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Jillian Ramos won the first-place and people’s choice awards at the University’s third annual Three Minute Thesis Competition.

Three Minute Thesis winner sweeps top awards

Jillian Ramos showed exactly how to capture an audience’s attention – and hold it – at the University’s third annual Three Minute Thesis Competition finals.

As a result, the PhD student in the lab of Dragony Fu, assistant professor of biology, walked away with not only the $750 first place prize awarded by a panel of faculty judges, but also the $250 people’s choice prize awarded by an audience that filled all but a few seats in the Class of ’62 Auditorium.

Not bad, considering this was Ramos’s first such competition, which limits presenters to just three minutes and a single slide. The object is to be able to clearly explain their work to a general audience. (Read more here.)

How exactly did Ramos do it?

She started with a catchy title: Modify or Die — When Protein Translation Goes Awry.

She then proceeded to explain, step by step, in novel ways that a general audience could appreciate and understand, the interactions of DNA, RNA, tRNA, proteins, and enzymes.

For example:

“DNA contains our genes. It’s what makes you, you, and me, me. I like to think of it as the Book of Us,” Ramos explained. “RNA is transcribed from DNA. If DNA is the book of life, RNA is what is read out loud. Protein is translated from RNA. So, if RNA is what is said out loud, protein is the impact it makes.”

She described how a mutation in an enzyme that modifies tRNA has caused intellectual disabilities in 24 people in eight Iranian families. And how a goal of her thesis work is find out exactly which proteins the mutation affects, and whether that could lead to a treatment.

“If DNA is being read, and RNA is being said, and protein is the impact, let’s not lose that impact and have it lost in translation,” she concluded – 2 minutes and 57 seconds after she started.

I wanted to do this because I wanted to gain this skill,” she says.  “I actually went into this just for fun, thinking this is something that’s beneficial to my scientific career.

“I have parents and friends who are not in science,” she adds, “and I oftentimes have to try to communicate to them what it is that I do. This finally got me to sit down and lay it out.”

Ramos says she got “tons, and tons, and tons of help” from “so many people in my department” who helped her practice her talk.

A total of 44 students entered the competition, which was founded at University of Queensland, and is now in its third year at Rochester. Eight made it to the finals.

Parker Riley, a PhD student in computer science, received the second-place prize of $500 for his presentation, “Can a computer learn to translate without being taught?”

(Click here to read Ramos’s presentation in full.)

Study examines long-term effects of pregnancy

With a five-year, $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Medical Center researchers will conduct a longitudinal study that extends from early pregnancy until three years postpartum to better understand how metabolic changes of pregnancy may persist and contribute to an increased risk for later disease.

Susan Groth, associate professor of nursing, is the lead researcher among three principal investigators, who also include Thomas O’Connor, professor of psychiatry, and Emily Barrett, associate professor at Rutgers University School of Public Health and adjunct professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Rochester.

The research leverages and capitalizes on an infrastructure already in place for an ongoing cohort of pregnant mothers. Examining the mother for an extended time is an innovative approach to gaining a better understanding of the physiological effects of pregnancy, both in the crucial period covered, as well as the length of time studied.

“What’s also unique about this research is we’re not just collecting weight and height,” says Groth, whose previous research focused on the long-term effects of weight gain among pregnant women on both mother and children. “Our study assesses weight gain and weight changes, but also moves beyond that to study more targeted physical measures such as body composition, as well as multiple biological markers throughout the study.”

Read more here.

Even after testicular cancer is cured, side effects are possible

Because testicular cancer has a 95 percent cure rate, it is easier for men to move on and forget about it. But new research in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows that it’s prudent for patients to stay in touch with their medical team as they age and to be aware of treatment toxicities.

The main worry is not a return of cancer, but side effects from platinum-based chemotherapy (cisplatin, for example), which is associated with health problems that can creep up years later, including heart disease, hearing loss, pain, neuropathy, and erectile dysfunction.

“Some men are in their mid-20s when they undergo treatment and they may have 50 or more years of life, and you want that to be a high-quality life,” says Chunkit Fung, a study coauthor and oncologist at the Wilmot Cancer Institute who treats people with genitourinary cancers (testicular, prostate, bladder, and kidney). “Screening and treating some of these long-term toxicities such as hypertension and heart disease, early on, is important.”

The research shows that late-onset side effects can occur in clusters, such as erectile dysfunction paired with thyroid disease, or as different types of cardiovascular problems like coronary artery disease, vessel damage, and obesity, says first author Sarah Kerns, an assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology and a Wilmot investigator.

The study involved more than 1,200 testicular cancer survivors who were treated with chemotherapy. Scientists evaluated the cumulative burden of diseases following treatment and found the most common negative health outcomes were obesity, sensory neuropathy, ringing in the ears, and hearing damage. Only about 5 percent of patients had no negative health effects, and 76 percent had a low-to-medium burden of side effects. About 19 percent had a high-to-severe disease burden.

The research further suggests that vigorous exercise might be protective for the one in five testicular cancer survivors who suffered from the more severe side effects, Kerns says. She and Fung are involved in a pilot study at Wilmot testing the feasibility of exercise to reduce the side effects associated with testicular cancer chemotherapy.

PI oversight: Is informed consent properly documented?

(This is part of a monthly series to help principal investigators understand their role in ensuring that human subject protection requirements are met in their studies.)

Department of Health and Human Service and Food and Drug Administration regulations (45 CFR 46; 21 CFR 56) define specific criteria that human subject research must meet in order for an Institutional Review Board (IRB) to approve the research.  A critical, yet often overlooked step in the protocol development process is to objectively evaluate study protocols against these criteria prior to IRB submission.  Doing so will help facilitate IRB review of the proposal, with the intent of minimizing IRB stipulations.

Over the upcoming months, as part the “PI Oversight Tip of the Month” series, each criterion for IRB approval will be reviewed. This month we will look at approval criteria  No. 5: Is “informed consent appropriately documented?”

In evaluating this criterion, the IRB will consider:

  • How will consent be documented? Will subjects sign and date a consent form?  Will the person obtaining consent sign and date the consent form?
  • Will a copy of the signed consent be provided to the subject?
  • If a witness signature is included on the consent form, does the protocol: a) provide rationale; b) define who may act as a witness; and c) clarify when/if a witness is required?
  • If a waiver of documentation of consent is requested, what is the rationale for doing so and have applicable regulatory requirements been met?

Stay tuned for criteria No. 6, “when appropriate, the research plan makes adequate provision for monitoring the data,” which will be highlighted next month.  For previously highlighted criteria, see the 11/10/2017, 1/5/2018, 2/9/2018, and 3/23/2018 editions of Research Connections.

Center for Visual Science convenes AR/VR researchers for symposium

“Frontiers in Virtual Reality,” the 31st Center for Visual Science Symposium, will bring together leaders in vision, neuroscience, multisensory research, optics, computer science, and clinical applications whose work connects to new developments in virtual and augmented reality.

The symposium, organized by Duje Tadin and Edmund Lalor of the University and Gabriel Diaz of Rochester institute of Technology, will be held June 1 to 3 at the Memorial Art Gallery.

Opening keynotes will be given by Martin Banks, University of California, Berkeley, and Barry Silverstein of Oculus VR. Seventeen other speakers have been invited. Click here for a list of speakers, and details about registration.

Applications accepted for community health mini-grants

The Center for Community Health and Prevention is accepting applications for Community Health Mini-Grants to be awarded in June.

The competitive grant program began in 2009 in response to faculty and staff surveys focused on addressing barriers to pursuing community health partnerships.

Applications are welcome from the Medical Center and community partners.

The deadline is noon on Monday, May 14. Application directions for the grant can be found here. Contact Gail Hamilton via email or at 224-3062 for additional information.

Mark your calendar

April 20 (today): Center for Integrated Research Computing (CIRC) symposium. 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Gavett 206. Adam Sefkow from the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) and the Department of Mechanical Engineering will highlight his work on fusion experiments and comparisons with computational models. Chapin Cavender from the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics will discuss computational models of RNA in solution.

April 20 (today)-21: UpStat 2018: Better Living Through Statistics conference. A friendly and empowering annual gathering of statisticians, applied mathematicians, computer scientists, engineers, and data scientists from upstate New York and its neighboring regions. We are interested in contributions to statistical methodology as well as to statistical practice, consulting, and education. Read more.

April 28: All In: When Theory Meets Practice in Education Reform. Symposium sponsored by the Warner School Center for Urban Education Success (CUES). 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., East High School. Free and open to the public. Read more here.

April 30: Deadline to submit pre-proposals for University Technology Development Fund awards. Submit to More information can be found at

April 30: “Zionism: Conflicting Dreams.” Public lecture by Israeli author Amos Oz, the inaugural Farash Fellow for the Advancement of Jewish Humanities and Culture. 5 p.m., Hawkins Carlson Room at Rush Rhees Library. The lecture will be followed by a reception in the Humanities Center. Presented by the Farash Foundation, the Humanities Center, and the Center for Jewish Studies. For more information, contact Jennie Gilardoni.

May 14: Deadline to apply for Community Health Mini-Grants from the Center for Community Health and Prevention. Applications are welcome from the Medical Center and community partners. Application directions can be found here. Contact Gail Hamilton via email or at 224-3062 for additional information.

May 15: Respiratory Pathogens Research Center Scientific Symposium. Featured speakers, lectures by RPRC investigators, poster session. Lunch and refreshments provided. 7:45 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Saunders Research Building. Registration is free, but pre-registration is required by April 27 at

May 17: “Ever Better Teams: A CTSI Team Science Summit.” Interactive symposium featuring keynote presentation by Gaetano “Guy” Lotrecchiano, an associate professor of clinical research and leadership at The George Washington University, and breakout sessions for networking and dialogue on the future of team science at URMC. 1 to 5 p.m. Hosted by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Contact Oksana Babiy with questions.

June 1-3: “Frontiers in Virtual Reality,” the 31st Center for Visual Science Symposium. Memorial Art Gallery. Click here for a list of speakers, and details about registration.

June 2: “An ‘Un-Meeting’: Addressing the Opioid Crisis through Translational Science.” 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saunders Research Building Atrium. Hosted by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Center for Leading Innovation and Collaboration. There is no cost to attend. Register here by Wednesday, May 23.

Please send suggestions and comments to Bob Marcotte. You can see back issues of Research Connections on the Newsletters website.

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Rochester Connections is a weekly e-newsletter all faculty, scientists, post docs and graduate students engaged in research at the University of Rochester. You are receiving this e-newsletter because you are a member of the Rochester community with an interest in research topics.