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Undergraduate Research @ SFSC

September 16, 2020

October 14, 2020

November 18, 2020

January 21, 2021

February 18, 2021

April 22, 2021

1. Student: Camila Rimoldi Ibanez         Mentor:  Dr. James Hawker

Ultrasonic Planimals! Identifying Genes Associated with Coral Bioacoutsics


     Corals play a huge role in our oceans by supporting the critical coral reefs and contributing with Earth’s ecosystem. Communication is vital for all organisms to grow and exchange information no matter the organization level of the organism. Communication among corals if enhanced and understood could contribute for future leading restoration programs.

     There are a growing number of studies that describe the different ways trees communicate and that point out the importance of the communication in the livelihood of a forest. Because corals make up the ‘rainforests of the sea’, this ecosystem is believed to be highly dependent on communication to grow and survive. Many organisms that live in coral reefs, including coral larvae, perceive and are guided by sound when trying to find their way to coral reefs to develop.

     In light of these preliminary observations, possible genes related to the reception and/or emission of sound were tested to determine its presence in the coral specie Cyphastrea. Some of the possible genes are present in organism very similar to corals while others are seen in plants, bats, and narwhals. The possible genes include WAKL2, Otof, FOLH1, and TRPV. Degenerate primers were developed for these genes which were later amplified via PCR with extracted Cyphastrea coral DNA. Agarose gels were utilized to test for the presence of these genes. The researcher is in the preliminary trials for this investigation. The first results seem to suggest non-specific amplification occurred during PCR amplification. Further trials are required to reach a well-supported conclusion.


2. Students:  Inderjyot Bharath, Madyson D’Espies, and Kyria Wickham         Mentor: Dr. Kate Calvin

Establishing Baseline: Method Optimization for Analysis of Nitrate and Total Nitrogen in Water Samples


     Storm water runoff picks up pollutants on its way to Florida’s waterways including canals, rivers, lakes and ponds. One of the biggest pollutants is excess nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizers. These pollutants contribute significantly to algae blooms and other forms of growth that disrupt ecosystem balance and harm wildlife.

     Cannabis sativa, or “industrial hemp,” has been shown in previous studies to take up pollutants from soil, including radioactivity, heavy metals and nutrients. Similar fibrous plants have been shown to reduce pollutants in wastewater. South Florida State College is embarking on a project with Hemp4Water that aims to determine how well industrial hemp can remove nitrogen and phosphorus from Florida lakes and other waterways.

     Measuring baseline levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water is essential to the project. It is also critical to accurately measure very small changes in the levels of these nutrients in the plants.

     The purpose of this project is to establish a reliable protocol for measuring baseline levels of nutrients in the water. Using a segmented flow analyzer, we have successfully analyzed standard solutions with a correlation coefficient of 0.9999 and nitrate (a form of nitrogen) levels in pond water samples with a correlation coefficient of 0.9995.

Live Presentation


3. Student: Angelique Robertson         Mentor: Dr. Mintoo Patel

Biomarkers to predict metastasis in colorectal cancer


     Colorectal cancer is a second most common cause of cancer death in the United States. Recent findings suggest that many colorectal cancers are likely to have spread long before the original tumor can be detected by current screening tests. A fundamental event in the spread of cancer cells and metastasis is the Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) of the cancer cells that enable the cells to detach and migrate. A surface protein expressed by epithelial cells, E-Cadherin, plays a role in cell junctions and attachment and keeps the epithelial cells anchored. Vimentin is a cellular filament generally expressed by the mesenchymal cell as well as migrating cancer cells. This project analyzed the expression of biomarkers, E-Cadherin and Vimentin, to track the Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition in colorectal cancer. Deidentified specimens of Paraffin-embedded tissue sections on slides from non-cancerous, pre-cancerous, and cancerous tissue samples taken as biopsies during colonoscopies for routine histopathological evaluation were analyzed for expression of EMT biomarkers E-Cadherin and Vimentin by immunofluorescence. We found that normal tissue specimen expressed E-Cadherin in the epithelial cells and Vimentin in the stromal mesenchymal cells. Interestingly, some epithelial cells within the precancerous and cancerous specimens were found to express Vimentin suggesting initiation of EMT in these cells and their capacity to migrate. The use of these biomarkers to supplement histopathological evaluation is promising and would provide more predictive and detailed analysis of cancer progression in tissue samples to aid in the choice of appropriate treatment plan. The accurate pre-treatment patient evaluation supplemented with such markers is pivotal to the modern push for personalized therapy.

4. Student: Elizabeth Poe         Mentor: Dr. Mintoo Patel

Biomarkers N-cadherin and E-cadherin to predict metastasis in colorectal cancer


     Colorectal cancer continues to be a leading cause of cancer death among Americans. Metastasis is the leading cause of death in cancer patients. Great strides have been made in understanding colorectal cancer, but more research must be conducted to ensure that lives are saved through earlier detection and effective therapeutic targeting. Studies indicate that the epithelial-mesenchymal transition is a key molecular mechanism involved in the development of colorectal cancer. Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a process during which cells lose their epithelial characteristics, for instance cell polarity and cell–cell contact, and gain mesenchymal properties, such as increased motility. In many types of solid tumors, the aberrant expression of the cell adhesion molecule N-cadherin is a clear indication of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, resulting in an aggressive tumor phenotype. This transition allows tumor cells to have the ability to escape from the primary tumor and metastasize to other sites. Research indicates that cancer cells have upregulated N-cadherin in addition to loss of E-cadherin. N-cadherin may be a viable therapeutic target to inhibit cancer metastasis and increase tumor cell sensitivity to already existing anti-cancer treatments. The biomarkers N-cadherin and E-cadherin when studied together can help with evaluation of cancer progression and be used to develop a future personalized treatment plan for patients.


5. Student: Jesse Fisher         Mentor:  Dr. Keith Cavedo

A Clean Well-Lighted Place


     Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is one of his most well-known short (truly short) and frequently anthologized stories. What makes Hemingway unique from other fiction writers is his distinct style. This presentation addresses the theme of loneliness and how different generations, via an unusual change in narrative point of view in the short story, reach an understanding--or not--about this existential state of being.

Live Presentation


6. Students: Carl Ewing and Coralis Ewing         Mentor:  Amy Bohan

Influences of miR-21* in the Heart–Kidney Axis


     By influencing protein translation, microRNAs (miRNAs) have emerged as powerful regulators of a wide range of biological processes. In recent years, extraordinary progress has been made in terms of identifying the origin and exact functions of miRNAs. An important correlation has recently been made between the role of miRNAs and Cardiorenal Syndrome (CRS).

     A good candidate for investigating this has been determined to be dogs with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) and those with CRS, using plasma samples. We intend to investigate the role of miRNAs in cell-to-cell communication by paracrine interactions resulting in these dysfunctions by analyzing levels of the passenger strand miR-21*.

Animals and Procedures

     We collected blood samples from 9 healthy small breed client-owned dogs and 9 small breed client-owned dogs with CHF and CRS, ages 9 years and up.

     Blood samples were collected from affected dogs before administering medications for the management of CHF and CRS. Isolated microRNAs from plasma were obtained by processing the samples through the reverse transcription process, using Bio-Rad Lab’s Reverse Transcription Kits. The resulting assays were then processed by the CFX Connect qPCR analysis machine, using the real-time quantitative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) process. This resulted in expression profiles of our samples.


     Exosome mediated communication has emerged as an important factor in interactions that lead to Cardiorenal Syndrome. The heart distributes nutrients and oxygen to other organs, including the kidney. The kidney is the major organ responsible for regulating salt and water balance. Impaired cardiac function leads to low cardiac output which lessens the efficiency of the kidney. This renal dysfunction then results in increased fluid retention, which impairs heart function further. miR-21 is highly expressed in the heart and kidneys and it has been shown that elevated levels of miR-21 lead to poor outcomes in most primary organ dysfunctions.

     Cardiac fibroblasts secrete miR-enriched exosomes, which are subsequently taken up by cardiomyocytes, in which they alter gene expression. In particular, a passenger strand miR, miR-21*, has been identified as a potent paracrine factor that induces cardiomyocyte hypertrophy when shuttled through exosomes.

7. Students: Sandra Contreras, Gabriel Dezzeo & Brandi Ellerbee         Mentor: Dr. Kate Calvin

“Preliminary GC-MS Studies on Solvent Extracts from Ziziphus celata


Ziziphus celata, or Florida jujube, is a native Florida plant found only in Highlands and Polk Counties. There are just a few populations left and it is officially listed as “endangered.”

In contrast, Ziziphus jujuba is a very popular crop plant in its native China. It has been analyzed extensively in previous studies and has been shown to contain several interesting compounds with medicinal value such as anti-oxidant and anti-cancer. Many other varieties of Ziziphus have been similarly analyzed.

Bok Tower Gardens has provided a generous sample of Ziziphus celata fruit pulp and asked if we could analyze it to see if contains similar medicinal compounds as Ziziphus jujube. This is the first analysis of this kind ever done on Ziziphus celata.

The goal of this project is to establish sample preparation protocols that will enable us to successfully extract and identify the compounds present in different solvents. Detection and identification of compounds was done using gas chromatograph-mass spectrometry.

(Results are pending.)

Live Presentation

8. Student: Aleah Walker         Mentor: Karla Respress

A Pupil's Gaze


     I was inspired to create this series from my study of The Lover’s Eye jewelry. The Lover’s Eye was given as a gift in the 18th century when people were not always accepting of relationships among couples of different social status. I began my series, A Pupil’s Gaze by asking five people a series of questions about how they view their significant other. Then, I sculpted a model of each person’s eye. Next, based on their responses to my questions, on the inside of each eye I created 3D representations of how that person views their significant other. Finally, I embellished each eye sculpture and strung them to be worn as necklaces.

     Each eye is named after the person who it is modeled after. The first art piece is titled, Gloria. Gloria’s eye shows how she sees her boyfriend Andrew when you look in the back of the eye. The inside of the eye displays clouds with blue and green hues in the background. The next piece is called Andrew and shows how he sees Gloria. There is a redwood tree with purple and gray colors on the inside of the eye. The third piece is titled, Halie. Halie’s eye has a mountain and a yellow sky with gold flecks that represent Kaleb. The fourth eye is titled, Kaleb. This piece shows a lily pad and wildflowers in the background with green and blue tones to represent Halie. For this series I used many media, including polymer clay, acrylic paint, pearls, Gorilla Glue, glitter, twine, gold metallic paper, and Mod Podge. I learned while creating this series that love can be depicted in unconventional ways. Love can be a feeling, a color, an item, a place, or a person depending on how you interpret it.

     Aleah Walker is a 21-year-old student at South Florida State College. Acrylic painting, photography, digital art, and collaging are her favorite forms of art. Some artists that inspire her are Mark Ryden, Tim Burton, and Vincent van Gogh. Aleah is planning to have a career as a Graphic Designer and she would like to pursue Photography as well. While creating art, she makes sure to trust the process and to keep an open mind.

Live Presentation


9. Student: Angela Huang         Mentor:  Dr. Daniel Sanches

Assessing the Role of the Circadian Clock in Thyroid Cancer Cell (MDA-T41) Metabolism and p53 Expression


     The circadian clock is known to play roles in organismal energy homeostasis. The relationship of the circadian clock and metabolism is one of the key points needed to understand the cell cycle control and homeostasis, in which imbalance can cause cancer. However, whether this relation plays a role in oncogenesis is relatively unknown. In a recent study, PER2, a main gene of the circadian clock, was found to regulate p53, a tumor suppressor gene. Increased PER2 was found to correlate with increased p53, which works in a negative feedback loop creating an autoregulation process which implicates that the genetic expression of p53 and PER modulate the circadian clock, as well as metabolic levels like the NAD+/NADH ratio. Our project aims to evaluate the role of the circadian clock on p53 and NAD+/NADH levels that can be used to indicate the cell metabolic state. A thyroid cancer cell line, MDA-T41, will be cultured alongside different quantities of melatonin, a key hormone of the circadian clock. A LIVE-DEAD assay will be used to examine cell viability, and the TUNEL assay will be used to determine death by apoptosis and establish whether the apoptosis was caused by melatonin. In order to evaluate the role of p53 in this process, a western blot will be used to identify mutated p53. To determine cell metabolism, an NAD+/NADH ratio assay will be used. The results of this project will serve to shed light on the processes of cellular metabolism and the cell cycle.

10. Students: Osbaldo Cisneros and Nancy Morrissey         Mentors: Dr. Mintoo Patel and Dr. James Hawker

TGFß family Receptors ACVRL-1, TGFßR-I and Endoglin are expressed on human endothelial cells

     Transforming growth factor beta (TGFß) superfamily is a group of chemokines involved in regulation of cell processes in growth and differentiation. They are also involved in regulation of angiogenesis, the physiological process through which new blood vessels form from existing ones. These regulatory proteins include TGFß subfamily, activin and inhibin subfamilies and bone morphogenic proteins, and generate intracellular signals by binding type I, type II and type III TGFß membrane receptors. Intricate ligand-receptor interactions are responsible for generating varied downstream signals in various cells. Therefore, this project studied the profile of TGFß receptors expression on the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels and migration of which is an essential part of angiogenesis. When dysregulated, the formation of new blood vessels through angiogenesis contributes to many disease conditions including cancer. We found through RT-PCR that three TGFß receptors ACVRL (Activin-receptor-like Kinase 1, ALK-1), TGFß Receptor 1 and Endoglin are expressed in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). Subsequently we would like to test the apoptotic or proliferative effect of each ligand on the HUVECs as well as the receptors recruited by these ligands. Understanding the ligand-receptor relationships and effects will provide greater insight into the process of angiogenesis in health and diseases including cancer.

11. Student: Colby Bowers         Mentor: Dr. Theresa James

The Harlem Renaissance and African-American Identity


     The Harlem Renaissance changed how African-American artists, namely jazz musicians, handled themselves in the American Mainstream and how that changed the black identity as a whole. I am looking to examine how these artists had a heightened sense of responsibility in handling their own image when compared to their predecessors.

Live Presentation


12. Student: Devam Patel         Mentor: Dr. Mintoo Patel

Role of Sugar in Cardiovascular Disease


     Cardiovascular disease is one of the most common diseases. Endothelial cells that line the arteries, generally protect and help the arteries perform, but when they are dysfunctional, they lead to leaky endothelial lining causing atherosclerosis. Inflammation is known to cause endothelial dysfunction. Sugar or sucrose, an over abundant and excessively consumed dietary component made up of glucose and fructose, has been associated with many diseases including cardiovascular disease. This project studied the effect of sugar on endothelial cells. Primary human umbilical vein endothelial cells were treated with glucose and fructose for three days and the levels of IL-6, an inflammatory marker, Nitric oxide, molecule involved in vasodilation, and endoglin, a cell surface receptor involved in cell signaling, were measured in culture media. The average levels of IL-6 were significantly higher in the media of the cells treated with glucose, fructose, or both as compared to untreated cells. The levels of total nitrite, an indirect measurement of nitric oxide, were found to be lower in cells treated with glucose/fructose. Also, the average levels of endoglin were significantly lower in treated cells. These effects were the most pronounced in the cells treated with a combination of glucose and fructose. This data suggests that glucose and fructose can cause adverse changes in the endothelial lining of the arteries and therefore sugar consumption may play a key role in development of cardiovascular disease. Government policies and public awareness programs are warranted to prevent this common disease through simple lifestyle changes.

13. Student: Maria Flores-Loya         Mentor: Dr. Kate Calvin

Drug Design for Tay-Sachs Disease


     Tay-Sachs Disease (TSD) is a rare genetic disease that results in malfunctioning lysosomes and destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include decreased muscle strength, deafness, loss of vision, speech problems, and seizures. The severe infantile form is fatal in children, often by age 5. The “late onset” forms of Tay Sachs affect older children and adults with symptoms that vary from person to person.​

     This lysosomal storage disorder is caused by mutations that decrease activity of the digestive protein hexosaminidase A (HEX-A), resulting in abnormal accumulation of the lipid GM2 ganglioside in nerve cell lysosomes. One of the most common amino acid mutations found in adult TSD is αGly269Ser. This mutation affects HEX-A’s ability to fold and the mutant protein is degraded by the cell before it ever reaches the lysosomes. ​

     Past studies using pyrimethamine (an anti-parasite medication) as a folding chaperone ligand have shown only transient success at restoring HEX-A function, eventually inhibiting it over time. We hypothesized that pyrimethamine bound HEX-A “too well” in conditions where the ligand reached higher levels. ​

     The goal of this project was to design a pyrimethamine analog that would bind HEX-A less tightly than pyrimethamine and also with less affinity than the natural target, GM2 ganglioside. ​

     We utilized the computational programs PyMOL and Mcule to design the analogs and test their binding to the Gly269Ser HEX-A mutant. We have refined our results to two candidates based upon their binding affinity scores and modeled interaction.

Live Presentation


14. Student: Alyson Smyth         Mentor: Jason Fitzgerald

Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy: An Underutilized Option for Healing Collegiate Athletes


     Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy is a relatively new regenerative medicine that has been around for the last few decades. This type of therapy involves an injection of a patient’s own isolated plasma to help the body speed up its natural healing processes. Professional athletes have been given these injections because they are expected to get back on the field as quickly as possible with as minimal physical constraints as possible. Collegiate athletes are expected to return from injury in a similar time-frame as professionals, yet usually do not have the same access to PRP Therapy. My research is dedicated to exploring PRP’s efficacy in athletes and potential roadblocks that might interfere with collegiate athletes’ access to this highly beneficial form of physical therapy.

Live Presentation

15. Students: Kosha Upadhyaya and Kyria Wickham         Mentor:  Dr. James Hawker

ALK-1 and Endoglin Expression and BMP-9’s Effect on Neurite Outgrowth


     According to previous work, angiogenesis, the process by which the body forms new blood vessels, is promoted by the growth factor protein Bone Morphogenetic Protein 9 (BMP-9), part of the Transforming Growth Factor Beta (TGFβ) signaling protein family, and its protein receptors Activin Receptor-Like Kinase 1 (ALK-1) and Endoglin (Biochem. Soc. Trans. 39, 1659-1666  (2011); FASEB J April 2014 28:544.2). Recent studies have indicated that these signaling proteins and receptors have been detected in the hippocampus (the region of the brain associated with learning and memory) with a significant expression (J Alzheimers Dis. 63 (4), 1433-1443). This leads to the question, “Do neurons express the protein receptors ALK1 and Endoglin? If so, does the signaling protein BMP-9 effect neurite outgrowth (projections from the cell body, such as axons and dendrites) and ALK1 expression in neurons, such as in the angiogenesis of blood vessels?” This research aims to test for the expression of ALK1 and Endoglin receptors in neurons by reverse transcriptase - polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and also test the effect of TGFß ligands BMP-9, Activin A, and TGFß1 on neurite outgrowth. We also propose to co-culture endothelial cells along with the neurons, stain them with different fluorescent dyes, and determine if any connections or tubes form or if endothelial tube formation and neurite outgrowth with the cells are associated with each other. Previous work indicates that use of rat PC12 cells for the neurite outgrowth assay (BioTechniques 35:254-256 (August 2003)). The conclusions from this research can lead to the formation of a connection between decreased levels of ALK1 and/or BMP9 in the hippocampus and its effect on neurite outgrowth, neuron function, and memory loss.