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Dec. 7, 2016 - 10th Annual COM Research Forum Winners Announced

2016RFW-1.jpgDr. Nathaniel Holton (left), and Ed Crockett recently were recognized with awards for the research they presented at the USA College of Medicine's 10th annual Research Forum.

The University of South Alabama College of Medicine hosted its 10th annual Research Forum on Nov. 4, 2016. Travel awards recently were presented to Ed Crockett and Dr. Nathaniel Holton for their extensive research.

Forum organizer Dr. Donna Cioffi, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at USA, said excitement filled the air at the forum. “This year, the number of presentations was just a few less than last year, but the overall turnout was our biggest yet,” she said. The forum consisted of two sessions - the morning session was comprised of nine oral presentations, and the afternoon session included 55 poster presentations.

Ed Crockett, a basic medical science graduate student, won a $1,000 travel award for best overall graduate student presentation. He was recognized for his poster presentation titled “Thermal Imaging: Advancing Burn-Wound Analysis by Infrared Imaging.” He chose to do his research in the department of pharmacology in the lab of Dr. Wiltz Wagner, with assistance from Dr. Jon Simmons, assistant professor of surgery at the USA College of Medicine.

According to Crockett, it is important to use infrared thermal imaging as a method to assess the severity of burn depth because the information will help determine if the viable tissue will heal on its own or require grafting. The thermal imaging sensor used for his research is small, plugs into an Android cell phone and operates using a free app.

Crockett said using infrared thermal imaging to detect skin surface temperature provides physicians with information that is otherwise unavailable in visible light, allowing them to see heat that is undetectable to the naked eye. “Visible light is detectable with the naked eye between 400 and 700 nano-meters,” Crockett said. “Heat emission and light emission are closely linked, so the hotter the object, the shorter its wavelength of emitted light.”

Crockett believes this technique for assessing burn depth will remove the subjective assessment which is only 50 percent accurate on the first day. “Our technique can increase the first-day accuracy and reduce the pain and suffering days sooner if a graft is required,” he said.

Crockett said the forum provides a great opportunity for students. “Participating in this research forum is an excellent opportunity for young scientists to gain experience discussing their research with a broad audience,” he said. “Since it is a local event, we are able to practice our presentations with people we know in a relaxed atmosphere before taking them to national conferences.”

The post-doctorate award was presented to Dr. Nathanial Holton for his research project titled “Application of Laser Micro-Irradiation for Examination of Single and Double Strand Break Repair in Cells.” Dr. Holton performed his research at the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute in the lab of Dr. Natalie Gassman, assistant professor of oncologic sciences.

According to Dr. Holton, although molecular biology techniques have helped clarify the structure, enzymatic functions and kinetics of a large number of DNA repair proteins, there is still a need to understand how repair proteins interact and coordinate repair within the constraints of the nucleus. He found laser micro-irradiation to be a powerful tool for studying DNA damage repair response.

Dr. Holton’s research demonstrates the power of laser micro-irradiation to examine repair of single and double strand breaks in cells. Using lasers, he created a very small spot of DNA damage within the nucleus of the cell and studied the recruitment of DNA repair proteins to that spot of laser damage. His research describes how to properly calibrate and control the applied laser power to induce specific damage mixtures, providing methods for performing laser micro-irradiation data acquisition and analysis.

Dr. Holton believes it is beneficial for students to participate in the Research Forum because it is a great place to introduce themselves to the research community, helping build a professional network.

“The connections that are made during some of these meetings can be critically important for future career development,” he said.

To learn more about participating in the annual College of Medicine Research Forum, contact Dr. Cioffi at

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