Friday, December 15, 2017

URSP Student Tirik Ford Creates a StoryMap of GMU’s Fairfax Campus

My name is Tirik Ford and I am a senior Geography major conducting research in the fields of climate change, hydrology, and cartography. This is my third semester with OSCAR and for the previous two semesters I conducted research, as a research assistant, under Celso Ferreira in the George Mason Flood Hazards Research Lab (FHRL). My research has always centered around climate change and sea level rise; and this semester I brought this critical research analysis closer to home at GMU’s Fairfax Campus.

As a Geography major I always strive to present data visually through maps or different types of infographics. Once I discovered the ESRI “StoryMap” platform, I realized that this kind of interdisciplinary analysis has not been performed on our Fairfax Campus. Watershed analysis has been performed on our campus, but a Watershed map with live action videos, pictures, and groundtruth had never been performed. This sparked my interest and subsequently led to me creating a Story map for the entire campus community.

A StoryMap is a GIS (Geographic Information Science) software that brings mapping and multimedia under one program. Throughout my research I conducted geographic surveys, while also taking photos and videos of the surrounding areas I was gathering data. This allows for a more realization for the people viewing my research.

While taking surveys and videos of the GMU watershed, I realized that the research I’m conducting could be used for many platforms including research, news, and other public awareness projects. This led me to believe that creating this StoryMap will better inform the surrounding public of our watershed and other hydrological influences that our campus houses. With my longterm goal being mitigating the effects of climate change, an informed public is key to achieving this goal!


Thursday, December 14, 2017

URSP Student Perry Demsko Researches Researches Protein Interactions in Human Lung Cancers

My project was intended to gain a more thorough understanding of protein interactions in human lung cancers, with specific focus on differential interactions within tumors exhibiting certain gene mutations. Any elucidated novel interactions between mutant and wild-type forms of a gene could potentially be a route to treatment via a new class of anti-cancer drugs, giving hope to patients with tumors that are currently considered directly undruggable. 

I became interested in this project after my grandmother was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I felt I had a moral obligation to put my knowledge of molecular biology to use to help alleviate human suffering. After attending a talk on cancer biology presented by my future mentor, Dr. Mariaelena Pierobon, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to this project. This project fits into my future goals by preparing me for the rigors of graduate school, where I hope to obtain a PhD. Longer term, I aspire to start my own company and leverage the translational research techniques I have learned to improve the human condition.

On a weekly basis, I maintain cancer cell lines in culture, conduct experiments, refine techniques with iterative improvements, and read literature related to cancer biology to improve my understanding of the biological systems I am observing. During my project this semester I learned the importance of cooperation, collaboration and integrity in conducting research.                   

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

URSP Student Mandy Burton Explores Race, Ethnicity, and Breast Cancer Diagnoses among Hispanic Women

I am a graduating senior majoring in Sociology and minoring Public Health. This project represents the intersection between these two fields of study. I believe that examining the social determinants of health is crucial in addressing the health needs of minority and other at-risk populations. I became interested in this project after hearing about an immigrant couple’s experience at a recent health fair. They were worried about participating because they thought it would increase their risk of deportation. I began to wonder how citizenship status affects the health decisions of immigrants living in the U.S., and particularly in the tri-state area. The purpose of my study was to examine more closely the experiences Hispanic women have accessing the health community as it relates to breast cancer awareness, diagnosis, and treatment. Hispanic women are typically diagnosed with later stages of cancer when compared to Non-Hispanic Whites. I held interviews with ten Hispanic women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. to collect detailed interview data regarding their experiences. I wanted to find out what their access point into the health community was and what barriers they experienced along the way.

I will be applying for the Masters of Public Health here at GMU in the spring where I hope to continue my study of the social determinants of health through other lenses. I believe that this qualitative research has prepared me to be a better student and future health community educator. One thing I have learned through this process is that the qualitative research process constantly evolves as you finalize your methodological design and collect and code the data. My project looked very different at the beginning of the semester and I learned so much about the process of research along the way.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

URSP Student Zachary Baker Conducts An Investigation of Learning in Networks of Spinal Cord Neurons

My project is titled An Investigation of Learning in Networks of Spinal Cord Neurons. My inspiration for this project came from the beginnings of my involvement with the Neural Engineering (NE) Lab at GMU. When I was first involved with the NE Lab, I observed other students culturing neurons from the prefrontal cortex of embryonic mice, to characterize networks from the brain. When I had enough exposure in the lab, I asked the Principle Investigator (Dr. Nathalia Peixoto) if I could use the bodies of the pups to attempt at procuring networks of spinal cord neurons. It was my goal to get experience working in a wet lab environment, and also to increase the utility of the sacrificed animals (in this procedure, the entire body of the mouse pups is usually discarded).  After getting approval, I successfully procured the networks, which inspired me to focus my research on spinal cord neurons. The lab had already demonstrated learning in networks of neurons from the prefrontal cortex, it made sense for me to try to reproduce these same results with a different type of neuron from the central nervous system.

During this project, the responsibilities of myself as well as my team varied widely depending on the project’s progression. Initially, preparations had to be made for the procedure of obtaining neurons from neonatal mice. After the cultures were obtained, they needed to be ‘fed’ with growth media exchanges three times a week. After approximately three weeks, the cultures then needed to be tested for electric activity. Upon discovery of an electrically-active network, the network needed to be stimulated to measure its response (this was how learning was observed and measured). Finally, after enough networks were stimulated, the data needed to be processed in multiple ways to adequately quantify the responses. These responsibilities ensured that no two weeks were the same.

This project is the culmination of my undergraduate research experience, and it showcases my ability to lead a team to accomplish a project. The project is expected to be finished with the completion of data processing in the spring of 2018.

Friday, November 17, 2017

URSP Student Connor Stapp Creates a Biomechanical Model of the Pelvic Floor

The project that I’m working is to create a biomechanical model of the pelvic floor in order to better predict the forces placed on these muscles during pregnancy and how they are related in the development of pelvic floor disorders. I chose this project because there is a need for a tool that can be used for predictions on whether a pregnant woman is at risk for developing pelvic floor disorder due to giving vaginal birth. Through creating a model that could help predict a woman’s risk, it could help determine that the risk is low for developing pelvic floor disorders and a doctor could recommend giving vaginal birth or it could determine that the risk is high and the doctor could recommend a C-section.

Long term it’s my intention to move from the field of bioengineering into the field of rehabilitation. In order to properly rehabilitate an individual, it’s necessary to understand how current models were created and what their limitations are. By working on this project, it’s giving me a firsthand experience on not only what it’s like creating a new model from scratch but also be able to determine the limitations that the model has. By understanding the limitations of current models and through conducting research, it’s possible to improve these models in order to better represent the system that’s being modeled.

On a weekly basis, I read literature that’s been published in order to determine how current models are able to simulate the birthing process as well as to obtain a greater depth of information on how these specific muscles are able to perform their intended function. While working on this project this semester, I found that it’s massively important to continuously keep in contact with my mentors and the doctors that we’re working with in order to make sure that the model is staying as accurate as possible to the biological system.