Student Successes

We are very proud of our undergraduate students conducting research and want to share their achievements!
If you would like to share your Student Success stories with us, please email your information to: ugrinfo@miami.edu.

2013-2014


UM undergrads at the 2014 SACNAS Conference on October 15-19 in Los Angeles, CA. 
Top row: Ramanamurthy Mylavarapu, Patrick Aurelus, Roberto Diaz, Matthew Penna, John Michel.
Bottom row: Chelsea Cosner, Ana Martinez, Lily Zhang, Santiago Montana, Daniel Quevedo and Alexandra Cote.

UM undergrads at the 2014 Life Sciences South Florida STEM Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 12, 2014, hosted by FIU. UM Gold Level Sponsors: College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering and Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Pictured from left: Taaha Mendha (1st place winner in poster session, see bio below), Syed Hamad Sagheer, Joseph Reed, Nicole Koutsodendris, Erin Smith, Maria Robertson, Spencer Keil and Sam Powell (2nd place winner in oral session).

Student:Taaha Mendha
Faculty Mentor: Bal Lokeshwar, Ph.D., Urology Department
“I am dual majoring in Microbiology & Immunology and Biology and will be starting my fourth and final year at UM this upcoming Fall. After taking a couple of Biology classes, I developed an interest in the biology of cancer. About two years ago, I started an independent research project under the supervision of Dr. Bal Lokeshwar in the Department of Urology at the Miller School of Medicine. Prostate cancer is a slow growing cancer that is common in elderly men. Currently, most prostate cancer cells develop resistance to treatment and thus the adverse side effects of treatment greatly harm the patient. My project focuses on minimizing these side effects and prolonging the time it takes for the cells to develop resistance. I am combining natural compounds found in our everyday diet with current drugs in the market to achieve this end. Using the DAPI, TUNEL, and MERGE assays, we have noted that this cell death occurs via apoptosis rather than necrosis and hence is beneficial to the patient. I have found promising results so far and will be expanding my project. I was awarded the Beyond the Book Scholarship by the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences in Summer 2013 for my involvement in this project. My research was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in April 2014, the world’s largest cancer research conference. Furthermore, my project won First Place Poster Presentation at the Life Sciences of South Florida STEM Undergraduate Symposium and Best Poster Presentation at the 9th Annual Southeast Cell Science Undergraduate Research Symposium at St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida in April 2014. I plan on continuing my project and involvement in scientific research for the remainder for my educational career.”


Student:Joseph Socarras
Faculty Mentor: Noel Ziebarth, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering Department
Joseph Socarras is currently in his third year of UM’s biomedical engineering program. Since Summer 2013, Joseph has been conducting research in Dr. Noel Ziebarth’s Biomedical Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) Laboratory. There, he generates three-dimensional topography of AFM-imaged lens capsules. He then simulates the effects of cataract surgery on the rendered lens capsules by using finite element analysis. Joseph is a Florida-Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (FGLSAMP) Scholar whose research was awarded at the 2014 FGLSAMP EXPO in Jacksonville, FL.  Joseph’s research project is ongoing, but he will soon begin working on a publication.

2012-2013
Student:Madelen Diaz
Faculty Mentor:Sanjiv Bhatia, M.D., University of Miami, Neurological Surgery Department; Tara Stewart, Ph.D., Miami Children’s Hospital
After graduating from the Miami Dade Honors College and completing the Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program in April 2011, Madelen transferred to the University of Miami (UM) with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)  Scholar Program.  At UM, her senior honors thesis was based on her continued research on EEG source localization for patients with epilepsy undergoing surgery at Miami Children’s Hospital.  Because of the opportunities the Bridges program offered, she was able to conduct her epilepsy research for three consecutive years.  Her research was presented and awarded at two national undergraduate conferences (ABRCMS 2010 and SACNAS 2011).  Madelen graduated from UM with a Bachelors of Science degree in Neuroscience with Departmental Honors in Biology in May 2013. In addition to the research conducted in Miami, Madelen completed two summer fellowships in Boston, MA. Through an HHMI summer research program (Exceptional Research Opportunities Program), she was able to conduct neurogenetics research on epilepsy at Boston Children’s Hospital/ Harvard Medical School in 2012.  Madelen also had the opportunity to return to her HHMI EXROP lab again for a second summer of epilepsy genetics research in 2013. In fall 2013, Madelen began her graduate studies at Brandeis University’s Ph.D. program in Neuroscience with aspirations of continuing epilepsy research.

HHMI EXROP (Howard Hughes Medical Institute Exceptional Research Opportunities Program).  UM HHMI program scholars attended the HHMI meeting in Chevy Chase, Maryland in May 2013.  Pictured proudly representing the “U” are from left: Nkosi Adejola, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Program Scholar, Class of 2008 (EXROP 2007, currently a M.D.-Ph.D. candidate in Johns Hopkins); Madelen Diaz, Class of 2013, (EXROP 2012, starting graduate school in Brandeis University); Christy Schultz (HHMI EXROP Program Coordinator), Cathy Hernandez, Class of 2014 (EXROP 2012);  Ian Ergui, Class of 2014 (EXROP 2013) and Thomas Salazar, Class of 2014 (EXROP 2013).

Student:Christy Taylor
Faculty Mentor: Claudia Rodrigues, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology.
Christy Taylor has been conducting vascular and stem cell research at the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine since 2011, under the mentorship of Dr. Claudia Rodrigues as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) program scholar.  During her first year, her project involved the screening of different cytokines that could lead to induction of the proto-oncogene c-Myc in pulmonary endothelial cells to determine the potential involvement of this transcription factor in pulmonary hypertension. Later on, after increasing her research experience, Christy was able to take over an entire project by herself in which she investigated the role of Integrin-1 in cardiac stem cell differentiation. The results she obtained have been recently accepted for a poster presentation at the American Heart Association Basic Cardiovascular Sciences 2013 Scientific Sessions scheduled for presentation this coming July. Christy is also a co-author on two manuscripts from Dr. Rodrigues’ lab that are under preparation for publication. Here, Christy is pictured presenting her poster at the University of Miami’s Research, Creativity and Innovation Forum on April 2, 2013.

Student:Juan Pablo Ruiz
Faculty Mentor: Herman Cheung, Ph.D.,  Professor, and Noel Ziebarth, Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering.
Juan Pablo Ruiz graduated from UM in May 2012 with a dual degree in Biomedical Engineering and English.  While at UM, Juan was a Goldwater Scholar and a Florida-Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (FGLSAMP) Scholar.  In March 2012, Juan’s research work resulted in a journal publication, “The Effect of Nicotine on the Mechanical Properties of Mesenchymal Stem Cells”, where he was cited as first author. As a Fullbright Scholar, Juan will now conduct research at the Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Research Institute in Tanzania.  He will then conduct biomedical research as National Institute of Health (NIH) Oxford-Cambridge Scholar.



2011-2012

Student:Angel Leiva
Faculty Mentor:Tongyu Cao Wikramanayake, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
4/15/14: e-update and link to non-copy-edited paper.  Angel Leiva is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Research Training Program and an Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) Undergraduate Program Scholar.  Angel Leiva has conducted several cancer-related research projects in the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine over the past 3 years. Initially, he was engaged in clinical cancer research with Keyvan Nouri, M.D., Director of Mohs, Dermatologic and Laser Surgery, and participated in a research project concerning the predictive factors that determine scar severity. During his time in the clinic, Angel co-authored four review articles in cancer research and contributed to Dr. Nouri’s book “Lasers in Dermatology.” Angel then worked with Dr. Nouri and Dr. Wikramanayake, and examined the expression of a putative cell adhesion protein called MPZL3 in cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. He presented the results as a nominated scholar at the 2010 Annual Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Conference and at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). As a result of his accomplishments in the lab, Angel was nominated for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP) and earned a summer internship to conduct cancer research at New York University School of Medicine. He worked in Dr. Michele Pagano’s HHMI lab to study the protein expression of the CRL4/CDT2 complex, an E3 ubiquitin ligase, which can induce PCNA monoubiquitylation in response to replicative stress and observed that when CDT2 proteasomal degradation is inhibited, the cells showed a marked increase in resistance to replicative stress stimuli; a hallmark that may be responsible for the increase in the rate of survival for cancerous cells undergoing replicative stress.  Currently, Angel is studying the role of MPZL3 in sebaceous gland development as his Honors thesis project for graduation in Spring 2012. After he obtains his baccalaureate in Biology and Chemistry, he plans to continue cancer research as an M.D./Ph.D. candidate.

Student:Anisleidys Munoz
Mentor:Priyamvada Rai, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami
Research published as second author: BMC Biotechnol. 2012 Jan 16;12(1):3. [Epub ahead of print] Creation and validation of a ligation-independent cloning (LIC) retroviral vector for stable gene transduction in mammalian cells. Patel A, Munoz A, Halvorsen K, Rai P. Journal Article

2010-2011

Student: Maria Giribaldi
Faculty Mentor:Priyamvada Rai, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami
2011: Won the award for Outstanding Senior Honors Thesis in Biology. 2010:Recipient of one of five highly prestigious Sylvester Cancer Center Summer Undergraduate Research fellowships. Project Title: Targeting Tumor Suppressor Pathways Implicated in Generation of Androgen-Refractory Prostate Cancer Cells. Also co-author in the prestigious cancer research journal Oncogene Enhanced elimination of oxidized guanine nucleotides inhibits oncogenic RAS-induced DNA damage and premature senescence. P Rai, J J Young, D G A Burton , M G Giribaldi, T T Onder and R A Weinberg Oncogene Journal Article

Student: Rafael Hernandez – College of Arts & Sciences, Biology
Faculty Mentor: Helena Solo-Gabriele, Ph.D.,  University of Miami, Professor, Civil, Architectural & Environmental Engineering
Rafael is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Research Training Program scholar entering his senior year. He conducted research on sinus node cells at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in the summer of 2009 as part of the Leadership Alliance program. Rafael was awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman international scholarship to study abroad at Sussex University in Brighton, England during spring of 2010. He is currently performing research in environmental science under the Oceans and Human Health center at RSMAS. Rafael is interested in pursuing a PhD in epidemiology upon receiving his Bachelors of Science degree in Biology from the University of Miami.
Project Title: Characterization of the abundance and growth of the fecal indicator bacterium enterococci in the supratidal zones of Hobie Cat Beach, a nonpoint source beach, before and after a complete renovation of the beach transect, in order to reevaluate the use of enterococci as a pathogen indicator organism in public beaches.

Student: Sara Rodriguez
Faculty Mentor: Samita Andreansky, Ph.D., University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Sylvester Cancer Center Assistant Professor Department of Pediatrics, Microbiology and Immunology and Medicine
Sara Rodriguez, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Research Training Program, has two abstracts that were or will be presented in meetings, one of which won the best presenter award last year: Abstract:Rodriguez S., Lybarger L. and Andreansky S. MHC Class I single-chain construct expressing immunodominant epitopes as Viable DNA Vaccines Against Influenza Virus. Science, Technology & Diversity for a Sustainable Future, Anaheim, California, September, 2010. Abstract:Rodriguez S., Lybarger L. and Andreansky S. Development of MHC Class I single chain constructs as effective DNA vaccines for influenza virus. Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, Phoenix, AZ, November 4, 2009 (Best Presenter Award in Immunology Section).


Student: Raul Caso
Faculty Mentor:Marta Torroella-Kouri, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine

Raul Caso has been conducting cancer research in my laboratory since the summer of his freshman year at the University of Miami. In the summer of 2009 he was awarded one of ten prestigious American Cancer Society Research Fellowships, during which time he began his work on the characterization of blood monocytes found in mice with advanced mammary tumors. In 2010 he was accepted as a member in the American Association for Cancer Research and was awarded the prestigious American Association for Cancer Research-Thomas J. Bardos Science Education Award, which provided him with a stipend to attend the prestigious American Association of Cancer Research Annual Meeting in 2010 and 2011. In addition, in the summer of 2010 he was accepted into the highly competitive Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program at Harvard University Medical School, where he conducted research in a viral oncology laboratory studying the molecular biology of Kaposi’s Sarcoma-Associated Herpesvirus. Currently, Raul is continuing to work in my laboratory where he is contributing to the completion of a manuscript we are submitting to a peer-reviewed journal.
Raul was co-author of an article published in 2009 in Cancer Research [Identification of a new subpopulation of macrophages in mammary tumor bearing mice that are neither M1 nor M2 and are less differentiated. Cancer Research, 69; (11): 4800-4809. Marta Torroella-Kouri, Risset Silvera, Dayron Rodriguez, Raul Caso, Alwi Shatry, Shannon Opiela, Dan Ilkovitch, Reto A. Schwendener, Viyaya Iragavarapu-Charyulu, Yoslayma Cardentey, Natasa Strbo and Diana M. Lopez].
Also, Raul’s very interesting project on the study of blood monocytes from mice bearing advanced mammary tumors was published in October 2010 in the International Journal of Oncology[Blood monocytes from mammary tumor-bearing mice: early targets of tumor-induced immune suppression? International Journal of Oncology, 37; (4): 891-900. Raul Caso, Risset Silvera, Roberto Carrio, Viyaya Iragavarapu-Charyulu, Ruben R. Gonzalez-Perez and Marta Torroella-Kouri.]. This publication contributed relatively new information relating to the role of monocytes in tumor progression.
Raul will present the abstract of the manuscript we are in the process of submitting for publication, of which he is co-author, at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in April 2011 [Tumor microenvironment induces profound immune suppression: Macrophages from peripheral and tumor locations differ in their degrees of inflammatory impairment. Marta Torroella-Kouri, Dayron Rodriguez, Risset Silvera, Mehrdad Nadji, Raul Caso, Roberto Carrio, and Gracielena Rodriguez.]. Raul will also be presenting the results of his publication on blood monocytes at the 2011 Research, Creativity, Innovation Forum at the University of Miami.

Student: Nayma Casamayor
Faculty Mentor:Roy Levitt, Ph.D.

Nayma Casamayor, a biology major with minors in chemistry and psychology, is a member of the University of Miami Class of 2010.  She grew up in Havana, Cuba, and began school in the United States in the 11th grade. After her graduation from high school, Nayma attended Miami Dade Community College for two years as a member of the Honors College, and received her Associate’s Degree in Biology. She then transferred to the University of Miami. With her interest in research and a plan to get an M.D./Ph.D., Nayma searched for opportunities with UM medical faculty. 
  She discovered a position with Dr. Roy Levitt at the Translational Research Division of the Department of Anesthesiology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and began working with his laboratory in the spring of 2009, as an undergrad work/study student. While Nayma had no experience in biological lab procedures, she received comprehensive training from the lab manager, Dr. Qiongzhen Li. Nayma’s introductory experience in the lab was on mouse models of lung disease and addiction, through which she developed experience with rudimentary lab techniques. Nayma then transitioned to a project in one of the Division’s major areas of emphasis, genetics of pain, which enabled her to earn credits and refine her techniques. She also was part of a project on the regulation of stem cell-mediated repair of lung injury in aging and smoking.
  As part of this team, Nayma quickly demonstrated her ability, becoming proficient in the laboratory, and providing valuable contributions. Through her own determination and leadership, Nayma ensured productivity, continuing her work with the team during the school year and past graduation, resulting in a publication.  She graduated in May 2010, with a Bachelor’s of Science in biology. Nayma recently became a full-time laboratory assistant for Dr. Levitt’s lab and has applied to medical school.  She still plans to obtain her M.D/Ph.D., and is considering Anesthesiology among the possibilities for her area of specialization.

Student: Heather Miller
Faculty Mentor:Rakesh Singal, M.D.
Heather graduated from the University of Miami with a B.S. in Biology and Spanish in May 2010. During the last two years of her undergraduate education she volunteered as research assistant in Dr. Singal’s lab, conducting research on prostate, bladder and pancreatic cancer. In the summer of 2009 she was awarded the American Cancer Society Summer Fellowship at Sylvester Cancer Center. Most of her time was in the lab was focused on a project relating to the epigenetics of pancreatic cancer. Her summer project led to further research and culminated in the publication of ‘Methylation-mediated Silencing of TMS1 in Pancreatic Cancer and its Potential Contribution to Chemosensitivity’ in Anticancer Research in October 2010. For her project in Dr. Singal’s lab, she received the best thesis award for the Honors in Biology program. Heather is currently continuing her studies as a medical student at Florida International University College of Medicine.