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Dec. 9, 2016 - USA Basic Medical Science Students Defend Doctoral Dissertations

thesis.jpgBrandon D’Arcy and Tiffany Norton, two students from the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Basic Medical Sciences at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, recently defended their doctoral dissertations.

Norton described a potentially fatal fungus in humans in her dissertation that was titled “Prenylation Pathways Mediate Growth, Development, Thermotolerance, and Virulence in Aspergillus fumigatus.” Her research showed that mislocalizing proteins by stopping the addition of hydrophobic molecules impairs the ability of the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus to develop and grow properly at human body temperature. Norton hopes that her work as a researcher will lead to the development of new antifungal drugs, as fungal infections can be difficult to diagnose and treat.

Brandon D’Arcy studied whether human cells could be engineered to degrade excess cholesterol in his dissertation, “Enabling Cholesterol Catabolism in Human Cells." His research identified unique, cellular forms of treatment for familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), a genetic disease characterized by high levels of cholesterol. D’Arcy hopes that his research will allow for more effective treatment for those who suffer from FH, as the disease can be difficult to treat due to the variations in genetic defects found in those with FH. “My dissertation impacts both USA and the medical community by demonstrating that an outside-the-box style of research still has a strong place in basic research,” D’Arcy said.

Both researchers look forward to their futures in using research to combat serious medical conditions.

“I am generally interested in studies that investigate disease processes in the human body (infectious or non-infectious) or development of treatments,” Norton said. She is currently pursuing a position as a postdoctoral research fellow in gynecological oncology at the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute, and she hopes to stay as close to lab work as possible throughout her career.

D’Arcy is joining Dr. Aishwarya Prakash at the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute as a postdoctoral fellow. “Dr. Prakash is leading MCI’s new structural biology lab, where we will study key enzymes involved in cancer progression and their underlying molecular mechanisms,” D'Arcy said.

Both Norton and D’Arcy are grateful for the time they spent working and learning in the labs of the basic medical sciences Ph.D. program at USA.

“I am greatly indebted to the USA College of Medicine, Dr. Mark Taylor and the Basic Medical Sciences Ph.D. Program. I would also like to thank Dr. David Wood and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and my research advisor, Dr. Jarrod Fortwendel, for investing in me as a student and developing me as a researcher,” Norton said. “This phase of my training has been a very invigorating and enjoyable experience, and I would recommend the program to others who might be interested in medical research.”

“I would like to thank the University of South Alabama and the Basic Medical Sciences program for providing the environment and opportunity for students to reach their fullest potential,” D’Arcy said. “I would also like to thank my mentor, Dr. Richard Honkanen, who has instilled in me that one’s limitations are only defined by themselves.”

For more information about the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Basic Medical Sciences, click here

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