The keynote was on a timely topic, the presentations reflected diverse explorations and the approximately 450 attendees were engaged – all the right ingredients for another successful DMU Research Symposium in December. Hosted by DMU’s Office of Research, the event marked its 12th anniversary and the second consecutive year it occurred virtually due to the pandemic.
“It’s clear from the 84 posters and six oral presentations planned for today that it will be a great day, where we get to learn about student and faculty research and how they are finding ways to solve pressing problems and showcase exceptional breakthroughs in health, science and many related fields,” said Abigail Amissah-Arthur, Ph.D., senior director of research administration at DMU, in welcoming attendees. “We focus intently on research and teaching at DMU with tremendous groundbreaking work across disciplines that is already having and will continue to have beneficial consequences locally, nationally and globally.”
Mercedes Foster, a student in the University’s master of science in biomedical sciences (M.S.B.S.) program, won the award for the best oral presentation. Titled “NMDA receptor modulation in protracted ethanol withdrawal,” she discussed her research on synaptic plasticity and the role it plays in ethanol use disorder, which can lead to neuro-developmental disorders, increased hospitalizations, chronic disorders and even death. The topic is important, Mercedes noted, “because one-third of adults have experienced an alcohol use disorder, with prevalence in younger populations rising.”
Her study was supported by Daniel Christian, Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology, and Jennifer Giles, M.A., research and instructional assistant, physiology and pharmacology.
Three DMU students won awards for best posters. Sonia Martinez, a student in DMU’s osteopathic medicine program, won for her poster “Identifying novel mechanisms in which estrogen regulates blood pressure,” which she authored with Maria Barnes, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and nutrition. Their research explored the mechanism by which the prevalence of hypertension increases after menopause is not well understood – despite the facts that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among American women, hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and its prevalence increases during post-menopause when levels of estrogen, which is considered cardioprotective, are depleted.
Poster-winner Daniel Lowe, a student in DMU’s podiatric medicine and surgery program, presented “Association of medial longitudinal arch stiffness with fifth metatarsal base external torque during gait and cross cuts/Implications to Jones Fracture,” authored with Robert Yoho, D.P.M., M.S., retired dean of the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery (CPMS), and Vassilios Vardaxis, Ph.D., professor of physical therapy. The goal of their study is to increase knowledge about the Jones Fracture, which is common among athletes, and associated risk factors.
Pruthvi Kilaru, a student in the University’s master of public health (M.P.H.) program, investigated “Wastewater surveillance for infectious disease: a systematic review,” another winning poster. Wastewater surveillance has been used for several decades to track some infectious diseases and has shown to be a valuable source of information regarding SARS-CoV-2 transmission and COVID-19 cases; however, there has not been a comprehensive review outlining all of the pathogens surveilled through wastewater. The aim of this study was to identify the infectious diseases that have been studied via wastewater surveillance prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, common characteristics among the studies and current gaps in knowledge.
Pruthvi’s poster co-authors were Dustin Hill, Ph.D., Syracuse University; Kathryn Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate; Mary Collins, Ph.D., and Hyatt Green, Ph.D., SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; Brittany Kmush, Ph.D., and David Larsen, Ph.D., Syracuse University.
Providing the keynote for the 2021 DMU Research Symposium was Stanley Perlman, M.D., Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa. He shared insights gained from his more than 40 years of coronavirus research. He reviewed past coronavirus outbreaks, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which emerged in late 2002 in Guandong Province, China; and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which was first documented in April 2012. He explained that SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a “much greater health problem than SARS CoV or MERS CoV or the common cold coronaviruses, because it combines the transmissibility of the common cold coronaviruses with the severity of SARS and MERS.”
The six known human coronaviruses all are respiratory and readily cross species to infect humans. Figuring out where the virus comes from and the intermediate animals involved are “often difficult,” he noted.
Dr. Perlman also described long COVID-19, which has symptoms including brain fog, headaches, shortness of breath, and loss of memory, sense of smell (anosmia) and sense of taste (ageusia). One of the mysteries of COVID-19 is that its virus is generally in the lungs, yet it has consequences for infection in other organs.
“We’ve learned a lot about the disease over the last two years, but one thing that we really don’t understand is that some patients who survived, whether they have severe disease or mild disease, developed neurological, cardiac, endocrine, renal diseases, etc. This does not seem to have occurred with SARS and MERS, so we don’t really understand what’s going on here,” he said. “But it’s really important because, once we get over this acute disease, which we will sometime, these syndromes, these phenomena, which are part of long COVID, will be something that we will need to take care of in patients.”
Dr. Perlman said COVID-19’s variants, which may partly evade the immune response, and uncertainty about how long the immune response will last, mean that mitigation measures such as social distancing and wearing face coverings may have to continue.
“If one was having a family gathering over a holiday, and there are people who are more susceptible in the group, I would want to know that the people coming in are free of the virus, particularly younger children who are not vaccinated and people who don’t believe in vaccines,” he said. “I would want to be very cautious having them in the setting, because they could spread the virus.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that people who are asymptomatic probably spread the virus, and people who are pre-symptomatic who are going to develop COVID-19 definitely spread the virus,” he concluded.