Students Present Their Summer Research Projects

Published September 13, 2021

story by dirk hoffman

Forty-three student-scientists presented projects during the 10th Annual Buffalo Summer Research Conference, an interdisciplinary forum marking the culmination of their summer research in Buffalo.


The undergraduate and graduate students worked with mentors from the University at Buffalo and partner institutions to explore Krabbe disease, lupus, prostate cancer, gestational hypertension and other topics.

Infectious Diseases Expert Shares Pandemic Lessons

Thomas A. Russo, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, was the keynote speaker. In addition to his clinical and research work, Russo — an infectious diseases expert — has also taken on the new role of educating the Western New York community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earning his undergraduate degree from Tufts University and his medical degree from McGill University, Russo completed a clinical and research fellowship in internal medicine and infectious diseases at Harvard Medical School and Tufts-New England Medical Center.

He was a senior staff fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease’s Laboratory of Clinical Investigation for five years before joining the UB faculty in 1994.

Russo noted he started a program at the NIH to focus on extraintestinal pathogenic Escherichia coli, which is the E. coli that causes sepsis and a variety of infections outside the intestinal tract.

“I really chose that because as a physician I wanted to study organisms that had a lot of clinical relevance,” he said.

His research also focuses on Gram-negative bacilli, Acinetobacter baumannii and a new hypervirulent variant of Klebsiella pneumoniae.

Russo said what has been ongoing in the pandemic is a lesson in evolutionary biology.

“Viruses just want to have fun, so to speak. They just want to infect as many people as possible and they want to go ahead and go from host to host,” he said. “What we are seeing is the evolution of this virus at a fairly rapid pace primarily because so many people are getting infected.”

Russo said unfortunately in the age of social media the pandemic has had divisive messaging because it has been politicized to a degree and a lot of false information is circulating.

“Please read data from reliable sources and make sure it is actually legitimate data,” he said. ”Do not use social media for any sort of information about anything important in your life.”

Alumnus Has Distinguished Biotech Career

A Distinguished Biomedical Alumnus Award was presented to Douglas E. Williams, PhD, on behalf of the Medical Alumni Association and Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The award is one of the school’s highest citations and is presented annually to a doctoral graduate of the medical school who has made notable clinical, educational and investigative contributions to medicine, research and the school.

Williams earned his doctoral degree in physiology from UB and the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Care program. He served on the Department of Laboratory Medicine faculty at Roswell Park and on the faculty of the Indiana University School of Medicine before joining Immunex as a staff scientist and rapidly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the executive vice president and chief technology officer.

He went on to hold major leadership positions at Amgen Washington, Genesis Research and Development and Seattle Genetics and eventually becoming chief executive officer at ZymoGenetics. He then took a position as executive vice president for research and development at Biogen.

Williams is currently the co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Codiak BioSciences. 

During his 33 years in the biotechnology industry, Williams has made major contributions in the development of several novel drugs, including Enbrel, Tecfidera and Spinraza.

Williams urged students to consider a career in biotechnology, noting: “We are in a renaissance period. More biotech companies have been created in the last 18 months than in any other period of time.”

Displaying Posters, Giving Oral Presentations

During the forum, students from various summer research programs participated in a poster exposition. One student from each program was selected to deliver an oral presentation.

The following are research projects for the summer programs involving the Jacobs School.

Summer Undergraduate Research Experience at UB (SURE)

The SURE program is directed by John C. Panepinto, PhD, who is responsible for coordinating the Buffalo Summer Research Conference. Panepinto is an associate professor of microbiology and immunology.

T35 Training the Next Generation of Physician-Scientists

The T35 program is co-directed by Timothy F. Murphy, MD, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research and SUNY Distinguished Professor of medicine; and Kelvin P. Lee, MD, research professor of medicine.

Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences Undergraduate Program (CLIMB UP)

CLIMB UP is a summer research program that gives undergraduates hands-on laboratory experience in biomedical and health sciences.

  • Bradley Balk presented “Discovery and Development of a New pH-Dependent Anti-EGFR Monoclonal Antibody (mAb).” Mentor: Dhavalkumar Kiritkumar Shah, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences in UB’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
  • Marissa Camacho presented “Uncovering Prophages in the Oral Commensal Niesseria Lactamica.” Mentor: Anne Kathryn Marie Kauffman, PhD, assistant professor of oral biology in UB’s School of Dental Medicine.
  • Anyah Carew presented “The Effect of E-Cigarette Use on Gestational Hypertension.” Mentor: Xiaozhong Wen, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics in the Division of Behavioral Medicine.
  • Paula Costa presented “Behavioral Effects of Two Neuropeptide S Receptor Agonists in Female Mice.” Mentor: Stewart Clark, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology.
  • James Crawford presented “Therapeutic Strategy to Overcome Enzalutamide Resistance in a Castration Resistant Prostate Cancer.” Mentor: Remi M. Adelaiye-Ogala, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine.
  • Camilla Fermanian-Mejia presented “EGR3 is Essential for Opioid-Induced Maladaptive Motivation.” Mentor: David Dietz, PhD, professor and chair of pharmacology and toxicology.
  • Meagan Gleason presented “Evaluating Drug Delivery Methods and αPD-1 Combination Therapies in a Murine Colorectal Cancer Model.” Mentor: Kathleen Kokolus, PhD, HRI scientist at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
  • Max Hernandez presented “Evaluating the Deficiency of Galc Enzyme Activity in Krabbe Disease.” Mentor: M. Laura Feltri, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of biochemistry and neurology.
  • Amanda Holowatyj presented “Effect of Zinc Bound Salivary Peptide Histatin 5 on Candida Auris Survival.” Mentor: Mira Edgerton, PhD, DDS, research professor of oral biology.
  • Naiya Jackson presented “The Role of Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors in Glucose Uptake Using the GLUT Transporters.” Mentor: Jason Arthur Sprowl, PhD, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences.
  • Valerie Lepore presented “Optimizing Phosphatidylserine Liposome Composition.” Mentor: Sathy V. Balu-lyer, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences.
  • Sarah LoCurto presented “Modulating the Neuropeptide S System to Reduce Anxiety.” Mentor: Stewart Clark, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology.
  • Olivia Maday presented “Regulation of Dopamine Fibers in the Prefrontal Cortex by Day Length.” Mentor: Matthew J. Paul, PhD, assistant professor of psychology and pharmacology and toxicology.
  • Destiny Overton presented “Analyzing the Effect of Different Antibody Drug Conjugate Payloads on Retinoblastoma Cell Lines.” Mentor: Dhavalkumar Kiritkumar Shah, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences.
  • Vanessa Schoen presented “Oh, the Places They’ll Go: Identifying Genes Regulating Motility in Shiga Toxin Encoding E. Coli (STEC).” Mentor:  Gerald B. Koudelka, PhD, professor of biological sciences in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Alexandra Spath presented “Melatonin as an Adjunct Lupus Treatment.” Mentor: Jessy J. Alexander, PhD, research professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology.
  • Nathaniel Suarez presented “Lead Exposure Causes Hearing and Vision Deficits in Young Children.” Mentor: Katarzyna Kordas, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.
  • Danielle Usinski presented “Perfecting the Nanoparticle Carrier in Immunotherapy Treatment.” Mentor: Yun Wu, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering.

CLIMB UP and its associated programs are part of the CLIMB program, directed by Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD, senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion and SUNY Distinguished Professor of pharmacology and toxicology.

Dental Medicine, Roswell Students Take Part

The Aug. 6 event was conducted via videoconference and included 17 students from Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Summer Research Experience Program in Cancer Science.

Gabriel Valencia, a participant in UB’s School of Dental Medicine’s Student Research Program, made an oral presentation on “Evaluation of B Cell CD180 Expression in Primary Sjögren’s Syndrome Mice.”