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Cohort 5

Aidaelis Martínez Hernández

I obtained my bachelor's degree with high honors in Industrial Microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus (UPRM). Over the years of my undergraduate career, several research and internship opportunities from organic chemistry to immunology have shaped my interest in pursuing graduate-level education.

In my last two years of undergraduate studies, I participated in a one-year internship with Abbvie Biotechnology Limited (2019) and a Aidaelis Martinezsix-month internship with CDI Laboratories (2020). During my year at Abbvie Biotechnology Limited, I worked with the raw materials program and process development of Humira, a monoclonal antibody used to treat several autoimmune diseases. Under this program, my project aimed to evaluate the next year's campaign raw materials through lab-scale bioreactor experiments. Later, eager to elevate my undergraduate knowledge of immunology research, I joined CDI Laboratories. Here, as a hybridoma production intern, I worked with the purification and analysis of ultra-specific monoclonal antibodies samples received from several research laboratories such as MIT, JHU, and NIH. These were rewarding and meaningful experiences since they focused on developing a commercial drug and the production of research antibodies for further development of potential treatments.

Now, as a STAR-PREP scholar, I am working under the guidance of Dr. Magali Fontaine. Under Dr. Fontaine's research laboratory, there has been an incredible effort to contribute to developing a treatment for patients infected with SARS-CoV-2. Hence, we are analyzing an eIND to mitigate the effects of the infection on high-risk SARS-CoV-2 patients. This clinical study aims to provide infected patients with access to the investigational convalescent plasma, obtained from recovered SARS-CoV-2 patients, which could help them surpass the disease. In addition to SARS-CoV-2 treatment efforts, Dr. Fontaine's primary focus is transfusion medicine. Additional laboratory projects aim to study pathogen inactivation strategies for platelet transfusion and red cell immunomodulation through leukocyte binding to glycophorin A.

All aspects considered, I am very interested in biomedical science research—specifically, in those among studying immunological disorders. Therefore, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in Immunology. As a future research scientist, my career goal is to conduct leading projects in an industrial environment to develop novel cellular models to advance immunology research and create potential treatments. I am confident the STAR-PREP will provide me with guidance, mentorship, and relevant research experiences that will prepare me to succeed in my doctoral program.

Jeff Inen

Jeff InenI graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County in December 2018 with a B.S. in Biological Sciences. I spent three and a half years working in the lab of Dr. Charles Bieberich developing mouse models of prostate cancer. My work in the lab focused on the induction of inflammation in mice missing the tumor suppressor Pten and it’s role in the resulting progression of prostate cancer.

Under the exceptional mentorship of Dr. Bieberich, I discovered my love of research. I realized how fascinating it can be to try to find solutions to problems to which no one in the world knows the answer. In research I found that I am able to reach a level of creativity, imagination and fulfillment that I wouldn’t be able to achieve anywhere else.

I am currently working in the Poulopoulos lab under Dr. Ryan Richardson on projects utilizing in vitro and in vivo CRISPR genome editing. My research will be investigating the complex temporal and spatial properties of mTOR, a protein possessing proliferative and oncogenic potential, as well as investigating methods to improve CRISPR in vivo gene knock in.

Taking full advantage of the mentorship, research opportunities and support of the STAR-PREP program, I am working towards pursuing an MD-PhD in order to start a research clinic to find therapies for diseases that disproportionately affect minority populations.

Zewde Ingram

I graduated with honors from the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2020 with a Bachelors of Science in Cell Biology Zewde Ingramand Genetics. My first research experience was a summer internship at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab studying the utility of various body sensors to detect stress in first responders.  I engaged in monitoring the physiological status of research participants, which steered my interest toward pursuing human subject research.  Later as an undergraduate, I was able to acquire my first benchwork research position at the Avian Behavioral Neuroscience Lab directed by Dr. Gregory Ball. During this time, I helped investigate how sex hormones modulate brain plasticity and song patterns in canaries. 

Currently as a STAR-PREP post-baccalaureate research fellow, I have the privilege of working in Dr. Tonya Webb's lab researching ovarian cancer and tumor immunology using cell and mouse models. I joined STAR-PREP to gain research experience and refine my lab techniques. Furthermore, I am grateful and eager to make the best of this opportunity to immerse myself in a field of interest at UMB, a respected institution. After my tenure as a PREP scholar, I know I will gain the essential preparation that I will need to be successful in graduate school, and ultimately my future research pursuits.

Through my previous course work and current research experience, I have developed a keen interest in cancer biology and immunology. I hope to one day receive a Ph.D. in cancer or cell biology and make translational contributions to cancer research, while also assisting others that are underrepresented in science, both as patients and researchers.

Saovleak Khim

Saovleak Khim

I graduated with honors from Temple University with a BS in Neuroscience. My research interest involves neural circuit formation and its impact on neurodevelopmental diseases and mental illnesses. I hope to pursue an MD/PhD where I may further conduct research to contribute to the development of novel therapies while applying my knowledge to care for patients dealing with these diseases.

During a summer apprenticeship at Monell Chemical Senses Center, I worked on a study with Dr. Marco Tizzano to characterize the olfactory epithelium regeneration following drug induced damage. I aimed to investigate the role of microvilli cells and the trigeminal system in modulating the regeneration process. This project piqued my interest in neural development and circuit integration. As a MARC scholar, I transitioned into Dr. Anna R. Moore’s lab at Temple University whose work focuses on using Rem2 as a tool to study activity-dependent mechanisms of circuit formation and functions in the mammalian brain. Rem2 is a Ras-like GTPase implicated in dendritic morphology and intrinsic excitability. Together we created a pilot study looking at whether Rem2 is required for adult neurogenesis with the goal of elucidating molecular mechanisms governing new neuron growth and integration in established circuit.

To prepare myself as a physician-scientist, I participated in Drexel University’s Mini-Medical summer program where I had the opportunity to join physicians and surgeons in both the clinic and the operating room. This experience revealed the importance of an open patient-physician relationship since diagnosis and treatments are based on both laboratory tests results and the patient’s history and lifestyle. Through other shadowing experiences and attending meetings/rounds in different specialties like dermatology, cardiology, neuropsychology, and critical care, I felt a pull to helping patients living with treatment resistant diseases and seeking alternative therapeutic options. This was the bridge between my passion for research and my love for medicine. In addition to the intellectual persuit of science, it is also a tool to change lives.

As a STAR-PREP scholar, I am working under the guidance of Dr. Alexandros Poulopoulos and Dr. Margaret McCarthy studying the mechanisms underlying circuit formation during brain development and diseases. I am excited to further develop my bench skills and gain more insight into how cutting edge research is used to advance medicine.

Darius Mckoy

I received my B.S. in Biological Sciences and minor in Psychology with honors at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in Darius McKoyMay 2020. I studied as a member of the Meyerhoff, HHMI, and MARC U*STAR Scholars Programs. For 2.5 years, I studied anoxia tolerance in zebrafish at UMBC using the candidate gene approach. For one summer, I studied the role of the Substantia nigra in sleep-wake control in mice at University of California, Berkeley using cell-type specific lesioning. In addition to research, I was able to volunteer with different diverse populations throughout Baltimore, travel to numerous conferences, and work as a tutor/teaching assistant. At the end of my studies, I was honored to be selected for the Phi Beta Kappa Society. 

As a STAR-PREP scholar, I am analyzing data in a clinical trial under the mentorship of Dr. Deanna Kelly. I am studying the effects of clozapine administration on the treatment of schizophrenia in African American patients. I am excited to learn epidemiological and clinical techniques to make a more direct impact on people’s lives through research.

I hope to pursue a graduate degree in epidemiology and become a public health officer. My skills learned in the program will be integral in my success. 

Cynthia Melendrez 

I received my B.S. in Chemical Engineering from San Jose State University in May of 2020. During my undergraduate career, I was Cynthia Melendrez selected to be a member of the RISE, LSAMP, and SSCL Scholar Programs that were offered for students conducting bioscience-based research. I was working in the SSCL Lab under Dr. Abraham Wolcott, who focused on amination chemistry to achieve a homogenous amine surface that would allow the attachment of functional and bioactive molecules for biolabeling and biosensing purposes. As the amine subgroup leader, my role was to create and modify the amination synthesis protocols with the goal of achieving a higher level of ND functionalization. To conclusively characterize the ND surface, I utilized three overlapping spectroscopy techniques at facilities such as SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. At the conclusion of this 3-year research experience, I was given the opportunity to publish our unique discoveries to the Journal of American Chemical Society and will be listed as the first author.

With the experience I gained in Dr. Wolcott’s SSCL Lab, I earned a SULI DoE fellowship at Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and later a biochemical engineering internship at Intelligent Fiber Optic Systems. Through both opportunities, I was given the opportunity to work with a diverse group, from different disciplines and nationalities. It was incredible to personally experience the level of communication and advancement achieved which arose from our diverse contributions.

Currently, I am a STAR-PREP Post-Baccalaureate fellow at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine which focuses on preparing underrepresented groups in the biomedical sciences for entry into top-notch graduate programs. Through this program, I am conducting biomarker drug-discovery research at the Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, under DTRS Deputy Director Dr. Isabel Jackson. I will also be leading a separate innovative project focused on researching a translational oncology technique known as Flash Therapy. With the training and knowledge, I have gained throughout the years, I am driven to pursue a graduate education in cancer biology with an emphasis on pharmaceutical development.

Shanaliz Natta

Shanaliz Natta

I attained my Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) in May 2018. During my time at UVI I have taken part in various research internships that have molded my interests in not only biomedical research but pursing a doctoral degree in microbiology. In my senior year at UVI I worked under the mentorship of Dr. Jennilee Robinson. My project was focused on developing a more accurate and efficient way of detecting a Haemohormidium-like blood parasite infection in Stegastes adustus “Dusky damselfish.” What I enjoyed about this project was the ability to conduct meaningful research at my home institution where I was learning so much about how these fish in Virgin Islands waters were becoming ill. Through this experience my curiosity in infectious diseases was ignited. I found myself asking why are only Dusky damselfish affected by this parasite and how are they becoming infected?

After attaining my bachelor’s, I wanted to gain more in-depth research training, so I left the Virgin Islands in August 2018 to pursue a Master of Science at Towson University in the Bridges to the Doctorate Program (B2D). During my time in the B2D program I completed a four-week summer mini rotation at a lab of my choice at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). I chose to work under the guidance of Dr. Sharon Tennant whose research focus is in bacterial pathogenesis, vaccine development, and global health at the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health (CVD). My project was focused on determining whether Salmonella serogroup C1 strains are phagocytosed by macrophages more efficiently than Salmonella strains from other serogroups. The rationale is that Salmonella serogroup C have been shown to be responsible for a large burden of disease.

In my second year as a master’s student I was able to continue this project where it was then expanded into a master’s thesis. I was very enthusiastic to continue working on my project and I was most excited to see how it will progress over the next year. To date, I have generated data that suggests strains of serogroup C1 are taken up at higher levels than strains of other serogroups. In August 2020 I was awarded my Master of Science in biology from Towson University and invited to take part in UMB STAR PREP program. As a STAR PREP scholar, I again have the opportunity to continue working in Dr. Tennant’s lab. I am currently performing experiments to confirm my results obtained last summer as well as investigating intracellular survival and replication of Salmonella serogroup C1.

Through these experiences I have found a strong passion for microbial pathogenesis, host-pathogen interactions, and vaccine development. My goal is to attain a doctoral degree in microbiology and immunology where I then hope to dedicate my post-doctoral career to vaccine research and development against infectious diseases that plague immunocompromised populations. My aim as a STAR-PREP scholar is to continue developing my critical thinking skills, analytical skills, and independence--skills that I deem important for a successful scientist.