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Research Opportunities: Home

Research Spotlight

Dario Marotta Participated in CaRES at UAB

Dario Marotta participated in the Cancer Research Experience for Students (CaRES) program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) this summer.  A student summer research program at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and School of Public Health, CaRES is funded by a research training grant from the National Cancer Institute and has supported almost 700 students since it began in 1999.  Dario  spent his internship working in the lab with Dr. Kristen Triebel.

Dario explains more about his internship below:

My research focuses on the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of cognitive impairment suffered by breast and ovarian cancer survivors.  To start, we are using PET imaging and a radio-labeled tracer, which is only available in the US through UAB, to quantify neuroinflammation in the brain.  Neuroinflammation is believed to contribute to cancer-related cognitive impairment, including memory loss, slowed and delayed processing, and a general feeling of “fogginess” in day-to-day activities, which leads to a dramatic reduction in a patient’s quality of life.

By the first week I was collaborating with researchers across the nation and submitting a grant abstract aimed at detecting biomarkers of neuroinflammation in patient’s blood, a novel idea with potential diagnostic implications.  Additionally, we began collaborating on a clinical trial investigating a promising drug shown to treat cognitive decline caused by radiation and chemotherapy in mouse models.  I continue to look forward to expanding this realm of research from other avenues such as investigating the effects of diet and microbiome disruption on neuroinflammation, which if proven to be associated, could indicate benefits through something as simple as probiotic treatment modalities.

“The position also comes with unanticipated benefits such as working in an academic medical center atmosphere.  For instance, I was walking through the hospital atrium one day when I saw a hernia repair demonstration using a da Vinci surgical robot.  When I approached the station, a surgical attending learned that I am a medical student and encouraged me to try it out.  It turns out that I have a knack for it!  I won a skills competition hosted for anyone who participated in the demonstration, and at the end I was even allowed to perform a simulated hernia repair.”

Jessica Bhandari Participated in CaRES at HudsonAlpha

Jessica Bhandari participated in the Cancer Research Experience for Students (CaRES) program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) this summer.  A student summer research program at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and School of Public Health, CaRES is funded by a research training grant from the National Cancer Institute and has supported almost 700 students since it began in 1999.Jessica spent her 8-week internship working in the lab of Dr. Sara Cooper at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, AL. 

Jessica’s project focused on identifying genes that contribute to resistance to platinum-based therapy in ovarian cancer.  This ongoing research in Dr. Cooper’s lab will provide valuable information that can be used by clinicians to select chemotherapy regimens based on genomic profiles of tumors and can be used for further studies to develop novel therapeutic strategies that avoid or reverse resistance.  Her summer research culminated in two poster presentations at UAB and HudsonAlpha on “Identification of essential genes in platinum resistant high grade serous ovarian adenocarcinoma.”  Jessica really enjoyed working as a team with everyone in the lab and getting to know many of the researchers at HudsonAlpha.  She said it was a great environment that facilitated learning, problem solving, and teamwork.

“Doing my CaRES internship at HudsonAlpha gave me the opportunity to work alongside world-class scientists, participate in weekly laboratory meetings, and learn about computational biology.  As a future physician, it was very valuable to see the process behind data collection and analysis.  I am excited for the ability to contribute to cancer research by collaborating with institutes like HudsonAlpha in the future.” 

Aerial Petty Selected as Diverse Medical Scholar for Community Health Project

In December 2018, second-year student Aerial Petty was selected for the United Health Foundation/National Medical Fellowships Diverse Medical Scholars Program for her project with Girls, Inc. of Dothan.

The UHF/NMF service-learning program awards scholarships to 32 minority medical students who exhibit leadership and a commitment to improving healthcare in medically underserved communities.  The program requires scholars to complete a 200-hour, self-directed community health project at a community site of their choice between December 2018 and June 2019.  Scholars must also submit a written report on community health, create a poster or presentation on their project, and attend the UHF Forum in Washington, D.C. in June 2019.

“By spending more time with students through this program, I intend to demonstrate the value of utilizing medical students to bridge the gap between general physician recommendations and patient outcomes, especially in underserved communities whose limited resources only further emphasize the health disparities they face.  With understanding for the unique needs of the Wiregrass community, I hope to help students become more active participants in their own health.”

The primary goal of Aerial’s project with Girls, Inc. is to “improve the mental, nutritional, and physical health of adolescent girls in the Dothan community by providing a holistic 3-pronged healthcare approach to include mentorship, education, and networking.”  She also plans to meet with the girls at both the classroom and individual levels to provide personalized attention and introduce them to health initiatives.  Aerial said she developed this project with other communities in mind from the start so that other medical students would be able to introduce it into their communities as well.  She hopes that introducing underserved youth to the medical field in their adolescence will result in an increase in the number of students who go on to college or pursue a medical career.

Want to Be in the Research Spotlight?

Do you want to be featured in the Research Spotlight?  Email Nicole and let her know about your project!


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