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Liberty News

Students reap top honors from Virginia Academy of Science

May 27, 2015 : By Drew Menard/Liberty University News Service

Liberty University graduate student Abigail Lenz
Abigail Lenz

Abigail Lenz (’14), who is currently seeking her Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences, received Liberty University’s first graduate student award at the Virginia Academy of Science’s Annual Meeting last weekend at James Madison University. This was especially significant considering this is the university’s first year having a graduate program in biology.

Liberty also received two other recognitions at the meeting — Amanda Hazy was awarded best undergraduate oral presentation, and John Arza and Nate MacGilvary received an honorable mention for best poster presentation, continuing the Department of Biology & Chemistry’s consistent success at VAS meetings. This is the fourth year in a row that Liberty students have received awards for best poster or oral presentation in the biology/microbiology category. Last year, a Liberty professor received the prestigious J. Shelton Horsley award, the highest honor given by the academy for original research.

“I am thrilled to see the success of our students,” said Dr. David DeWitt, chair of the Department of Biology & Chemistry. “Awards like this demonstrate that our students are well prepared for the workplace, as well as graduate and medical schools. Students working side-by-side on research projects with their professors is a major contribution to preparing students well for their future careers. Our faculty are motivated by their commitment to Christ to help our students reach their God-given potential.”

Lenz’s research, supervised by Dr. Andrew Fabich, was directly related to the recent genome sequence released by the university. Her presentation was titled, “Shigatoxin pathogenesis in the gastrointestinal tract.” The bacteria strain she studied for the award-winning presentation was a genetically modified version of the strain she helped sequence. This modification helped her study what triggers the change from good E. coli bacteria (helpful microbes are abundant in the human body) to infectious ones. Her future work will be in collaboration with Dr. Anthony Bauer at the Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine to develop a treatment to cure enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), the leading cause of kidney failure worldwide.

A biology research team from Liberty University.
Dr. Gary Isaacs and his research team at the Virginia Academy of Science's Annual Meeting: (front row, from left) Rachel Bordelon, John Arza, Amanda Hazy, Bria Johnston, (back row) Matthew Dalton, Nate MacGilvary, Isaacs, and John Lawson.

Hazy’s presentation, titled “Genome-wide RNA-Seq analysis of changing gene expression in brain and blood in an Alzheimer's disease mouse model,” shared the results of two years of research showing how specific genes turning on and off in the brain affect Alzheimer’s disease and how those changes can be compared to similar changes in the blood. Her research, which was under the supervision of Dr. Gary Isaacs, identified 75 genes in both the brain and blood of mice with a disease model similar to Alzheimer’s. This may be useful in the development of a diagnostic blood test to help diagnose and track Alzheimer’s in humans. Liberty is beginning a follow-up study using normal and Alzheimer’s-infected human tissue samples.

Arza and MacGilvary’s poster, “Correlation of methylation assay with bisulfite sequencing data to determine the epigenetic regulation of mir17-1 in an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model,” described related Alzheimer’s disease research under Isaac’s supervision. This study focused on the chemical modification of a non-coding RNA gene expressed in an Alzheimer’s disease model.

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