Two Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program (MAOP) students from Virginia Tech have won awards for their research presentations at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) this past fall in Anaheim, California.

“Attending ABRCMS was an amazing opportunity. Presenting my research to researchers and educators in my field was an unforgettable experience, and one that I hold dearly,” said Malikah Ajose, a senior majoring in clinical neuroscience in the College of Science who won for her poster presentation under the Computation and Systems Biology category. “Having the opportunity to participate in MAOP since my freshman year here at Virginia Tech has given me the resources and motivation to get involved in research and make an impact in my field.”

In Ajose’s research, Characterization of Neural Differentiation by Dendrogram Visualization of Single Cell Time Course Analysis, she studied embryonic dorsal root ganglion cell development using time course datasets. She was able to track cell differentiation using dendrogram visualization and R programming. Her research was done as part of a Research Experience for Undergraduate Students program at the University of Virginia under the supervision of Eli Zunder, assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

Jessica Gannon, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, won for her oral presentation under the Engineering, Physics, and Mathematics category.

“Winning my very first oral presentation at a conference of this magnitude brings me great fulfillment,” said Gannon. “My research is in honor of my father, who passed away from pancreatic cancer at the end of my freshman year at Tech. When I won, I just knew he was smiling down on me.  ‘He was beaming with pride,’ as my mother likes to say.”

Gannon’s research is titled Development of Histotripsy as a Non-Invasive Focused Ultrasound Ablation Method for the Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer. Histotripsy uses short, high-pressure ultrasound pulses to cause acoustic cavitation, which generates a bubble cloud that can mechanically ablate the target tumor with millimeter precision. The efficacy of histotripsy has already been shown in liver cancer studies but has yet to be developed for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Her research was done at Virginia Tech under the supervision of Eli Vlaisavljevich, assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

According to the conference website, ABRCMS is one of the largest communities of underrepresented minorities in STEM. Students may attend this conference for many reasons, one being to present their research. More than 2,850 students from approximately 350 colleges and universities participate in poster and oral presentations. Students who receive the highest scores in each scientific discipline are given an award. Ajose and Gannon received a certificate and $300.

“As a unit under Student Success Initiatives, one of the main focus areas for MAOP is to assist students in reaching their full potential academically; whether that is in the classroom, the lab, or connecting them to experiential learning opportunities,” said Monica Hunter, director of MAOP. “To see Jessica and Malikah get recognized at the national level for their research was great. All of their hard work is not going unnoticed. These young ladies are truly remarkable and I am happy to say that they are part of the MAOP family.”

Written by Chenaye Blankenship