Student engagement is priority at global health symposium

| Centers and Institutes, Departments, Global Health, Global Health Research News, Monday Letter, Our Research, Students

On May 16 the USF College of Public Health’s Center for Global Health & Infectious Diseases Research (CGHIDR) and the USF Center for Drug Discovery and Innovation (CDDI) sponsored the 4th Annual Frontiers of Drug Discovery Symposium.

The CGHIDR-CDDI program integrates USF faculty from the Departments of Global Health, Chemistry, Molecular Medicine, Cell Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology to address emerging infectious diseases.

The purpose of the symposium is to promote advances with ongoing collaborative research projects in infectious diseases at the University of South Florida, as well as fostering relationships between CDDI program faculty and interdisciplinary drug discovery researchers including pre-doctoral students, post-docs and other university faculty.

“This symposium gave all the different groups on campus who are involved a chance to come together and hear a few outside speakers and also present their own work to each other,” Distinguished USF Health Professor Dr. John H. Adams said. “It was a community engagement exercise for us as well as an opportunity to bring in new people on campus who might be interested.”

This year’s theme was “Modern Approaches for Discovery of New Therapies Against Infectious Diseases.”

The symposium opened with invited speakers from all over the nation including Dr. Philip Crews, University of California-Santa Cruz; Dr. Rhoel Dinglasan, Johns Hopkins University; Dr. Michael Ferdig, University of Notre Dame; and Dr. Sean Prigge, Johns Hopkins University.

In past years, the symposium has hosted speakers from small companies as well, but Adams explained, “A lot of drug discovery used to be done at both small and large companies and now academic institutions have taken over some of the basic drug discovery activities and merged it with their research and other translational research projects so it’s not as unique as it used to be to have academic institutions lead in drug discovery.”

Student poster session (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Student poster session. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

After the main symposium, students were given the opportunity to peruse USF’s Interdisciplinary Research Building, where more than 40 posters where displayed. They conversed with each other about their various posters and research. Each symposium participant was also given a paper to rank which projects they liked the best.

“We actually encourage people to recycle posters,” Adams said. “The main point is to be able to discuss your research with colleagues and students here on campus so we’re not as adamant about this being the first time, or the only time, that projects are presented because that would impede the interactions.”

To highlight some of the more unique and extensive student projects, a turbo talk session proceeded the poster session. During these turbo talks, a few students presented their poster and research in-depth for the entire group.

“It’s intended to be a fun thing to do! It’s an opportunity to talk about their research, especially for the students,” Adams said. “It’s a non-threatening and non-hostile environment and everyone is very positive and enthusiastic in supporting each other. So, it gave everyone a chance to practice their presentations among people who are experts.”

USF Health student Juan Arturo presenting his poster and research (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

USF Health student Juan Arturo presenting his poster and research. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Ending the symposium was an awards ceremony for the top five outstanding presentations voted on by the participants.

Award winners included pre-doctoral students:

  • Justin Gibbons, Department of Molecular Medicine, for his poster and presentation, “Designing A Library For A Malaria Chemogenomic Screen.”
  • Alison Roth, Department of Global Health, for her poster and presentation, “Functional assays for characterization and evaluation of potential vaccine candidates targeting Plasmodium vivax and P. falciparum pre-erythrocytic stages.”
  • Andrew Shilling, Department of Molecular Medicine, for his poster and presentation, “Systematic Screening of Marine Macrooganisms for Widespread Drug Discovery.”
  • Sasha Siegel, Department of Molecular Medicine, for her poster and presentation, “Cryptic mitochondrial heteroplasmy is responsible for the development of Plasmodium falciparum atovaquone resistance in vitro and in vivo.”
  • Rahmy Tawfik, Department of Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology; for his poster, “Epigenetic Manipulation as a Tool for Novel Secondary Metabolite Generation in Actinobacteria species.”
(From left to right) Dr. Bill Baker, Rahmy Tawfik, Justin Gibbons, Allison Roth, Sasha Sigel, Andrew Shilling, and Dr. John H. Adams (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

(From left) Dr. Bill Baker, Rahmy Tawfik, Justin Gibbons, Alison Roth, Sasha Sigel, Andrew Shilling, and Dr. John H. Adams. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Along with providing a safe and engaging way to promote student success, Adams believes that it is these types of activities that can really benefit students for their futures in health.

“We work on what is often considered to be neglected tropical diseases; malaria is a big disease world-wide but is not perceived as being important in the U.S., but it’s in the group of these tropical diseases that periodically impose themselves on us,” Adams said. “It’s important that the university supports this type of activity because we never know when the next health threats are coming and it’s important that students engage in the process and understand how to work with these diseases. I think it is positive thing all around.”

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health



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