Faculty-Student Research Project Earns Spot at Conference

January 18, 2011

Faculty-Student Research Project Earns Spot at ConferenceTwo undergraduates from Saint Leo University, working with their faculty mentor, earned the opportunity to present a large-scale scientific poster display documenting a new research study to a biomedical conference held earlier this month.

Biology majors January Watters and Matthew Salay worked with Iain Duffy, Ph.D., on a project investigating specific influences on new blood vessel formation, a process called angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is of interest to researchers working on cancer treatment--and to those addressing heart disease--because the development of a prescribed process for creating new blood vessels could help doctors treat either problem. "With people who have heart problems, you want to switch the process on, with tumor formation you want to switch it off. It's important in these two significant areas," explained Assistant Professor Duffy, who holds a doctorate in molecular virology, and who worked in cancer research before embarking on his teaching career at Saint Leo.

The Saint Leo professor brought the topic to the university’s science laboratory through his contact with a research colleague, James Hawker of Florida State University. He inquired whether Saint Leo might play some role in Hawker's ongoing, broader research on angiogenesis. He specifically wanted a topic he could pursue with undergraduate students who show interest and aptitude in the courses he teaches: microbiology, immunology, virology and genetics.

About the same time, Watters, who is interested in working in research, and Salay, who hopes to pursue a postgraduate career in medicine, each asked the professor for instruction in laboratory techniques beyond those used in their upper-level courses. Dr. Duffy offered the two the chance to get involved in the angiogenesis work. This work looked specifically at cell surface receptor proteins and other factors suspected of playing a role in angiogenesis.   
The study was judged to be worthy of inclusion during Florida State University College of Medicine's Life Sciences Symposium, held on January 7 and 8, during Saint Leo's recent winter break. The conference gave undergraduates, faculty, and professionals the chance to hear oral presentations on various topics in research, and to meet with teams presenting posters detailing their research questions and outcomes. Dr. Duffy assigned Watters (pictured, left) and Salay (center), the task of answering inquiries, which gave the students an occasion to further hone their presentation skills.

Additional scholastic benefits may still come from this first experiment. The research poster is now on display at University Campus in the busy main corridor of Lewis Hall, home to the Department of Mathematics and Science. Dr Duffy hopes the sight of the poster will motivate other students to tackle research projects, and demonstrate to visiting prospective students the individualized learning opportunities available at Saint Leo.