Published September 13, 2021
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
CLIMB UP is a summer research program that gives undergraduates hands-on laboratory experience in biomedical and health sciences.
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.
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.”