conditions. Turtle neurons have been shown to tolerate oxidative stress and they represent a unique model of aging where oxidative processes are dealt with in a physiological manner without tissue degeneration or the confounding effects of pathological processes. To understand what controls antioxidant enzyme protein production we are analyzing the effects of protein complexes that bind to DNA that switches on production of this important survival system. Our understanding of the activation of these protective antioxidant systems will have important therapeutic implications for stroke and heart disease and well as for treatments to prevent the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.


Melissa Borgen

Background: Melissa is a PhD candidate in the Integrative Biology program working in Rod Murphey's lab. Her lab's interest is finding what genes are required to build a brain. To do this she uses the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, model system. Her research focuses on a gene called Atg1and how it affects the development of a particular synapse between two brain cells (neurons) in the central nervous system. The two neurons are part of a circuit called the Giant Fiber system, which mediates a reflexive behavior of the fly. The giant fiber sends a signal to a motor neuron that sends the signal to a leg muscle, which makes the fly jump away when you try and swat it. We use electrophysiology to test the strength of the connection between the giant fiber and motor neuron. Manipulating Atg1 can change how well the synapse works. She also looks at the morphology of the neurons using fluorescence microscopy. By injecting fluorescent dyes into the neurons, she can see how their shape changes when my favorite gene is disrupted. Thus far, she's learned that Atg1 affects the morphology of the giant fibers and somewhat affects the strength of the synapse the giant fibers make. Her ongoing research is trying to determine how Atg1 does this. What other genes are involved? When is Atg1 turned on and off? Because all neurons work in basically the same way, regardless of what species they belong to, studying this one connection between two neurons in the fly gives us the ability to infer how this gene, which is present in humans, affects human brains on a cellular level.


Greg Mount

Background: Greg is a PhD candidate in Geosciences (Hydrogeophysics) working with Dr. Xavier Comas. Greg utilizes geophysical techniques to investigate and characterize portions of the Biscayne aquifer in Everglades National Park. This research has potential local implications for the characterization of subsurface anisotropy and heterogeneity as related to porosity and hydraulic flow zones in the Biscayne aquifer and can be extrapolated to other shallow karstic systems to increase our understanding of oilfield production. It may also assist groundwater flow models as related to current restoration efforts in the Everglades.


Amanda Ramirez

Background: Amanda is a third year PhD student. She works with Dr. Daniel T. deLill in the inorganic chemistry lab at Florida Atlantic University. Her project includes the development of different types of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which are crystalline structures composed of an inorganic metal center coordinated with organic “linker” compounds into an infinite network. She is working on combining lanthanide emitters with semiconducting linkers, that she synthesizes herself, to create novel MOF systems as well as to explore their photophysical properties. She uses single and powder X-ray diffraction to characterize these MOFs once they are synthesized. MOFs, in general, have been used for gas storage, separation of radioactive materials, sensors, and LED lighting. The specific application for Amanda's MOF is geared toward "green" technology and lighting.