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Liberty News

Four Liberty students earn research grants at VAS Fall Meeting

October 23, 2014 : Liberty University News Service

Liberty senior Amanda Hazy and junior Matthew Dalton pose with their poster related to the expression and regulation of genes in brains of patients affected by Alzheimer's Disease.

Two pairs of Liberty University students received $500 research grants for their presentations of studies related to Alzheimer’s Disease during the Virginia Academy of Science’s Fall Undergraduate Meeting on Oct. 18 at Virginia State University in Petersburg.

Of the six recipients selected out of 27 entries from schools throughout the state, including Virginia Tech, ODU, VMI, and VSU, Liberty earned two undergraduate research grants for the first time after having one winner each of the past three years.

“It was pretty cool to be able to go meet students from other schools and present alongside them,” said Nathan MacGilvary, a junior Cell & Molecular Biology major looking to pursue a doctoral degree, possibly in biochemistry.

Amanda Hazy, a senior planning to pursue her Ph.D. in veterinary medicine after graduating next spring, and Matthew Dalton, a junior looking to become a doctor, presented a poster on gene expression (mRNA) and regulation (miRNA). The presentation was titled “Analysis of Differential mRNA and miRNA Expression in an Alzheimer's Disease Mouse Model,” and explored how genes turning on and off in the brain can affect the disease.

In a complementary report, MacGilvary and John Azra, a senior biomedical science major planning to go on to medical school, are in the early stages of a study titled “Using Bisulfite Sequencing to Determine Specific Ventilation Patterns in Gene Regions Related to Alzheimer’s Disease.”

All four Liberty Department of Biology & Chemistry  students are conducting research supervised by Dr. Gary Isaacs, an associate professor of biology who received a $40,000 Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award Fund (ARDRAF) grant in the summer of 2013.

Nathan MacGilvary and John Azra present their poster before a judge at the VAS Fall Meeting.
Nathan MacGilvary (left) and John Azra present their poster to one of the judges from the Virginia Academy of Science.

“His mentorship is phenomenal,” MacGilvary said. “He’s all about empirical learning, and he pushes us to learn as much as we can when researching our topic, whether it’s developing methodology or interpreting data. We were very prepared when the judges were asking us tough questions.”

Hazy was the most experienced of Liberty’s presenters, having worked on posters for last fall’s and last spring’s VAS meetings as well.

“I found a gene (TTR) that actually slows down in Alzheimer’s,” said Hazy. “When it decreases, you see increased deposits of amyloid beta in the brain.”

According to Hazy, it has already been scientifically shown that the build-up of amyloid beta in the brain causes Alzheimer’s Disease.

“It is exciting because first, we’re confirming what other researchers in this field have done, but also because we’re finding new things that could be affecting Alzheimer’s,” Hazy said.

Both Dalton, who focused on the expression of the gene, and Hazy, who concentrated on its regulation, are performing the research with a disciplined approach and urgent sense of purpose.

“Matt and I both worked hard to prepare,” Hazy said. “We’re very excited about what we are doing, and we were able to get that excitement across to the judges.” She impressed them with her experimentation and understanding of upper-level research — which in her case involves DNA sequencing from start to finish — while at the undergraduate level.

“Dr. Isaacs has taught me how to do great research independently,” said Hazy, who wants to do veterinary research. “He teaches us how to take ownership of our projects, which will help all of us with our future careers.”

Liberty’s students will present more conclusive results from their ongoing research at the VAS Spring Meeting in May, hosted by James Madison University. The May meeting will be larger, involving both graduate and undergraduate students.

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