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Cohort 4

Carl Bannerman

Carl BannermanI graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in May 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences. Prior to that, I graduated from the Community College of Baltimore County with an Associates of Science in Science. During my undergraduate career, I was a part of the MARC U*STAR, Meyerhoff, McNair Scholar Programs and the BUILD Training Program which supported my passion for the biomedical sciences.

Needless to say, I am very interested in biomedical science research. I have conducted research at institutions such as the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. These experiences were in the fields of microbiology, genetics and cellular biology. I hope to one day pursue infectious disease research and treat patients suffering from infectious diseases as a physician-scientist.

This year I will be working in Dr. Takala-Harrison’s Lab under the Malaria Research Group in the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. My project will focus on characterizing the role of Plasmodium falciparum PfCRT mutations in piperaquine resistance. I hope to accomplish this through the use of the CRISPR/cas9 system for gene editing and whole genome sequence data to understand the genetic lineage and origin of resistant parasites. Through the wonderful opportunities and resources provided by STAR-PREP, I hope to expand my research portfolio and continue on to pursue an MD/PhD combined degree.

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.

Uriel Jean-Baptiste

Uriel Jean-BaptisteI graduated from Florida State University (FSU) in May 2018 with a bachelors in Biochemistry. While at FSU, I conducted undergraduate research in the lab of Dr. Hong Li in the Institute of Molecular Biophysics investigating the structural parameters that confer higher enzyme specificity onto Acidothermus cellulolyticus Cas9 (AceCas9).

Post undergraduate, my journey continued in the lab of Dr. Vince Luca at the Moffitt Cancer center evolving high affinity peptide inhibitors for the NLRP3 inflammasome complex.

I want to pursue a PhD in biochemistry and structural biology to understand protein-structure relationships and protein-protein interactions in a variety of cellular contexts. This has led me to the STAR-PREP Postbaccalaureate program where I will be mentored by Dr. Alex Poulopoulos and Dr. Bekir Altas in the Poulopoulos lab. Under Dr. Altas, I am studying proteins that are extremely important because of their role in axonal projections across the corpus callosum. Certain neurodevelopmental disorders are correlated with the improper projection of these axons from hemisphere to hemisphere.

Cassandra Jordan

Cassandra Jordan

I graduated from Aurora University in May 2018 where I received my Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. Although I graduated from a smaller university that was not research heavy, I was able to acquire research experience that helped me to realize a career in the lab is right for me.

I was able to enroll in more advanced lab based courses as well as work alongside my professor and a few other students on a synthetic biology experiment, in which we developed a temperature sensitive biosensor (E. coli) through the use of the 2017 iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) kit.

This year I will be working in Dr. Carbonetti’s lab to help in ongoing research investigating the bacteria primarily responsible for whooping cough, Bordetella pertussis. Through the research opportunities, guidance, and additional resources provided through the STARPREP program, I hope to pursue a PhD that would best prepare me to help further advance the field of biomedical sciences.

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.

Jatia Mills

Jatia MillsI am a recent honors graduate of Morgan State University with a Bachelors of Science in Biology. I was born and raised right here in Maryland. I am eager to continue my education by enrolling in graduate school and obtaining my PhD in Pathology.

I am currently a part of the NIH funded postbac program, STAR-PREP, within the University of Maryland Baltimore School of Medicine.  My current research is on the immune system of nurse sharks under the supervision of Dr. Helen Dooley at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET).

My goal for the future is to obtain my Ph.D., study comparative neuropathology, and some day obtain my D.V.M. as well. I am looking forward to learning as much as possible with my time while continuing to develop my research skills.

Darex Vera-Rodriguez

Darex Vera-RodriguezI have a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Biotechnology with a Minor in Project Management from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus (UPRM). As a rising researcher, one of the key topics that caught my attention was the study of macromolecules and their physical-chemical behavior in the human body. Following the topics in this research area, I participated in a summer program at the University of Pittsburgh, conducting health sciences research using computational (in-silico) approaches.

Working under the guidance of Dr. Carlos Camacho, I was able to track drug discovery methods using a ligands’ library. I was looking for ligands that could potentially inhibit HRas oncogenic protein activity in excess proliferation in the pancreas and lung, preventing cancer development. I continued this project in Dr. Alberto Santana’s lab at UPRM and implemented novel computational techniques for molecular dynamics simulations and energy minimization steps analyzing Ras isoforms K-Ras and N-Ras for potential oncogenic activity.

In my last year of undergraduate studies, I performed an industry practice at Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson (J&J). One of the projects that I worked on was the historical and technical analysis of protein loading and the purification process for optimization of chromatography columns, efficiency, and protein final bulk productivity.

Industry techniques such as time management, communication approaches, risk considerations, and organizational methods were learned and implemented in the field. Using these skills resulted in the success of all the projects assigned. This was an excellent opportunity to utilize my minor and gain professional development at the industry level.

My interests in any field are always directed towards diversity and innovation. This was one of the main reasons I decided to apply to STAR-PREP, where I am working in Dr. David Weber’s lab studying S100 proteins proportionality in malignant melanoma cancer. We are implementing structural biology and biochemical techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and column chromatography for drug discovery approaches on potential S100 inhibitors and tumor suppressor proteins.

My goal as a researcher, is to combine in-silico and in-vitro together for a wide understanding and discussion of methods and results. With the academic experiences and professional development STAR-PREP is providing me, I will have all the necessary skills to pursue a PhD in Biophysics and Biochemistry.