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January 4, 2018 - 11th Annual COM Research Forum Winners Announced

research%20forum.JPGThe University of South Alabama College of Medicine hosted its 11th annual Research Forum on Nov. 17, 2017. First place winners Alexander Richard and Dr. Ningyong Xu were presented travel awards for their extensive research.

“Although the forum was slightly smaller than previous years, I think this year was the most exciting yet,” said Dr. Donna Cioffi, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the USA College of Medicine. The forum consisted of two sessions - the morning session was comprised of nine oral presentations, and the afternoon session included 42 poster presentations.

Alexander Richard, a basic medical science graduate student, won a $1,000 travel award for best overall graduate student presentation. His research was performed in oncologic sciences in the lab of Dr. Erin Ahn, associate professor of oncologic sciences at USA Mitchell Cancer Institute. He was also assisted by Dr. Gary Piazza, leader of Cancer Chemoprevention and Experimental Therapeutics Programs at USA Mitchell Cancer Institute and Dr. Hamdy Abdel-Rahman, professor of medicinal chemistry at Assuit University in Assuit, Egypt.

According to Richard, leukemic cells have the ability to remain in their immature, undifferentiated form and proliferate uncontrollably due to their atypical gene expression pattern. His project involves the synthesis of a novel drug that is designed to increase cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), a signaling molecule that regulates cell procreation and differentiation. The results that Richard and his team presented show that the drug is more effective in causing cell death and differentiation of leukemic cells compared to other related, currently existing drugs.

Richard said his research has the potential to introduce a novel drug that is effective in treating different subtypes of acute myeloid leukemia and provide a deeper understanding of molecular mechanisms that are important in leukemia progression.

“Although the initial results seem exciting, it is critical for us to demonstrate the drug’s specific mechanism of action in leukemic cells,” Richard said.

Richard believes it is important for graduate students to be involved in the Research Forum because the attendees often provide unexpected questions and feedback from a different perspective.

“The Research Forum trains us to present our work to people from other research fields in a professional yet relatable way,” Richard said.

The post-doctorate award was presented to Dr. Ningyong Xu.

Dr. Xu is currently studying whether reducing the coordination of intercellular contractile forces could be a potential therapeutic target to treat or prevent interendothelial gap formation and lung edema.

Dr. Xu said the Research Forum gave her the opportunity to hear from other researcher’s work, as well as to become more thorough in her own. “I further understood my data by interacting with the audience and answering questions," she said. "It made me identify a problem previously that had not been thought.”

“By listening to others' oral presentations and reading the abstract booklet, I got the chance to know others' on-going projects, which will benefit my knowledge background,” she said.

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

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