Student projects illustrate spectrum of science at Research Day

From the tiniest details within our genes to the more abstract psychological perceptions outside our bodies, the projects of two public health students help illustrate the extremes that will be found among the research presentations on Feb. 20 at Research Day.

Matthew Tucker and Marissa Zwald, both graduate students in the College of Public Health, will be presenting their research projects at the 2009 Research Day, starting at 8 a.m. in the USF Health Rotunda.

COPH students Matthew Tucker and Marissa Zwald.

PhD student Tucker works with Dennis Kyle, PhD, professor in the Department of Global Health. His project – titled “Examination of the Molecular Basis of Resistance to Artemisinin Drugs in Plasmodium falciparum” – invloves genetic studies to determine which genes are responsible for causing the parasite responsible for the most lethal form of malaria to become resistant to our most promising malarial drugs.

Currently, the parasite Plasmodium falciparum is not resistant to the drug artemisinin, which provides rapid relief from malaria symptoms, faster clearance of the parasite, and is the best medicine available today. In Dr. Kyle’s laboratory, Tucker developed a parasite that is resistant and is using those genetic lines to determine the molecular basis of drug resistance, which will help in the development of better drugs.

“Currently the World Health Organization recommends artemisinin combination treatment for countries that experience resistance to conventional monotherapies. Therefore, it will be a problem if Plasmodium falciparum becomes resistant because we need to preserve the effectiveness of artemisinin,” Tucker said. “So finding the genes responsible for the resistance has significant public health importance.”

Graduate student Zwald is working with Rita Debate, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Community and Family Health. Her research project – titled “Changes in Psychosocial Factors and Physical Activity Frequency Among Participants of Girls on the Run” – tracked the data of a national youth sports program and found that young girls who participated in physical activity felt better about themselves.

Zwald set out to assess the short-term impact that Girls on the Run (a national youth sports program designed for girls in 3rd to 8th grade) had on self-esteem, body image, commitment to physical activity and the frequency of activity. Her findings showed that the program produced beneficial changes in self-esteem, body size satisfaction, commitment to physical activity and frequency of activity.

‘This is a really exciting project to be a part of,” Zwald said. “These girls experienced positive changes in their self-esteem and had a better perception of self. That improved perception could carry forward into adolescence, especially with continued physical activity.”

These two students are among the 166 poster presentations on display throughout the USF Health Rotunda. In addition, the outstanding work of eight researchers has earned them an invitation to present their work in an oral session. One of those eight is Marissa Zwald.

Click here to learn more about the events surrounding Research Day.

– Story by Sarah Worth, USF Health Communications
– Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications/Media Center