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Fall 2023 Research and Creative Fair Participants

This bi-annual event, held during the Spring and Fall semesters, is hosted by the Office of the Provost in collaboration with the Student Success Hub, and is open to the public. 

The Fair is open to all undergraduates, including those engaged in study within the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, STEM, and Health Sciences. While poster presentations are most common, projects presented in formats other than a poster will be considered. Please indicate in your submission how the project will be displayed. All titles and abstracts are subject to review by the Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression Fair organizers. Due to limited space, the results of this review and the timing of project submission will be considered in placement decisions. Student authors will be notified by October 3rd whether their abstracts have been selected for presentation.

Note: students can receive Outside the Classroom Curriculum (OCC) credit for attending this event.

Use the menu below to view the the Fall 2023 semester's proposals!

Abigail Sites - Poster Board 1

Worry and its Effect on the Development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

TRIO McNair Scholar

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lauren Hallion

Worry is a normal facet of the human mind until it becomes persistent and disruptive in one’s daily life. When worry is characterized by excessive and persistent, creating discomfort and dysfunction for the individual it is then defined as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Worry, however, is linked to another cognitive process, rumination. Furthermore, rumination is linked to the development and persistence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Michael et al., 2007). Excessive worriers and those with anxiety disorders tend to ruminate about traumatic experiences negatively, creating more instances of abnormal affect or cognition (Spinhoven et al., 2015). Consequently, excessive worry or rumination are risk factors for the development of post-traumatic stress after exposure to a traumatic experience. In other words, the development of post-traumatic stress disorder is facilitated by rumination and mediated by trauma exposure. 

Advika Ventrapragada - Poster Board 2

Metaphorical Use of Headache and Migraine in Media: A Cross-Sectional Study of 1.3 Million Articles in the Newsrooms of Major Publications.

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Pengfei Zhang

Objective: Stigmatization and trivialization of headache confront individuals with headache disorders, but the degree to which media may contribute is incompletely understood. The objective was to quantify the frequency of disparaging metaphorical use of the words ‘headache’ and ‘migraine’ in articles and summaries of major publications.

Methods: This cross-sectional study analyzed a data set of 1.3 million articles and summaries written by authors and editors in the newsrooms of 38 major publications. Data cover written publications from 1998 to 2017. The use of the words ‘headache’ or ‘migraine’ in articles and summaries by major publications was rated by two authors (P.Z. and A.V.) as either ‘metaphorical’ or ‘medical’ based on their contextual application. Secondary outcomes were source of publication and time of publication.

Results: 6195 and 740 articles included the words ‘headache’ or ‘migraine’ respectively; 7100 sentences contained the word ‘headache’ and 1652 sentences contained the word ‘migraine’. Among a random sample of 1000 sentences with the word ‘headache’, there was a metaphorical use in 492 (49.2% [95% CI, 46.1-52.3]) of sentences. Among a random sample of 1000 sentences with the word ‘migraine’, there was a metaphorical use in 45 (4.5% [95% CI, 3.2-5.8]) of sentences. The five most prevalent sources were CNN, Fox News, New York Times, The Guardian, and The Washington Post. There was an overall increase in number of articles containing the words ‘headache’ or ‘migraine’ from database inception until analysis (1998 to 2017). There was a higher metaphorical use of ‘headache’ in comparison to ‘migraine’ (p < 0.00001).

Conclusions: In this cross-sectional study, major media applied a metaphorical use of ‘headache’ about half of the time. The metaphorical use of ‘headache’ is 11-fold greater than the metaphorical use of ‘migraine’ in the same media sample. These depictions may contribute to trivialization of headache and stigmatization of individuals with headache disorders. Studies with individuals affected by headache disorders are needed to clarify potential influences.

Albert Wu - Poster Board 3

Studying mice performing decision-making tasks

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

TRIO McNair Scholar

Faculty Mentor: Caroline Runyan

Develop a new behavioral task in virtual reality that requires mice to switch between using visual and auditory cues to solve the task.  The student researcher will run behavioral training sessions in a cohort of mice, to help determine the best training strategy for mice to learn this task. 

Alyssa J Scott - Poster Board 4

To what extent have studies demonstrated the efficacy of psychedelics as a treatment for depression and anxiety, and what are the potential mechanisms underlying their therapeutic effects?

College of General Studies

TRIO McNair Scholar

Faculty Mentor: Carl Sell

Analyzing existing clinical trials and research examining the use of psychedelics in the treatment of depression and anxiety in a systematic and thorough approach. To find patterns and differences in treatment outcomes across various psychedelics, doses, and therapeutic settings. To investigate the neural and psychological mechanisms associated with psychedelic usage 

Angeline Pho - Poster Board 5

Exploring Techno-Social Change Agency (TSCA) and Co-Creation through Design of Culturally-Responsive Computing Camp

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

TRIO McNair Scholar

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Angela Stewart

As technology continues to intertwine itself in everyday life, particularly through the rise of generative AI, there has been more concern towards adequate representation of all communities in these spaces. A particularly important population to consider involves young BIPOC girls since existing technologies have historically excluded them. Techno-social change agency (TSCA) refers to a “culturally responsive approach that engages girls as… individuals who and challenge dominant narratives and construct more liberating identities and social relations as they create new technologies”. The camp, hosted at a local middle school, serves as a case study in cultivating TSCA. Aspects of TSCA were emphasized through the camp, specifically through the curriculum and the dialogue design of the social robots. 

Anjali Rabindran - Poster Board 6

Understanding the Predisposition to Dental Cavities Using Mouse Models of Genetic Diseases

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Dobrawa Napierala

For many people, the presence of dental cavities can be primarily attributed to behavioral reasons, such as a high sugar diet, poor oral hygiene, or insufficient exposure to fluorine. However, in some instances, people do exhibit an unusually high number of cavities despite proper care and availability of resources. Improper development of dental tissues, such as the development of mineralized tissues, may account for this perplexity as it could create a defective, less sound internal structure from the onset of life. These developmental issues may be genetic, as is the case with people suffering from Trichorhinophalangeal syndrome (TRPS), an inherited condition that results from a mutation in the TRPS1 gene. Dental abnormalities resulting from TRPS include an abnormally high number of cavities, as well as unusually small, improperly aligned, and extra teeth. Symptoms are not only restricted to dental malformations but manifest throughout the body, including limited hair growth on the scalp, a round nose, and irregularities of the skeletal system, which is the focus of this study. This variety of symptoms might be explained by the expression of the TRPS1 gene as a transcription factor. In other words, the TRPS1 protein can turn on and off the expression of other genes, affecting several proteins and mechanisms.

This project studies if deletion of the TRPS1 gene in dental tissue affects active mineralization of these bone structures, using mice as a model organism. The objective is to learn more about how developmental issues can lead to an alternative bone remodeling process, and their governing mechanisms. The hypothesis for the current project is that deletion of the TRPS1 gene in dentin of mice will lead to a decrease in mineral density, resulting in less active bone formation. Specifically, deleting TRPS1 from osteoblasts leads to defects in chondrocyte development, overall affecting the proliferation/apoptosis ratio in chondrocytes.

To answer the proposed question, mice teeth with the TRPS1 gene conditionally knocked out (cKO) were compared to a control group of wildtype mice (WT or normal). Using the Cre-Lox cKO system in this study, TRPS1 was specifically deleted from cells making dentin tissue, odontoblasts, just before dentin formation begins by use of the chemical activator tamoxifen. The degree of mineralization was studied by conducting various histological analyses of the femur and tibia of mice samples. These stainings, including Hematoxylin and Eosin and Toluidine Blue, are standard for dental research because they provide important information about the pattern, shape, and structure of different types of cells in a tissue sample. Overall, the epiphyseal plate was smaller in thickness in Trps1Col1a1cKO mice as compared to the wild type. Trps1Col1a1cKO mice also had more organized columns of hypertrophic chondrocytes compared to wild type mice. The transition between the proliferative chondrocytes and hypertrophic chondrocytes was more abrupt in Trps1Col1a1cKO mice, with less cells present collectively in between the two regions. Analyzing immunohistochemical slides, proteins such as Osteocalcin were quantified. In Trps1Col1a1cKO mice, there was a downregulation of Osteocalcin in the proliferative chondrocytes. Due to the presence of less Osteocalcin in Trps1Col1a1cKO mice, there was less overall bone formation.

From the study, it was determined that TRPS1 deficiency impairs thickness and height of the epiphyseal plate. TRPS1 deficiency results in reduced bone formation, with abnormalities in the architecture of the hypertrophic chondrocytes. A decreased concentration of osteocalcin in the proliferating chondrocytes suggests impaired differentiation, proliferation, and bone growth. Considering all of this, there is a clear sense of impaired cell signaling in Trps1Col1a1cKO deficient mice.

Anna Gillen - Poster Board 7

Understanding the Neurological Basis of Externalizing Behaviors During Adolescence

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Finn Calabro

Neuroscience research has allowed for an increased understanding of the underlying biochemical mechanisms of psychopathology. However, little is known about the neural basis of externalizing behaviors, which include aggressive behavior, rule-breaking behavior, intrusiveness, as well as aspects of anxiety and depression. These behaviors are significant because they can be symptoms of mood, behavioral, or learning disorders such as Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Adolescence is a critical time for the onset and diagnosis of these symptoms, which is why it is important to consider an adolescent population when analyzing data. This study uses a combination of 7 Tesla Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopic Imaging data, as well as data from Adult Self-Report (ASR) and Youth Self-Report (YSR) questionnaires from a healthy population. Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopic Imaging is a noninvasive method used to measure metabolites in the brain. The biochemical composition of these metabolites can be identified from the MRSI signals and can tell us what amounts of neurotransmitters and other metabolites are present in different areas of the brain. By applying knowledge about the role of these metabolites, and changes in concentration of these metabolites in brain regions of varying function, we can see whether patterns are correlated with changes in behavior. We hypothesized that an increase in externalizing behaviors in adolescence can be associated with an increase or decrease in metabolite levels through adolescence. Our findings provided evidence for a decrease in N-acetylaspartate (B = -0.047, p = 0.0228*) in the ACC, and a negative correlation trending towards significance for glutathione in the ACC (B = 0.13032, p=0.0838) through adolescence, but no significant change in externalizing behaviors through adolescence. We found a significant negative correlation between myoinositol in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex with externalizing behaviors (B = -0.1069, p = 0.0382). Data analysis also showed a significant positive correlation trending towards significance between N-acetylaspartate in the medial prefrontal cortex with externalizing behaviors (B = -0.06354, p = 0.0861). Additionally, we found a positive correlation trending towards significance between glutathione in the medial prefrontal cortex (B = -0.07864, p = 0.0908) and a significant positive correlation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex with externalizing symptoms (B = 0.003337, p = 0.05*). These results support that metabolite levels in the brain have age-related changes and could play a role in the presentation of externalizing behaviors. 

xxx - Poster Board 8


Austin Zeng - Poster Board 9

Sociology of Health and Fitness: On Risk and Rituals in U.S. Popular Culture

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Jonathan Zisook

The following research investigates the informal discourses and behavioral dispositions (i.e., moods and motivations) of non-intellectual public lay groups in light of intersecting sociological theories concerning secular division, disenchantment, and risk in the modern world. This article proposes a methodology that, in general, seeks to qualitatively assess the emergent commercialization of neoliberal rhetoric in systematic relation to personal narratives and trending practices of self-help, self-care, and self-work in U.S. popular culture. The presented effect of this intersection includes a descriptive study and analysis of autobiographical accounts and insights drawn from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with individual ‘body-builders’ alongside empirically-oriented, projective social theories supported by previous studies in existing literature as well as my own participant observations. By using a qualitative approach, the objective of this study, in particular, is to solicit the insights needed from everyday practitioners in order to create a comprehensive conceptual-emotional framework on which the relative ideational and behavioral features of body-building practices can be grounded. The findings of this article thereby suggest that the motivational, emotional, behavioral, and psychological concomitants underlying the public and popular upsurges in certain cultural beliefs, practices, and movements may also bear striking implications for the precarious conditions, signs, and effects which characterize our present reality in the modern age.

Celeste Lintz - Poster Board 10

Generation of Fat-Cartilage Microphysiological Model as a New Tool to Study Obesity-Associated Osteoarthritis

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Hang Lin

Afflicting over 500 million patients worldwide, osteoarthritis (OA) is a physically and mentally debilitating disease that alters joint pathology [1]. Despite societal prevalence, direct causation is unknown, and there is no disease modifying osteoarthritis drugs (DMOADs) reaching FDA approval. 

One of the main risk factors of OA is obesity, and with the current obesity epidemic, there is interest in how these two comorbidities relate [2]. It has been recognized that obesity is a systemic disease impacted by adipose tissue malfunction. Namely, pro-inflammatory adipokines are secreted from obese adipose tissue into the bloodstream and nearby tissues, resulting in global chronic, low-grade inflammation [3]. The correlation between obesity and OA was originally perceived as due to increased mechanical loading; however, the pro-inflammatory adipokines secreted from hypertrophic adipose tissues are also seen in osteoarthritic joints, suggesting a biochemical correlation [3-5].  Therefore, there is an experimental need to study how obese adipose tissues impact the joint microenvironment to increase the risk of OA.

To overcome the limitations of current in vitro and animal models in simulating OA, our lab has recently developed a multicomponent microphysiological system (MPS) that utilizes human bone mesenchymal stem cells (hBMSCs) to create joint tissues (miniJoint) [6].  Herein, we report modification of the miniJoint to establish a fat-cartilage MPS that focuses on the direct effect of obese-like adipose tissues on cartilage. The objective is to utilize this modified microphysiological model to define the biochemical correlation between obesity and OA and to test for potential therapeutics. 

Materials & Methods:
Differentiate hBMSCs into adipose and cartilage within an MPS system: 
The process of creating fat-cartilage MPS was modified from the previous methods in generating miniJoint [6]. Briefly, hBMSCs (P5) were encapsulated in 15% methacrylated gelatin (GelMA) and photocrosslinked within resin inserts. Inserts were placed within dual-flow bioreactors supplemented with differentiation mediums. 6 sets of adipogenic and 6 sets of cartilage bioreactors were established. After a 28-day differentiation process, Luminex and ELISA were employed to analyze tissue phenotypes. 

Assemble fat-cartilage MPS: 
After differentiation, the bottom flows of an adipose and cartilage bioreactor were connected to establish a fat-cartilage MPS. 3 fat-cartilage MPSs were established. In the bottom flow of each MPS, a common medium simulating “synovial fluid” was pushed from the adipose bioreactor to the cartilage to allow for tissue crosstalk. 1 of the MPSs was supplemented with adipogenic medium, while the other 2 contained adipogenic medium with sodium palmitate to induce obese-like changes in fat [7, 8]. 

Test potential drug in fat-cartilage MPS: 
After 28 days, Urolithin A (UA), a natural metabolite previously shown as a promising therapeutic agent in OA treatment, was supplemented to the chondrogenic, adipogenic, and synovial-like fluids of one of the obese fat-cartilage MPSs for 7 days [9, 10]. The medium will not be changed for the other MPSs. All groups were then collected and analyzed. 

Following analysis via histology, real time quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR), and Luminex assays, each fat-cartilage MPS group displayed distinct phenotypes based on treatment. 

Comparing the adipose tissue (AD) of the groups treated with sodium palmitate to the AD of the control group, AD exposed to sodium palmitate displayed obese-like changes. Oil Red O staining increased lipid droplet diameter as well as increase lipid droplet amount, indicating hypertrophy and hyperplasia, respectively.  RT-qPCR analysis revealed a significant influence on leptin between the control adipose and obese-like adipose samples. Leptin, the master regulator of energy expenditure signaling in white fat, has recently been shown to play a critical role in the linkage between obesity and osteoarthritis [11]. Leptin increase is a major indicator of the creation of obese-like AD. There were also distinct markers of adipose dysfunction, including increased adipsin, PPARγ, and TNF-α expression and decreased adipsin expression. 

Cartilage exposed to this obese-like tissue showed changes like those seen in OA, such as an increase in articular cartilage degradation markers (MMP13, ADAMTS4, and ADAMTS5) and pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α). We saw a decrease in aggrecan, indicating an unhealthy cartilage extracellular matrix. 

Additionally, treating the AD with experimental therapeutics will prevent the presentation of an obese-like phenotype, displaying levels like those without sodium palmitate exposure. This then limited the effects on the cartilage tissue unit, lowering the presentation of OA markers seen in the group solely treated with sodium palmitate. 

With the successful formation of an adipose-cartilage model, we can confirm the biochemical correlations between obesity and osteoarthritis. Specifically, we can find the biochemical pathways mediating this correlation, elucidating potential pathways to alleviate symptoms of obesity-associated OA. In the future, the bidirectionality between the obese adipose and the cartilage can be established, to see whether this causes further adipose and cartilage dysfunctions. Additionally, the creation of an obese adipose-cartilage MPS creates a robust tool to screen drugs to treat these comorbidities, as seen with the treatment of Urolithin A. The potential to target adipose specifically to reverse an osteoarthritic phenotype within cartilage can be a revolutionary tool in combating obesity-associated OA.

This work was carried out with the support and resources at the Lin Laboratory within the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh. This work was funded by the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering Summer Undergraduate Research Internship and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Danielle Tseng - Poster Board 11

From Animals to Humans: Niko Tinbergen’s Venture into Autism Research and Implications for Present-Day Understandings of Ethology

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kevin Kohl

Nikolaas Tinbergen was a Dutch-born, Nobel Prize-winning animal behaviorist considered one of the founders of modern ethology. Best known for his “Four Questions”, an extant framework for analyzing animal behavior, Tinbergen made a drastic shift to childhood autism research in the last decade of his life. The guiding question for my research was thus: what motivated Tinbergen so late in his career to bridge the purported animal-human divide? In neither of the book-length biographies recounting the scientist’s career and life is there a clear explanation of what led to his pivot from animals to humans. The autism research cannot be dismissed so offhandedly despite the extensive backlash it received; nor did Tinbergen want it to be taken lightly, if the dedication of his Nobel Peace Prize speech to this work was any indication. Through my investigation of this question, I conducted archivally based primary source research, historical contextualization with secondary sources, and parallel assessment with cross-referenced figures. In my thesis, I argue historical events, coupled with personal turmoil, instilled in Tinbergen a deep-seated discontent with the state of his world. He channeled this discontent into attempting to cure childhood autism—a condition he considered a direct manifestation of a world in disarray. I anticipate my project will help elucidate how to contextualize the work of scientists and bridge an interdisciplinary gap between science and history. I believe scientific disciplines more informed by the humanities would make for more empathetic and cognizant scientists and professionals.

Dylan LeCroy - Poster Board 12

Development of Local Connectivity During Adolescence

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Jamie Hanson, PhD

Adolescence is a distinct developmental period characterized by changes in many domains, including maturation of structural and functional brain organization. Functional connectivity measures acquired from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans conducted at rest can illuminate the configuration of neural circuitry and how it changes developmentally. In the current study, we apply a novel measure of local connectivity to investigate the nature of adolescent age-related changes in short-range functional connections.

Local functional connectivity was measured via regional homogeneity (ReHo) on 7T rs-fMRI scans of 162 participants (85 female, 77 male) between the ages of 10 and 31. A gray-matter mask was applied to the fMRI scans, and ReHo values were calculated in each participants’ native space at every voxel with respect to its neighboring 7, 19, and 27 voxels. ReHo maps were then spatially normalized to standard template space and whole-brain average ReHo values were calculated across gray matter regions.

Participant whole-brain mean ReHo values decreased as neighborhood size expanded. Significant age-related decreases in ReHo were found at all neighborhood sizes, even when controlling for head motion. Interestingly, the strength of age-related change also depended on neighborhood size.

Results indicate that human brains may become less locally connected during adolescent neurodevelopment, potentially contributing to increased functional efficiency of the brain. This may reflect changes in brain structure during this period such as synaptic pruning or increases in intracortical myelination which change the functional properties of cortical circuitry. Further study is necessary to explore implications of regional differences in the patterns of change in adolescent local connectivity and how these changes might relate to corresponding maturation of cognitive functioning.

Eduardo Zarate Martinez - Poster Board 13

Amplifying the Antigenic Landscape of Type 1 Diabetes 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Alok Joglekar 

The progressive destruction of pancreatic islet b-cells in Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is aided by autoreactive CD4+ T-cells. However, the exact antigens T-cells recognize during loss of self-tolerance are mostly undefined which can be attributed to the technical limitations of current methods. We utilize signaling and antigen-presenting bifunctional receptors (SABRs), to define the antigenic landscape of islet-infiltrating T-cells. SABRs are peptide-MHC complexes capable of presenting a library of up to 100,000 epitopes with detectable downstream signaling domains as an indication of T-cell receptor (TCR) engagement with a cognate epitope. This TCR directed pipeline has proved to be an efficient method for antigen discovery. We hypothesize that we can amplify our output utilizing TCR similarity metrics to identify novel TCRs that share specificities. To test this we identified various islet infiltrating TCRs taken from the pancreatic islets of non-obese diabetic mice using RNAseq. Furthermore, we have identified clusters of these TCRs utilizing various computational algorithms (CoNGA, tcrdist, GLIPH2). These programs have provided us with TCR analogs that we then paired with the corresponding epitope of the primary TCR. The TCR analogs recognized the expected cognate epitopes, allowing us to supplement the data recovered from a single sequenced TCR. Utilizing these computational methods allows us to elucidate the specificity rules and breadth of TCRs that can play a role in the loss of tolerance in T1D, thus amplifying our efforts to define the antigenic landscape.

Elizabeth Giordano - Poster Board 14

The Acute Effects of Vinyasa Yoga on Mood and Anxiety in Adults with Insomnia Symptoms 

School of Education

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Christopher Kline

Sleep is a vital aspect of health, however, poor and/or insufficient sleep may lead to negative health consequences. Yoga has shown to positively impact health, including mental health. Vinyasa yoga (VY), a form of yoga that connects breath with movement through various poses and sequences. However, it is unclear how VY may impact mental health in adults with insomnia symptoms.

PURPOSE: To examine the acute effects of a single session of VY on mood and anxiety symptoms in adults with mild-to-severe insomnia symptoms.

METHODS: 33 adults with self-reported insomnia symptoms (Insomnia Severity Index =15. ±3.9; 84.8% females; White =78.8%; body mass index =28.9±7.2 kg/m2; age=34.9±10.6y) were randomized in either a 60-minute VY (n=17) or control ([CON] n=±16) condition. The VY completed a supervised 60-min pre-recorded yoga sequence that utilized the Journey into Power sequence by Baron Baptiste. CON completed a seated 60-min quiet rest period that included watching a nature documentary. Mental health was assessed using validated questionnaires (i.e., Profile Mood of States Short Form [POMS], State Trait Anxiety Inventory [STAI]) that were administered pre- and post-experimental sessions. The POMS total mood disturbance (TMD) was calculated by summing the total sub-scales scores for tension, anger, fatigue, depression, and confusion and subtracting the sub-scales scores for vigor and esteem-related affect; constant of 100 was added to the TMD with higher scores indicating greater mood disturbances. The STAI scores were summed for a total that ranged from 20-80; higher scores indicating greater symptoms of anxiety. Linear mixed models with unstructured covariances were used to determine the change from pre- to post-experimental session between groups.

RESULTS: Baseline POMS TMD (106.18±4.86 and 106.25±5.01) and STAI (43.29±1.34 and 40.19±1.39) for VY and CON, respectfully. Post experimental session POMS TMD (101.82±4.79 and 96.06±4.93) and STAI (43.77±1.52 and 40.56±1.56) for VY and CON, respectfully. There were no significant changes in POMS TMD or STAI scores from pre- to post-experimental session between VY and CON (TMD: F(1,31)=1.97, p=0.17; STAI: F(1,31)=0.003, p=0.96). Sub-scales showed significant main effects for time (each p<0.02); indicating lower scores post-experimental session for tension, fatigue, anger, depression, and confusion.

CONCLUSION: A single session of VY did not significantly improve mood or anxiety symptoms for the VY compared to the CON. Additionally, mood and anxiety symptoms were not amplified following a single bout of VY.

SIGNIFICANCE/NOVELTY: To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine a single session of VY on mental health effects in a sample of adults who self-report insomnia symptoms. Insomnia is the most prevalent sleep disorder, therefore investigating therapies to improve the negative mental health consequences, are urgently needed.

Elizabeth Haudrich - Poster Board 15

Evidence for a Diathesis Stress Model of Trauma and Sleep Dysfunction in Youth at Familial High-Risk for Schizophrenia

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Leslie Horton

Background: The current literature suggests that exposure to trauma, sleep disturbances, and high stress levels are prevalent in those diagnosed with schizophrenia; however, few studies have assessed these three risk factors in youth at familial high-risk (FHR) for schizophrenia. Additionally, no known studies have considered the possible interaction between trauma exposure and sleep disturbances on daily stress, which could further contribute to the development of psychosis.

Methods: The current study examined the day-to-day relationships between traumatic experiences, nightly sleep duration, and momentary stress in 19 FHR and 19 control youth (ages 13-19 years). The Childhood Traumatic Events Scale (CTES) and Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) were used to assess these variables across three longitudinal timepoints (baseline, 6-month, and 12-month follow-up).

Results: Multilevel analyses revealed that FHR youth reported increased trauma severity, more trauma incidence, and fewer hours of nightly sleep compared to healthy controls. Increased trauma severity and incidence as well as reduced nightly sleep duration were significantly associated with higher levels of momentary stress. FHR status significantly moderated the relationships between the trauma variables and momentary stress. Both trauma variables were significant moderators of the relationship between nightly sleep duration and momentary stress; however, FHR status did not significantly moderate either of these interactions.

Conclusion: Findings of the independent and interplaying effects of traumatic experiences and nightly sleep on momentary stress in FHR youth suggest that healthy sleep mechanisms involved in stress reduction may be impaired in FHR youth and those with a history of severe traumatic experiences. These findings provide an important framework for future studies and preventative treatments aiming to identity and minimize the risk factors contributing to the pathology of schizophrenia.

Elizabeth Rubin - Poster Board 16

Ratio of TGFb1:TGFb3 Modulates Fibrosis Development of Human Corneal Stromal Keratocytes and Stromal Fibroblasts

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Gary Yam

In the cornea, fibrosis occurs after injury or infection, leading to opacities and scarring. An estimated 4.2 million people are blind due to corneal opacities. The onset of fibrosis is marked by the transition of quiescent corneal stromal keratocytes (CSK) to repair-type proliferative stromal fibroblasts (SF). Some SF further differentiate into myofibroblasts (MyoF) which overproduce extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins that deposit in a disorganized manner, resulting in increased light scattering and scar formation, hence blocking our vision.  In mammalian tissues, the TGFb family contains key regulators of fibrosis, mechanistically acting through the canonical TGFb/Smad and non-Smad signaling pathways. TGFb1 (Tb1) mediates tissue fibrosis, whereas TGFb3 (Tb3) acts with anti-fibrotic effects and assists tissue regeneration. We hypothesize that a varying Tb1:Tb3 ratio in human CSK and SF will modulate the onset and progression of fibrosis. To test this hypothesis, the physiological decay of Tb1 and Tb3 was first measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA), and a precise in vitro culture system of CSK and SF was developed with 1:10, 1:1, and 10:1 Tb1:Tb3 ratios. We anticipate that the Tb1:Tb3 10:1 ratio will promote fibrosis, whereas a Tb1:Tb3 1:10 ratio will reduce or eliminate the process of fibrosis. The relatively higher Tb3:Tb1 ratio may re-route the native corneal wound response to a fibrosis reducing pathway, achieving scar-free healing of the cornea. My study employed the measurement of cell polarity changes, immunofluorescence, and RT-qPCR of typical fibrosis markers to study the effects of a varying Tb1:Tb3 ratio on human CSK and SF. From our preliminary study measuring RNA and protein expression, we observed that the Tb1:Tb3 ratio at 1:1 downregulated cellular fibrosis. Our result suggests that corneal stromal cell fibrosis could be modulated by specific expression ratios of Tb1 and Tb3. This could potentially allow us to control corneal wound healing through modulating the Tb1:Tb3 ratio. 

Elizabeth Rutenberg - Poster Board 17

Perspectives on emotion dysregulation intervention and service needs from autistic adolescents

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kelly Beck

Background: Autistic people are seven times more likely to have emotion dysregulation, than neurotypical peers across the lifespan. Emotion dysregulation is thought to underlie co-occurring mental health conditions and is common among autistic adolescents. In autistic adolescents, it is associated with worse social outcomes. This transitional developmental period is particularly difficult for autistic adolescents. Yet, community mental health therapists report that they lack interventions to use with autistic adolescents experiencing emotion dysregulation. The evidence-based interventions that do exist were tested in controlled research laboratories and were not tailored for real life community mental health care.

Objective statement: This project aims to understand (1) prior experiences of mental health care and (2) preferences for emotion dysregulation intervention.

Methods: Eight autistic adolescents aged 14-19 (4 male, 1 female, 3 non-conforming/non-binary; 25% multiracial, 12.5% Asian, 62.5% non-Hispanic White) completed a 60-minute semi-structured interview. Participants were asked to share stories of recent instances of emotion dysregulation and share emotion dysregulation intervention recommendations. Interviews were transcribed and a grounded theory analytic approach was used for coding and thematic analyses. Four coders, including two autistic adults, generated the initial codebook using a consensus approach. The finalized set of codes was grouped into themes and subthemes. Authors discussed and refined themes until consensus was reached. Autistic adults were involved in all aspects of this project.

Results: Thematic analyses indicate that emotion dysregulation is an important focus for intervention. Specifically, participants mentioned the need to better accept and understand their emotions and the role of sensory sensitivities in their emotion dysregulation. Fifty percent of participants reported having sensory sensitives, with three participants indicating that sensory overload was indistinguishable from emotion dysregulation. Two participants specifically noted that focusing on sensory triggers and overload is needed in emotion dysregulation intervention. Most participants (75%) identified having a trusted person to talk to as a critical facilitator to helpful mental health care. Half of participants felt negatively about peer involvement and 63% noted a preference for individual over group therapy. Preferences for parent involvement in intervention sessions was mixed, with half not wanting parents in therapy, three neutral, and only one preferring parent involvement.

Conclusions: Emotion dysregulation is an important focus for mental health care among autistic adolescents. However, more research is needed to understand and address the role of sensory sensitivities in emotion dysregulation. Current intervention options do not simultaneously address sensory overload and emotion dysregulation together, as that is often siloed into other service delivery systems such as occupational and physical therapy. Service developers and researchers should also consider adolescent preferences on therapy modality (individual over group) and involvement of parents or other support people. This project highlights the need for affirming and trusting therapeutic relationships in mental health care for autistic adolescents.

Emily Wallace - Poster Board 18

Acid Mine Drainage 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

TRIO McNair Scholar

Faculty Mentor: Patrick Shirley 

This presentation will be regarding the ongoing issues caused by Acid Mine Drainage. Pennsylvania’s economic history plays a key role in this issue as numerous underground mines led to the highly acidic waters we see today. The University of Pittsburgh’s department of Geology and Environmental Science has been working to asses how the area has been affected and will keep being affected so that proper remediation can take place. 

Eshan Aravind - Poster Board 19

Mechanisms for VGLUT-Mediated Protection of Dopamine Neurons from Neurodegeneration Between Sexes

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Zachary Freyberg

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is an age-related neurodegenerative disorder which represents one of the fastest growing neurologic diseases today. An aging population and the by-products of industrialization have fueled a significant rise in the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease, making it important to both develop a better understanding of the illness and more effective treatments.  Parkinson’s disease targets dopamine neurons and increasing work from our lab and others shows that the vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (VGLUT2) is a neuroprotective factor for dopamine neurons. Importantly, VGLUT2’s neuroprotective properties are conserved across species from flies to mice to humans. However, the mechanisms for this neuroprotection remain unclear. 
As a first step in better understanding VGLUT2’s roles specifically in dopamine neurons, we aimed to selectively target VGLUT2+ dopamine neurons in a mammalian brain using intersectional genetics. To do so, we relied on the new INTRSECT2.0 system which can selectively label multiple subpopulations of cells in the same brain. Using INTRSECT2.0, we succeeded in labeling VGLUT2+ dopamine neurons alongside dopamine neurons that do not express VGLUT2 within the mouse midbrain. We then established an imaging and computational workflow to clear, image, and analyze the INTRSECT2.0 brains to create the first comprehensive map of midbrain VGLUT2-expressing dopamine neurons and their projections throughout a whole mouse brain. These brains were imaged via high-speed ribbon scanning confocal microscopy. Machine learning models were then trained to identify neuron soma and projections throughout the brain. Together, this work provides important new details of the anatomy of VGLUT2+ dopamine/glutamate co-releasing neurons. Just as importantly, this work establishes new approaches for highly detailed imaging and mapping of multiple neuronal populations of cells in the same brain.

Evan Sun - Poster Board 20

Fruit Fly Pigmentation

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Mark Rebeiz

Over 100 years ago, Thomas H. Morgan, a biologist at the University of Columbia, discovered an exceedingly rare white-eyed fly among their thousands of specimens. This event sparked modern genetics, and the fruit fly is still at the heart of it all. The fly species most commonly involved in research, Drosophila melanogaster, has a unique abdomen color pattern. Males have dark pigmentation at the rear end which shifts to lighter pigmentation nearer the middle. This color variation is the result of a plethora of well-studied genes, including a gene called ebony. It is known that ebony is not expressed uniformly throughout the abdomen; in fact, its activity correlates with the unique coloring of D. melanogaster. Therefore, mechanisms exist which act to switch ebony on in some parts of the abdomen and turn it off in other sections. This on/off switch is encoded by regulatory sequences of DNA. 

Central question: How are regulators encoded into the genome so that every male fly exhibits this species-defining pattern?

Current knowledge about ebony’s regulators is limited to a general understanding of what they accomplish. I seek to draw the picture with more clarity, detailing where they are and learning how they work. To this end, I am using a transgenic reporter assay, which allows me to map these regulatory sequences with precision. The data I gather will be images of fruit fly abdomens, which will lead to conclusions about mechanisms of gene regulators and contribute another building block to our knowledge about genomes.

Gavin Schmidt - Poster Board 21

Fusions involving the Thyroglobulin Gene as a Novel Mechanism of Thyroid Carcinogenesis

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Alyaksandr Nikitski

Thyroid cancer (TC) is a common endocrine malignancy, yet its molecular mechanisms are not fully understood. Approximately 15-20% of TC are driven by gene fusions, which activate oncogenes through aberrant expression of their functional domains, through ligand-independent dimerization, or through loss of inhibitory motifs. Using RNA-Seq analysis of TC negative for known driver mutations, we identified 11 cases of fusions involving the thyroglobulin (TG) gene. TG encodes the main precursor to thyroid hormones and is expressed at a very high level in thyroid follicular cells. To date, TG has not been implicated in TC. The aim of this study was to characterize TG-fusion-positive thyroid tumors and to determine if TG-fusions represent a novel mechanism of oncogene activation. RNA-Seq analysis showed that fusion with TG resulted in a >100-fold increase in expression of the 3’ partner genes. Based on the type of 3’ partner, all discovered TG-fusions could be assigned to one of three groups: (i) receptor tyrosine-kinases (RTK), including four TG(ex47)-FGFR1(ex3), three TG(ex47)-RET(ex11) and one TG(ex1)-NTRK1(ex9); (ii) IGF2-mRNA-binding proteins, with one TG(ex1)-IGF2BP1(ex2); (iii) driving aberrant expression of chromosome 19 microRNA cluster, including TG(ex15)-DPRX(5'UTR) and TG(ex35)-DPRX(5'UTR). Out of eleven TG-fusion-positive thyroid nodules, seven were surgically resected. Histopathological analysis revealed TC in 71% (5/7) and NIFTP in 29% (2/7) of cases. Using immunohistochemistry and western blot, we confirmed the expression of TG-FGFR1 and TG-IGF2BP1 and the activation of MAPK signaling in the fusion-positive tumor samples. To functionally characterize the most prevalent category of TG-fusions, HEK293 and thyroid HTORI-3 cells were transfected with HA-tagged TG-NTRK1, which showed membranous and intracellular/endosomal localization in both cell lines. Using HEK293 cells stably expressing TG-NTRK1, we found ligand-independent homodimerization and phosphorylation of the fusion protein. In these cells, western blot and phospho-RTK assays revealed that TG-NTRK1 induced MAPK and STAT3 signaling as well as the phosphorylation of MET, JAK2, EphA1/2/10, HER4, and ALK. Treatment of TG-NTRK1-expressing HEK293 cells with the NTRK-specific inhibitor Larotrectinib for 72 hours showed a dose-dependent decrease in the phosphorylation of TG-NTRK1, MET, STAT3, and ERK.

In summary, we report that fusions involving thyroglobulin occur in TC, lead to strong overexpression of the 3’ partner genes, activate RTKs and downstream signaling pathways, and thus may represent a novel oncogenic event in TC. Inhibition of TG-NTRK1 by Larotrectinib and the resultant decrease in MAPK, MET, and JAK-STAT3 activation indicates that TG-RTK fusions may serve as a potential therapeutic target for a subset of TC.

Geetika Godavarthy - Poster Board 22

Geospatial Analysis of Bd Load on Panamanian Amphibians

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Corinne Richards-Zawacki

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is a fungal pathogen responsible for the emerging disease Chytridiomycosis, which has led to catastrophic declines in amphibian populations all over the world. Bd prevalence (or load) is dependent on a number of factors including species, environmental conditions, and length of coexistence. Though previous studies have shown that higher elevation and proximity to bodies of water leads to higher Bd load, the results of this study indicated that higher Bd loads were influenced by lower elevations and close proximity to water. Methods to demonstrate this included Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR), which was used to quantify Bd load on Panamanian amphibians, and then mapping results using GIS to interpolate known data points. Looking forward, increasing data on the effects of elevation and proximity to water on Bd load, will further accuracy of the results. 

Gnanesh Gutta - Poster Board 23


Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Karl Herrup

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is an aging-related disease with the disease’s risk and the accumulation of unrepaired DNA damage increasing with age. The increased accumulation of this genomic damage leads to increased pressure to re-enter a cell cycle and the expression of senescence markers. Cellular senescence is a phenomenon seen in cells that results in a state of permanent arrest in cell growth and division as a protective mechanism from external stressors. Through fluorescent staining techniques for amyloid-β, cellular senescence markers, and DNA damage in human post-mortem brain samples, a natural gradient of DNA damage in the cortical layers is present in unaffected control brains. The neurons with DNA damage in these samples increase in density with increasing distance from the pial surface. Alzheimer’s Disease brains showed a similar pattern with an overlaid substantial increase in DNA damage in the more superficial cortical layers as well. In the AD brains, the differential distribution of DNA damage is correlated with the spatial distribution of amyloid plaques in the layers, with varying locations by brain region. The spatial distribution of senescence markers was common through the cortical layers in both control and AD brains, but their subcellular localization changed. For instance, unaffected control brains displayed neurons with nuclear p16 localization, but AD cases showed this p16 staining shifting to a more cytoplasmic yet perinuclear staining pattern. Although senescence markers occurred without DNA damage being present, it appears that senescence markers were most present in neurons with DNA damage. Such correlation suggests a relation between the two processes, which lead way for in vitro studies to more rigorously determine whether this pathway is a causal relationship or not.

Heather Diegert - Poster Board 24

Understanding How Different Datasets Influence The Robustness of Neural Networks

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Garrison

Deep learning has become an integral part of various fields and applications due to its remarkable ability to handle complex data. However, its widespread use presents security risks, notably with adversarial examples, which can lead to unpredictable model behavior. Previous studies highlight the importance of unbiased neural networks, which balance shape and texture considerations. These neural networks are significantly more robust. This research aims to expand on previous work to observe how different datasets influence these neural networks' performance against diverse adversarial attacks. 

Ian Neumaier - Poster Board 25

Law School Communication Dynamics: Critical Communications During Periods of Risk May Impact Student Resilience and Engagement

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

TRIO McNair Scholar

Faculty Mentor: Ann Sinsheimer, Pitt Law; Wesley Hiers, Dietrich ; Omid Fotuhi, Principal 

How do critical communications, like those conveying information about academic risk, influence student resilience, engagement, and perceptions of belonging?  
Communications related to school policy may impact students from different groups in important ways, sometimes failing by themselves to allow for the policies to have the intended outcomes. School communications during moments of risk stand to have the greatest impact on students, especially for historically marginalized groups. Critical to developing messaging and policy that have a positive impact is to take a student-informed approach to understanding how students perceive the policies, and the communications used to implement those policies.  In this project, we’ve developed a program that aims to place the student perspective at the heart of policy design with a focus on communications regarding academic standards.

Ilana Kersh - Poster Board 26

An investigation of comorbidities: an analysis of symptoms, quality of life, and poor health outcomes in patients with knee osteoarthritis and hypertension 

School of Public Health

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Elizabeth Schlenk 

Approximately a quarter of the United States adult population is estimated to have at least one comorbidity (Boersma et al., 2020). Defined as the combination of two or more chronic illnesses, comorbidities are associated with poor health outcomes, more difficulty managing illness, and more costly and timely methods of care (Valderas et al., 2009). Thus, the goal of the proposed study is to examine individuals with comorbidities to better understand how comorbidities affect health-related quality of life (HRQoL). Through the means of HRQoL and comorbidity questionnaires, a literature review and a table of studies, statistical analyses, and a correlational descriptive design, this proposed study will allow me to describe the impact of comorbidities on HRQoL, describe symptoms and their correlation to HRQoL, and identify the most debilitating chronic illnesses to anticipate in a population of older adults. Thus far, I have conducted a literature review and filled out a table studies, which is a milestone in this research project. I am recently been granted IRB approval, and am beginning to analyze my dataset. 

Isabella Florian - Poster Board 27

Integration proficient vector-mediated resident prophage curing of Mycobacterium abscessus

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Graham Hatfull

Bacteriophage therapy offers a potential course of treatment alternative to antibiotics for multi-drug resistant M. abscessus infections. Even among genetically similar M. abscessus strains, phage susceptibility greatly varies. Therefore, finding phage that infects M. abscessus is imperative for the advancement of phage therapy. M. abscessus genomes commonly carry one or more resident prophages. Engineered lytic-derivatives of lytically-propagated spontaneously-induced prophages (LPSIPs) expand the repertoire of therapeutically-useful phages. M. abscessus strain GD123 finds relevance as a potential host on which we might cultivate and harvest LPSIPs in a high-throughput manner. However, GD123 carries two resident prophages – prophiGD123-1 (MabB) and prophiGD123-2 (MabC) – and prophage release interferes with the purity of phage preparations for patient use. Prophage-derived integration proficient vectors can select for cells cured of their resident prophages by integrating at attB sites in the bacterial chromosome where resident prophages – since spontaneously released – once occupied. Integration proficient vector pIF34 was constructed containing the integration cassette from prophiGD12-2 (MabD) to integrate at M. abscessus attB-10 which prophiGD123-2 occupies in GD123. Transformation of pIF34 into GD123 permitted the selection of cells cured of prophiGD123-2. GD123 ∆prophiGD123-2 pIF34 maintains the same LPSIP susceptibility profile as GD123, suggesting integration proficient vector-mediated curing is a viable means to obtain a GD123 strain free of resident prophages.

Janvi Patel - Poster Board 28

Cognitive Function and Quality of Life in Patients with Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor Treated with Imatinib Mesylate: A Longitudinal Case Study

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Robert J. Ferguson

Cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI) is well-documented among survivors of many cancers and involves impairments in memory, processing speed, and executive functioning.  CRCI can disrupt quality of life and occupational and social functioning. Patients with gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), who are commonly treated with tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs; e.g., imatinib mesylate or Gleevec) also experience CRCI. Previous research by our group (Cancer 2022; 128:4017-4026) found a majority of GIST patients reported cognitive symptoms (64%) with a negative quality of life impact, which was worse for longer-term survivors and presumably associated with long-term TKI therapy. We present changes in cognitive function and quality of life over a period of 9 months in a newly diagnosed GIST patient after starting imatinib therapy. After baseline assessment, standardized telephone-based neuropsychological tests were administered every 3 months along with online administration of validated patient-reported outcome (PRO) measures of perceived cognitive impairments, fatigue, mood, anxiety, pain, and quality of life. Patient alertness, medication use, alcohol consumption, and caffeine intake were recorded at each timepoint, and demographic information was gathered during baseline assessment. The patient reported an initial improvement in cognitive function from 0 months to 3 months followed by a clinically significant decline in cognitive symptoms and impact on quality of life from the 3-month to 9-month assessment. A lack of improvement in neuropsychological test scores from the first to last session demonstrates an absence of practice effect with repeat administration consistent with increasingly impaired cognition as reported for other cancer populations with CRCI. To our knowledge, this case study represents the first longitudinal neurocognitive testing in GIST patients initiating TKI therapy and is consistent with our previous cross-sectional observational study. More research is needed using longitudinal neuropsychological testing and PROs to better characterize long-term CRCI among patients with GIST and improve clinical survivorship care.

Jessica Knapp - Poster Board 29

Functional Characterization of Genes that Drive Hepatoblastoma

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Edward Prochownik

Hepatoblastoma (HB) is the most common form of childhood liver cancer and advanced HB is associated with poor survival. The Prochownik laboratory has recently studied two genes, β-catenin (B) and YAP (Y), which are recurrently mutated in about 50% of HBs, deregulating the Hippo tumor suppressor pathway. A third transcription factor, NFE2L2 (N), has recently been identified as also recurrently mutated in HBs. When B, Y, and N are expressed in any pair-wise combination, it can induce HB in mice, with the combination of all three mutants (B+Y+N) being particularly potent with tumors appearing in 100% of mice within 2-3 weeks. Of the >6000 genes that are differentially expressed in HB versus normal liver, 22 of them, designated “BYN Genes”, are always dysregulated in the same direction in all murine HBs, regardless of growth rate, oncogenic stimulus, or genetic background. We hypothesize that BYN genes are necessary and sufficient to drive HBs, independent of β-catenin, YAP, and NFE2L2. To achieve a better understanding of BYN genes’ roles, we can deregulate them in murine HBs either by over-expressing using “Sleeping Beauty” vectors, or by knocking them out using Crispr/Cas9 vectors. We hypothesize that deliberately altering the expression of these 22 BYN genes will alter HB initiation, growth rates, appearance, or other properties. This could identify novel genes that drive the initiation and/or growth of HBs and potentially identify new therapeutic targets. One such BYN gene is Tgfα (transforming growth factor – α). Tgfα is an EGFR ligand over-expressed in metastatic hepatocarcinoma (HCC) whose transgenic over-expression, either alone or cooperatively with Myc accelerates HCC tumorigenesis. TGFα is over-expressed in the crowded fetal subtype of HB and is a major transcriptional target of HBx, the hepatitis B viral-encoded oncoprotein that drives HCC. Because most BYN genes encode enzymes or extracellular proteins (like Tgfα does), they are more likely to be better therapeutic targets than are B, Y and N proteins themselves and thus are likely to reveal new approaches to HB treatment.

Jiaan Xie - Poster Board 30

Damage Induced Cytoplamic DNA Accumulation with Implications in Alzheimer’s Disease

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Karl Herrup

Along with aging comes the accumulation of DNA damage in cells by the decreasing efficiency of the repair mechanism. DNA fragments resulting from DNA damage would leak into the cytoplasm and trigger inflammatory responses of cells in the CNS that lead to neuronal death, especially when the DNA fragments leakage is predominantly from mitochondria DNA which is of a bacterial origin. Microglia are more sensitive to environmental stressors such as oxidative stress that primarily cause damage mitochondrial membrane. Our overall objective is to unravel whether the increased levels of mitochondrial damage under oxidative stress trigger inflammatory response in microglia and how the increased level of DNA damage in microglia relates to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease.

Jon Parikh - Poster Board 31

Pro Wrestling, Sports Entertainment, and Semi-Nude Combat

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Christopher Maverick

Over the past several decades increasing academic attention has been paid to various forms of pop culture and so-called “low art” that were previously believed to be pointless to study or even harmful to consume, including professional wrestling. Aside from outlining how professional wrestling can be analyzed and what makes the medium unique from other forms of sport and theater, this paper seeks to evaluate the changing role live audiences have in the diegesis of professional wrestling. 

Unlike in most other forms of entertainment, the pro wrestling audience directly and immediately impacts the story and action of the in-ring performance while also being a part of the overall diegesis by collectively participating in the creation of kayfabe with the producers, wrestlers, etc. Kayfabe is an integral part of what makes wrestling a distinct medium, and it functions not so much as a suspension of disbelief as a false reality agreed upon by a community who work to behave and actively believe in this made-up, collaborative reality. From the close analysis of wrestling feuds, crowd reactions, and existing professional wrestling literature (largely from a theater studies perspective) this study argues that audience participation in kayfabe is a key element in, bizarrely enough, making pro wrestling more “real,” and, by extension, more emotionally engaging. It is necessary to recognize both the value within pop culture and “low” art and the agency of the general audience which is often handwaved as mindless consumers taking without question what producers put in front of them. Even if the culture as a whole does not care about the effects of certain cultural products, the people who consume those products do care. Audiences in general, but especially professional wrestling fans, impact the art that they are consuming and change it to fit their tastes and sensibilities, whether that art is designed for popular consumption or not.

Jovan Corrales - Poster Board 32

Mindfulness, Resources, and Academic Threat in Introductory Physics

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

TRIO McNair Scholar

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Timothy Nokes Malach

This study investigated psychological threat in students taking introductory physics courses and sought to find out if the use of a mindfulness intervention could provide an additional resource to reduce feelings of psychological threat. The sampled population used for the study were Introductory Physics students. The survey included both multiple choice and open-ended questions, the former were compiled for statistical analysis, while the latter is turned into quantitative data via a rubric to then undergo statistical analysis. Much of this research is still ongoing and the subject of an ongoing undergrad thesis about the correlation between psychological threat and other factors measured by the survey, such as student resources, proactive mindset, and motivation, meaning that definitive results are not possible and are still undergoing analysis. This project is more of a presentation on what has been done so far and where it might go.

Kailey Go - Poster Board 33

Empowerment through technology: A systematic evaluation of the content and quality of mobile applications to empower individuals with cancer

College of General Studies

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Teresa Thomas

Objective: Greater emphasis on patient empowerment has led to a plethora of mobile health applications aimed at empowering patients with cancer. However, the rigor and evidence of these apps are rarely acknowledged. This systematic review of patient empowerment apps describes the characteristics, quality, heuristics, and evidence supporting these apps. 

Materials and Methods: We identified commercially available apps through the Apple and Google Play stores using patient- and research-derived conceptualizations of patient empowerment. Three authors used the Mobile App Rating Scale, heuristics, readability, user ratings, and evidence to evaluate the apps’ foci, features, and quality. App characteristics were summarized with descriptive analyses.

Results: Twelve apps met the eligibility criteria and were analyzed. Apps’ content focused on enhancing communication skills (n=10, 83.3%), social support (n=8, 66.7%), information about cancer and treatment (n=8, 66.7%), and peer-to-peer support (n=5, 41.7%). The mean objective (3.9±0.5 out of 5) and subjective (3.7±1.0 out of 5) quality scores were moderate to high. Most heuristics were not violated, and the mean reading level was 10th grade, which is above the recommended 8th grade level. Four apps had been evaluated in published research articles. 

Discussion: The contents of patient empowerment apps varied greatly, and the readability was exclusionary to the average reader. 

Conclusion: Patient empowerment apps should be more rigorously designed and tested to ensure the apps are usable and beneficial to diverse groups of cancer survivors.

Kaylee Samuel - Poster Board 34

Sex differences in microglia in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex of postmortem humans

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

TRIO McNair Scholar

Faculty Mentor: Marianne Seney

In addition to being the resident macrophages of the brain, microglia participate in elimination and formation of synapses on pyramidal neurons. 
Various stimuli, including infection, trauma, or altered neuronal activity, induce changes in microglia shape, gene expression, and function. 

Evidence in rodents suggests sex differences in microglia as well as dendritic spines/synapses. 

Whether similar differences exist in the human brain has not been fully studied, especially with consideration of whether there are correlations between microglia reactivity and dendritic spine density within the same subjects. 

Here, we simultaneously assessed dendritic spine density and microglia morphology in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC)and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) of human subjects unaffected by psychiatric or neurological disorders.

Krutarth Parmar - Poster Board 35

Genetics of A strain mice

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Rebecca Green

Cleft lip is a birth defect which results in a range of defects in the hard palate and the upper lip. The goal of this project is to identify the genes which contribute to cleft lip phenotype in the A-strain mouse lines. These mice have a 5% to 25% likelihood of displaying the phenotypes of cleft lip disease depending on their lineage. Identifying the location of this gene will help us understand which genes are responsible for the phenotypes. Locating the gene in mice will help us understand the genotype of humans which are born with cleft lip disease. To begin, we remove embryos from mice which are between 10 to 11.5 days old and store them in a PAX gene tissue system. We then stain the embryos with iodine solution to let iodine ions diffract the X-ray waves in micro-CT scans. We then separate the lower body from the upper. Additionally, three cuts are made in the head to separate the brain, maxillary, and frontonasal portion of the head. We use the PAX gene RNA kit to extract the RNA, which helps us understand the gene expression. The DNA extraction helps us to understand the location of DNA methylation in the sequence. Combining the data, we can use the correlation to locate the phenotypic gene. We also manually record the number of bumps on the lower body of the embryo. Our goal is to further improve the RNA extraction techniques by changing experimental methods. We will continue to enhance the micro CT scanning and limit the damage done to embryos during transfer.

Lillian Taylor - Poster Board 36

Climate Interpretation and the Reimagining of Pirates in Colonial New England

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Molly Warsh

During the seventeenth century, many regions in the North Atlantic from Europe to New England faced the coldest and most severe weather of the Little Ice Age. While increases in scapegoating and state breakdown during the seventeenth century have been studied in the context of climate anxiety, no studies have considered how New England colonists’ interpretations of climate influenced their perceptions of pirates during this period. My research involves a literature review of works in early modern Atlantic history focusing on environmental governance or piracy and a close reading of personal writings, newsletters, sermons, and official complaints that include references to both English pirates and interpretations of climate or extreme weather. I argue that interpretations of weather as signs from God influenced the ways New England Puritans justified their support, and later persecution, of English mariners who committed piracy. Colonial leaders used the harsh and unknown climate of New England in the early seventeenth century, as well as the “providential” occurrence and timing of winds at sea, to justify their support of piracy committed against Spanish merchants and their consumption of pirated goods. Similarly, peccatogenic interpretations of natural disasters in the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries like the Great Storm of 1703 were used to reconstruct the idea of piracy as immoral in English communities. By bringing environmental and pirate history together, I show the role environmental conditions played in the ways British colonial and imperial officials communicated their attitudes about piracy, both for and against.

Madeline Wolfe - Poster Board 37

Tackling the major Epstein-Barr virus oncoprotein, LMP1: Strategies to Encourage Knock-in using CRISPR/Cas9

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kathy Shair

Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) is a DNA tumor virus with known associations to many cancers such as gastric carcinoma, Burkitt lymphoma, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). NPC is a rare tumor of the nasopharynx endemic to Southeast Asia, and nearly 98% of global NPC cases (78,100 in 80,000) are EBV-associated. To understand why only some individuals with EBV develop NPC, we study the principal EBV oncoprotein, latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1). LMP1 is an essential virulence factor which contributes to virus reactivation and immortalization of the host B cell. LMP1 can be classified phylogenetically into 7 strains, of which China 1 and China 2 are most common in NPC tumor cells. Thus, LMP1 genetic variation may be a potential risk factor for EBV derived NPC. To mimic LMP1 variation in the lab, we will knock-in different strains of EBV using CRISPR/Cas9. In general, knock-in using CRISPR is efficient on the order of ~0.1%. EBV is even more challenging to edit given that it exists as episomes up to 50-100 copies per cell. To maximize the potential for a knock-in event, we have generated an EBV deletion mutant, ΔLMP1. Following knock-out and subsequent clone isolation, we deprived cells of G418 to reduce the number of EBV copies per cell. The first transfection strategy we tested for knock-in is electroporation with ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complexes that couple the Cas9 protein with a specific guide RNA. The second involves transfection of an all-in-one plasmid including the Cas9 and both guide RNAs, coupled with different drugs to encourage accurate knock-in. We find that both methods are equally efficient in knocking-in small amounts of foreign DNA. Upon confirmation of the best knock-in method, we will be able to knock-in and analyze all the EBV strains in the context of viral reactivation.

Mason Lower - Poster Board 38

Circulating Nutrients and Brain Age in Midlife Adults

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Peter Gianaros

Objective: Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and related dementias are major public health concerns, with prevalence rates expected to rise as the population ages. Emerging research supports the possibility that β-carotene and related nutrients may relate to brain and neurocognitive aging, as well as risk for some dementias. Here, we tested whether a brain imaging biomarker termed “Brain Age” is associated with circulating levels of β-carotene, as well as retinol, γ-tocopherol, ⍺-tocopherol, and β-cryptoxanthin in otherwise healthy adults.  “Brain Age” indicates the difference between a person’s actual chronological age and their predicted age based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measurements of brain tissue. Larger positive and negative differences between predicted and actual age are interpreted to reflect whether the brain is exhibiting signs of premature or delayed brain tissue aging, respectively. Methods: 118 adults (70 men and 48 women, aged 30.4 to 50.8 years) from the Pittsburgh Imaging Project (PIP) underwent a structural 3T MRI protocol and fasting phlebotomy to assess plasma concentrations of β-carotene, retinol, γ-tocopherol, ⍺-tocopherol, and β-cryptoxanthin. Results: Hierarchical multiple regression analysis demonstrated that higher levels of β-carotene correlated negatively with Brain Age, suggesting delayed brain tissue aging (β = -0.27, t = 3.18, p = 0.002). Circulating levels of other nutrients did not exhibit statistical associations with Brain Age when included in the same regression model, and findings were independent of sex at birth, smoking status, MRI image quality, chronological age, season of MRI testing, annual income, and years of education. Conclusions: These cross-sectional findings may indicate that β-carotene could exhibit neuroprotective effects; however, prospective and intervention studies are needed to test this possibility.

Matthew Hickey - Poster Board 39

The Epic of Manas and Perceived History

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. James Pickett

My research focuses on the Epic of Manas, an oral tradition and Epic Poem from Kyrgyzstan telling the tale of their heroic communal ancestor, Manas. The Epic of Manas is central to the Kyrgyz ethnic and national identity and is to the Kyrgyz what the Odyssey and Iliad were to the ancient Greeks. It is practiced in Kyrgyzstan and Western China and was extensity studied during the Soviet Era. This has led to variations in traditions, overlapping spheres of influence, and competing claims of historical connections and legitimacy.
My work hopes to establish how, through English, German, and Russian-language translations and commentaries and English-language papers, links have been created between Epic Lore (the mytho-historical plot of the Epic of Manas) and perceived history for specific audiences in a manner which promotes Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Republic of Kyrgyzstan, and People’s Republic of China state interests. This builds upon research I did in my 2021 Capstone project with Dr. Erlacher, research under Dr. James Pickett, Kyrgyzstan in 2022 and work with the Undergraduate Humanities Center Fellowship.

Matthew Hornak - Poster Board 40

Understanding the Societal Perceptions of Social Assistance Programs and Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro in Mexico

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Scott Morgenstern

Mexico has pioneered approaches to poverty alleviation for the past three decades. This study seeks to assess efforts by the Mexican federal government in mitigating past issues of corruption and clientelism within the administration of social assistance programs, and how these perceptions affect trust among specifically the Jóvenes Constuyendo el Futuro (JCF) program. By utilizing opinion surveys of college students – a core constituency targeted by the JCF program – in Valladolid, Mexico, supplemental interviews of beneficiaries and bureaucrats, and a list experiment embedded within the surveys, this study sought to determine the prevalence of negative perceptions of the welfare regime in Mexico and the perceptions surrounding the JCF program. This study finds that perceptions of clientelism still exist but are not concentrated within historically underserved communities and do not manifest in general malice toward the social assistance system as a whole. While this study does not touch on the economic effectiveness of Mexican welfare programs or the JCF program in particular, it does conclude that popular acceptance of the welfare system is not complete.

Maya Jones - Poster Board 41

Research, Design, and Construction of an 18th Century Versailles Court Gown

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Karen Gilmer

Versailles is synonymous with extravagance and excess, especially in the period Marie-Antoinette reigned. She is especially notorious for the huge sum she spent on her wardrobe. For this project, I took a deep dive into the court fashions of Versailles in the 18th century, drawing from paintings, fashion plates, extent garments, and historical patterns to design and construct my own court-appropriate gown. In the process, I also researched how the end of the sumptuary laws, the birth of fashion magazines, and the competitive silk industry contributed to the creation of the fashion industry as we know it today, complete with fast-fashion trends and a thriving second-hand clothing industry. This research informed the decisions I made in creating the dress, deepening my understanding of the trends of the period in order to be able to create something historically accurate while being a totally new design.

Michael Keller - Poster Board 42

Loss of neuronal MD-1 leads to increased Ly6G mRNA expression in an imiquimod model of psoriasis

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Zuzana Swigonova

Introduction – The immune response to a cutaneous inflammatory challenge requires the interaction of many cell types, which include immune cells, keratinocytes and sensory neurons. While the role of peptidergic sensory afferents, those that release neuropeptides, i.e., CGRP and Substance P, has been well studied, the role of nonpeptidergic sensory afferents, which contain a limited quantity of neuropeptides, remains elusive. In a recent study, nonpeptidergic neurons that express Mrgprd receptors have recently been shown to suppress mast cell activation, suggesting an immune suppressor function. Transcriptomic studies of sensory neurons have shown that myeloid differentiation 1, MD-1, a molecule associated with the innate immune response, is produced almost exclusively by Mrgprd-expressing sensory neurons. Studies of MD-1 have demonstrated that decreased MD-1 mRNA expression is associated with proinflammatory disorders such as lupus and obesity, suggesting an anti-inflammatory function. Interestingly, neuronal MD-1 expression increases robustly in the presence of neurturin, a member of the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor family. Neurturin supports nonpeptidergic neuron development and function and is implicated in the skin pathogenesis observed in the inflammatory murine imiquimod model of psoriasis. Therefore, this model was selected to investigate the role of neuronally expressed MD-1 in the cutaneous immune response. 

Hypothesis – The loss of neuronal MD-1 leads to increased inflammation in the imiquimod model of psoriasis. 

Methods – Imiquimod was applied daily to the ear and dorsal skin of neuronal MD-1 conditional knockout mice as well as littermate controls for 6 days. At the end of the treatment, the skin was evaluated for the level of inflammation using ear thickness and the psoriasis area and severity index (PASI) score. mRNA expression of select genes in the skin was also evaluated. 

Results – After 6 days of imiquimod treatment, the ear thickness of the neuronal MD-1 knockout mice was thicker than the littermate controls, and the PASI score was increased. RT-PCR mRNA assays showed that Ly6G, a molecule expressed on neutrophils, was increased. Histological evaluation also demonstrated an increase in the number of neutrophils present in the inflamed skin of the MD-1 knockout mice as compared to controls. These data suggest that neuronal MD-1 expressed in nonpeptidergic sensory neurons has a suppressor role in the immune response.

Conclusions – Loss of neuronal MD-1 promotes cutaneous inflammation by increasing neutrophils in the imiquimod psoriasis model. Further studies will delineate the mechanism of this interaction. 

Significance – These data suggest a role for nonpeptidergic neurons in the evolution of the inflammatory response and may lead to approaches to facilitate resolution of inflammation.

Michelle Chung - Poster Board 43

Loss of neuronal MD-1 leads to increased Ly6G mRNA expression in an imiquimod model of psoriasis

School of Nursing

TRIO McNair Scholar

Faculty Mentor: Beth Crago

The risk factors for a stroke as well as the recovery process of stroke patients are largely affected by their socioeconomic status. Low-income individuals tend to have a higher chance of having hypertension, which increases the risk of hemorrhagic strokes. Also, stroke treatment is very broad, depending on its severity and the patient’s current condition. According to the Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, the hospital stay for stroke patients on average ranges from $20,396 to $43,652 (Washington National, 2020). In my research, I will retrospectively review the extent to which income has an impact on the post-treatment quality of life of stroke patients. My primary research question is: “Is there a difference in the QOL of one-year-old post-hemorrhagic stroke patients in high- and low-income quartiles?”

Mihika Shah - Poster Board 44

Hippocampal versus systemic administration of sgp130-Fc after controlled cortical impact injury (CCI) on anxiety and HPA axis outcomes  

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Amy Wagner

Title: Hippocampal versus systemic administration of sgp130-Fc after controlled cortical impact injury (CCI) on anxiety and HPA axis outcomes 

Introduction: The neuroendocrine and immune systems are anatomically and functionally connected. Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a major stress inducible cytokine produced as part of the acute TBI response. IL-6 signaling modulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) neuroendocrine axis response, which is a major driver of central nervous system. We and others have demonstrated that IL-6 and HPA disruption is associated with poor cognitive outcomes. We previously targeted IL-6 signaling pathways to mediate TBI-induced outcomes in preclinical models. IL-6 signals via classical and trans-signaling processes, and trans-signaling contributes to the TBI neuropathology, making it a potential therapeutic target. Soluble glycoprotein 130 (sgp130) inhibits pro-inflammatory trans-signaling while sparing classical signaling, making it a possible treatment strategy. Our work in rodents suggested that intermittent (every 72 hr starting 1-day post-TBI) systemic administration of sgp130-Fc after controlled cortical impact (CCI) improves cognition in the Morris Water Maze (MWM), decreases contusion volume and normalizes IL-6 associated chemokine. However, the timing and strategy of therapeutic sgp130-Fc administration needs refining, as well as the impact of sgp130-Fc on the HPA response. Therefore, we examined the effect of a one-time “super” dose of sgp130-Fc on anxiety- and stress-related outcomes.

Hypotheses: Previous work from our lab has shown that disruption to IL-6 and HPA axis can cause poor cognitive outcomes and intermittent administration of sgp130-Fc after CCI improves cognitive function in the MWM. By refining the timing and strategy of the dosage, we could have a better insight into the HPA axis response. A one-time “super” dose of sgp130-Fc centrally or systemically may impact the HPA axis response on anxiety-like outcomes.

Methods: Adult mice received either Sham or right hemisphere severe controlled cortical impact (CCI; 6.0±0.2m/s; 2mm depth; 50-60ms) procedures. At 72 hours post-Sham/CCI, animals received a single dose of sgp130-Fc either into the hippocampus (centrally) (on injured side; 2ng) or intraperitoneally (systemically) (10ug). We assessed the treatment effect on MWM outcomes (14-19 days post-Sham/CCI) and HPA axis-related responses [adrenal histopathology and serum corticosterone (CORT) 21 days post-Sham/CCI]. MWM acquisition outcomes (day 14-18) were analyzed using a repeated measures ANOVA followed by a Tukey’s multiple comparisons test. MWM visible platform (day 19), adrenal histopathology and serum CORT (day 21) were analyzed using a one-way ANOVA. MWM swim strategy was analyzed using a Chi-squared test.

Results: Examining peripheral zone time in the MWM as a readout of anxiety-like behaviors, we found that CCI mice, regardless of treatment, spent significantly more time in the peripheral zone than the Sham mice during learning acquisition, visible platform and long-term probe trials. However, there was no significant difference between the time spent in the peripheral zone between treatment groups. CCI mice displayed a more thigmotaxic swim strategy compared to Sham mice. Hippocampal administration of sgp130-Fc after CCI reduced thigmotaxis (day 17 and day 18) compared to vehicle CCI mice. Efforts are underway to evaluate swim strategy in Sham/CCI mice receiving systemic sgp130-Fc. We also examined the effect of CCI and sgp130-Fc (hippocampal or systemic) on the HPA axis. Neither CCI nor sgp130-Fc impacted serum CORT levels 21 days post-insult compared to Shams. Current work is underway to assess adrenal histopathology after CCI/Sham injury with and without sgp130-Fc treatment. Conclusion: Overall, we found that CCI increased anxiety-like behaviors in the MWM but had no impact on serum CORT. We saw a promising effect of sgp130-Fc on anxiety-like behaviors in MWM, but responses were subtle compared to previous findings using intermittent dosing. Therefore, while a one-time super dose of sgp130-Fc after CCI has small benefits, further work is needed to investigate dosing strategies and behavioral/pathological outcomes.

Significance: In assessing the impact of sgp130-Fc on the HPA axis response and associated anxiety-like states, we can begin to address its therapeutic value after TBI in patients. 

Namita Mahajan - Poster Board 45

Examining How Parents' Math Anxiety Impacts Relevancy of Their Math Talk

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Melissa Libertus

Background context- Navigation and robotic technologies have emerged as an alternative option to conventional freehand techniques for pedicle screw insertion. However, the effectiveness of these technologies in reducing the perioperative complications of spinal fusion surgery remains limited due to the small cohort size in the existing literature.

Purpose - To investigate whether utilization of robotically navigated pedicle screw insertion can reduce the perioperative complications of spinal fusion surgery—including reoperations—with a sizeable cohort.

Methods - Patients’ data were collected including age, sex, race, body mass index (BMI), upper- instrumented vertebra (UIV), lower-instrumented vertebra (LIV), number of screws inserted, and primary procedure name. Patients were classified into the following two groups: freehand group and robot group. The variable-ratio greedy matching was utilized to create the matched cohorts by propensity score and compared the outcomes between the two group.

Results -  A total of 1,633 patients who underwent primary instrumented spinal lumbar fusion surgery were initially identified (freehand 1,286; robot 347). After variable ratio matching was performed with age, sex, BMI, fused levels, and upper instrumented vertebrae level, 694 patients in the freehand group and 347 patients in robot groups were selected. The robot group showed less EBL (418.9 ± 398.9 vs. 199.2 ± 239.6 ml; P< 0.001), shorter LOS (4.1 ± 3.1 vs. 3.2 ± 3.0 days; P<0.001) and similar operative time (212.5 vs. 222.0 min; P=0.151). Otherwise, there was no significant difference in readmission rate (3.6% vs. 2.6%; P=0.498), reoperation rate (3.2 % vs. 2.6 %; P=0.498), and screw malposition requiring reoperation (5 cases, 0.7% vs 1 case, 0.3%; P=1.000).

Conclusion - Perioperative complications requiring readmission and reoperation were similar between freehand and robotic surgery. Robot-guided pedicle screw insertion can enhance surgical efficiency by reducing intraoperative blood loss and length of hospital stay without extending operative time.

Nandini Rastogi - Poster Board 46

Mothers’, Fathers’, and Toddlers’ Math Talk in the Home

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Melissa Libertus 

The development of early math skills has been shown to predict children’s later academic achievement (Duncan et. al., 2007; Jordan et. al., 2009). Prior work finds that parents can help to facilitate children’s learning of math skills in the home, and both the frequency and type of number talk, or the way parents and children refer specifically to numerical information or relative quantities, is related to children’s math performance (LeFevre et al., 2009; Gunderson & Levine, 2011). However, previous research exploring parent-child math engagement in the home environment focused primarily on the mothers of young children, and particularly those with preschool- and school-aged children. Relatedly, limited research exists tying aspects of the home numeracy environment with parental math attitudes and gender beliefs that may disproportionately affect girls prior to entering formal school (Cook et al., 2011; Hildebrand et al., 2022). The current study aims to examine how mothers and fathers engage in math talk with their young children, and how this may differ between the gender of their child. A sample of 124 two- to three-year-olds (52% female) and their mothers and fathers were asked to discuss a series of images as if they were pictures in a book. Each interaction was transcribed and coded for all instances of number talk. We find that children use similar frequencies of number talk with each parent, and mothers and fathers use similar frequencies of number talk overall. However, fathers used more number talk with their sons, while mothers used similar amounts of number talk regardless of their child’s gender. These results highlight variations within the home learning environment that may exacerbate math-related gender stereotypes. Future work should examine potential qualitative differences in number talk between mothers and fathers with both their sons and daughters, and the math-related beliefs that may shape these parent-child interactions. 

Natan Herzog - Poster Board 47

A Novel Radiation View Factor Solver and Mesh Refinement Study

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Matthew Barry

For space applications where solar power is infeasible, the leading alternative is to use a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). To accurately predict an RTG's performance, it is important to understand the flow of heat throughout the structure. Because RTGs often operate in a vacuum, thermal radiation plays a significant role and should therefore be resolved as precisely as possible. Radiation view factors (Fij) describe the extent to which emitted radiation from a surface A1 is incident on surface A2. For complex surfaces, the calculation of Fij is computationally expensive and highly sensitive to sharp geometric features. This work demonstrates a novel parallelized framework for the computation of Fij from the central Plutonium bricks to the many thermoelectric hot shoes inside the RTG, as well as from the external radiative fins to ambient. To mitigate the sensitivities of sharp geometric features on numeric accuracy, mesh refinement is also implemented and studied for the numeric techniques, Single Area Integration (SAI) and Double Area Integration (DAI). The advantages of SAI over DAI are demonstrated with the simple configuration of perpendicular plates with a shared edge.

Neharika Murthy - Poster Board 48

CREBRF impact in AgRP and POMC neurons on energy homeostasis 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Erin Kershaw

Causative genes and underlying mechanisms of obesity, a global health threat, remain largely unexplained despite the high prevalence and heritability of the condition. A novel variant, CREBRF-R457Q, found in Samoans and Pacific Islanders, is associated with an increased risk of obesity but protection from diabetes and other metabolic complications.  A causal role for CREBRF in mediating energy and metabolic phenotypes is supported by data from murine models. Specifically, global CREBRF knockout mice have lower body weight and impaired glucose homeostasis, whereas global transgenic CREBRF overexpressing mice are obese with metabolic protection, similar to human CREBRF-R457Q carriers.  These data suggest that the variant may be a “gain-of-function” mutation that serves as a “thrifty” gene to promote energy conservation. Obesity results from an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure, the combination of which is referred to as energy homeostasis. POMC and AgRP neurons in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus are critical regulators of energy homeostasis. We, therefore, hypothesized that CREBRF action in Agrp and/or POMC neurons is necessary and sufficient to mediate the effects of CREBRF on energy homeostasis. To test this hypothesis, we generated and evaluated energy homeostasis in murine models with AgRP- and POMC-specific knockout or overexpression of CREBRF. Our results demonstrate the successful generation and validation of these animal models. Although some differences in components of energy expenditure were identified, none of these models fully recapitulated the effects observed in global models, suggesting that other tissues and mechanisms contribute to CREBRF’s effects on obesity.

Niharika Welling - Poster Board 49

KX-6 is a Novel Inhibitor of Actin-Pfn1 Interaction in Tumor Angiogenesis

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Partha Roy

Angiogenesis is the development of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones. Actin and one of its binding proteins profilin1 (Pfn1) play an important role in driving angiogenesis. Actin is a protein that is involved in the formation of the cellular structures of the blood vessels as well as the cell migration required for angiogenesis. Binding to actin, Pfn1 is a small molecule that helps promote and regulate actin polymerization. In normal conditions, the actin-Pfn1 interactions are not harmful and can help heal wounds and repair tissues. However, when these interactions become unregulated, an uncontrollable amount of blood vessels can form leading to aberrant angiogenesis which is responsible for various diseases such as cancer, diabetic retinopathy (an eye condition for diabetics), and arthritis. For instance, when a body is invaded by cancer, excessive angiogenesis feeds the tumor cells with nutrients and oxygen allowing the cancer to spread. The inhibition of actin-Pfn1 interactions can impede the formation of new blood vessels, effectively halting the process of angiogenesis. The objective of the present study was to determine a novel small molecule inhibitor of actin-Pfn1 interactions in human endothelial cells (hmVEC).  We have previously demonstrated that three novel small molecule inhibitors, C2, C74 and C74 H, impede the formation of new blood vessels in angiogenesis assays and reduce proliferation of human endothelial cells in vitro. Out of the three, C74 H showed the greatest efficacy without cytotoxicity. To try and improve C74 H’s efficiency, R groups on the backbone of the molecule were modified to create a set of new compounds to test. These compounds were tested in biological assays like angiogenesis and proliferation assays to evaluate their biological activity. They were also tested for cytotoxicity at different concentrations. This study has identified a new inhibitor that surpasses the efficacy of the existing ones called KX-6. 

Olivia Sobkowiak - Poster Board 50

Relevance of food labels in purchasing habits of university-age students 

School of Education

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sharon E. Taverno Ross

Purpose: With rising rates of obesity on college campuses, combined with the high food insecurity simultaneously experienced by college students, the question of food availability and food purchasing behaviors has become even more prominent. This study aimed to examine prominent factors determining food purchasing behaviors in college-aged students (18-25 years).

Methods: Participants were drawn from the Food Labels study (PI: Liguori) and recruited online and in person. Data from n=6, 18-25-year-old participants from Phase 1 completed a vignette survey and participated in cognitive interviews to determine survey acceptability and validity. In the vignette survey, participants were randomly shown three food labels and asked how likely they were to purchase the product. The labels varied by: 1) food type (yogurt, cereal, or black beans); 2) cost (25% off coupon vs. no coupon); 3) FDA “Healthy” logo (logo vs. no logo); and 4) shopper rating (3-star rating vs. 5-star rating). Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were coded using qualitative analysis techniques to reveal themes and patterns in the data.

Results: Interviews revealed that “healthy” was primarily defined by the nutrient content of the food and food preference emerged as a primary influence on food choice. Participants within this age category focused on the convenience of food and whether it fell within the categories of food they typically purchased. They felt confident in their abilities to purchase “healthy” food.

Conclusion: Decisions regarding food choices on college campuses are multifaceted and may be limited by the education and availability of food on campuses.

Significance/Novelty: Campus food options are limited mostly to dining halls and a few campus restaurants. These menus contain food high in sodium with few “healthy” options, making it difficult for students to focus on health.

Oluwatofunmi Abiola - Poster Board 51

A Cost Effectiveness Analysis of Deep Brain Stimulation Compared to Medical Management for the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder and Alcoholic Liver Disease

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Khaled Moussawi

Alcohol is the most misused drug globally and is associated with high mortality risk due to alcohol-related complications like liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. The current treatments for alcohol use disorder (AUD) have limited efficacy, and new treatments are needed to reduce relapse rates. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) could be an effective treatment option for severe AUD and its complications. However, before this treatment can be implemented into standard care, its cost effectiveness has to be determined. We developed a one-way sensitivity analysis to determine the probability of success necessary for DBS to impart the same costs and effectiveness (measured in quality adjusted life years (QALY)) in  patients with AUD with or without  alcoholic liver disease (ALD). We then created a Monte Carlo Simulation to determine the possible choice outcomes given the uncertainty of our model inputs by producing a random sample of 1000 iterations. All data entered into our models were adapted from previous studies. The results of our one-way sensitivity analysis showed that independent of the probability of DBS success, DBS does not equate the expected costs of medical management; however, for AUD patients with ALD, DBS is cost saving at a 44% probability of success. This analysis also showed that DBS imparts an equal amount of QALYs as medical management at a 27% success rate for AUD patients and at 24% for AUD patients with ALD. Our Monte Carlo simulation showed that DBS is not cost effective for the general AUD population a year after the intervention given the $100,000 per QALY willingness to pay threshold. However, for AUD patients with ALD, it is 80% more cost effective than medical management at the same threshold. Overall, should it prove efficacious, DBS may be cost-effective for some subpopulations of patients with AUD. 

Parth Sutariya - Poster Board 52

Manipulating CD4+ T Cell Fate Decision Via Ion Signaling in TPC2

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. William Hawse

CD4+ T cells differentiate into subsets that provide immunity against infections and maintain homeostasis. Cytokines and other signaling inputs control T cell fate decisions. Yet our understanding of signaling events that program T cell fates is underexplored. Using phosphoproteomics, we identified proteins that were phosphorylated during Th17 differentiation, including metabolic enzymes, components of mTOR, lipid kinases and ion channels. We performed a pharmacological screen with small molecular agonists and antagonists to identify channels that controlled Th17 differentiation. One promising target is the Two-pore channel 2 (TPC2) found on endosomes and lysosomes. TPC2 is a ligand-regulated channel where the binding of NAADP and PI(3,5)P2 causes selective sodium or calcium flux. We found that the small molecule TPC2-A1-P agonist, which mimics PI(3,5)P2, decreased Th17 differentiation. Future work will focus on defining the molecular mechanism by which TPC2 regulates Th17 differentiation and if modulating TPC2 activity could limit autoimmune pathologies caused by Th17 cells.

Piper Read - Poster Board 53

Ozone Production in Smoke Plumes from Crop Residue and Prescribed Burns

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Reem Hannun

Agricultural and prescribed burns, a common practice globally, contribute large amounts of trace gasses to the atmosphere. The impacts of these burns on ozone pollution and air quality are not yet well characterized. Here, we utilize data from the 2019 NASA-NOAA FIREX-AQ field campaign to study ozone production associated with small scale biomass burning events of crop residues and other prescribed fuels in the Southeast US. We customize a photochemical box model with emissions ratios of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) for eight fuel types (slash, piles, shrubland, grassland, corn, rice, soybean, and winter wheat). By initializing with carbon monoxide and ozone concentrations for photochemically young plumes, we estimate each fuel’s ozone production potential as the plume ages. We characterize the VOC composition, NOx emissions, and combustion efficiency within and between individual fuel types to assess the modeled variability in ozone production. In demonstrating the potential implications for air quality that result from agricultural and prescribed burns, we present a case for a more extensive approach to managing and modeling biomass burning practices in the southeastern US.

Rhea Godhania-Carter - Poster Board 54

Sleep and Seasonality: An investigation into the moderation by photoperiod on the relationship between maternal prenatal sleep and maternal postpartum depression.

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

TRIO McNair Scholar

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kathryn Roecklein

Introduction: Postpartum depression is a form of depression that affects 10-20% of new mothers within the first six months after childbirth. One of the primary risk factors for postpartum depression is a history of psychiatric diagnosis, specifically of depression or perinatal depression. A risk factor for experiencing negative or depressed moods is sleep deprivation. Additionally, season has been found to be associated with mood and mood disorders, namely seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder, as well as sleep.  The present study proposes a theoretical model in which season of childbirth moderates the link between prenatal sleep and postpartum mood, and tests this proposed model. This study hypothesizes that prenatal sleep and postpartum sleep will be predictive of the development of postpartum depression, and that the associations will be moderated by season as measured by photoperiod during childbirth and the beginning of postpartum. Examining this relationship could improve clinicians understanding of when and how sleep is crucial in preventing postpartum depression in expecting and new mothers. 

Methods: Data from a completed study conducted by Dr. Michele Okun included 138 participants (M age=32, SD=4.2) who received a Snoo bassinet for an intervention to improve postpartum depression by improving infant sleep subsequently improving maternal postpartum sleep. Over the course of 6 months, the participants were administered a series of surveys to report on their mood, their sleep, and their baby’s sleep. Depression was measured using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI; self-report sleep quality inventory) was used to self-report sleep. Photoperiod was calculated using the date in which the participants received the bassinet, which was used as an approximation for the date of childbirth. We intend to use linear regression to test whether photoperiod moderates the association between prenatal sleep duration/efficiency and depression symptoms, while covarying for maternal age. 

Results: TBD

Conclusions: TBD

Rhheaa Mehta - Poster Board 55

Identifying the Role of Tyrosine Hydroxylase (TH) in GEMIN5-mediated Neurodevelopmental Syndrome

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Udai Pandey

 The multiprotein survival motor neuron (SMN) complex plays an important role in the assembly of small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs), a key component of spliceosomes. GEMIN5 is a large RNA-binding protein within the complex. In recent years, several rare autosomal recessive GEMIN5 variants leading to loss-of-function (LOF) mechanisms have been identified via multiple model systems, such as iPSCs and flies. GEMIN5 patients present with ataxia, cerebellar atrophy, developmental delays, and motor dysfunction. 

In flies, the LOF mutations have been effectively mimicked via use of RNAi-based knockdown (KD) of the orthologous gene rigor mortis (rig). Flies with this KD exhibit several developmental defects, reduced lifespan, and motor dysfunction. While doing RNA sequencing in iPSCs, our lab showed altered levels of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) in patient neurons. However, the molecular mechanisms are still unclear, leading our focus towards a dopaminergic-targeted KD of rig linked to Th, building off of the tubulin-linked universal RNAi-based rig KD. 

The GAL4-UAS system was linked to TH, allowing for spatial control over expression. We examined the effect of the RNAi-rig KD with regard to motor function and development through crawling (3rd instar larvae) and climbing (adult) assays. We perceived a significant motor dysfunction (p=0.0382) between control and rig KD larva in the motor function assay suggesting that reducing rig levels in TH neurons Is detrimental.
Further directions of this study are numerous. Firstly, we would focus on replication of the TH-linked RNAi-rig KD through technical and biological replicates and increasing our sample size. Additionally, we would look at upregulation of TH and observe the effects on motor function and development. And finally, we would replicate the TH-linked rig KD in other models, such as iPSCs.

Roey Beniluz - Poster Board 56

Entorhinal Cortex interneurons as potential targets for treatment of preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Shawn Sorrells

The burden of Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is expected to nearly triple by 2050, threatening to overwhelm healthcare systems. The ideal window for AD treatment is the critical preclinical phase, before widespread neuron death and memory loss ensue. The region known as the Entorhinal Cortex (EC), is one of the first brain regions to be impacted by AD, making it an important target for research into preclinical AD. It sends extensive projections to the hippocampus, the primary memory processing center in the brain, via the perforant path, and loss of functionality of this region results in cognitive decline and memory issues. Interneurons within the EC demonstrate selective vulnerability to AD pathology. Specifically, LAMP5 (Lysosomal Associated Membrane Protein 5) interneurons are lost very early in AD, although their specific structure and expression within the Entorhinal Cortex are not well understood. In this project, immunofluorescence was used to map the distribution of LAMP5 neurons within the EC in brain samples from people aged 49-72. Cell density and expression data show that up to 15% of neurons in the non-diseased EC are labeled by LAMP5, and that LAMP5 interneurons have a characteristic shape and structure within the EC. Future experiments can reveal the functional impact of the loss of LAMP5 interneurons, or compare LAMP5 expression in a large dataset of preclinical and advanced AD patients to reveal insights into the progression of AD pathology at its earlier stages. This information will contribute to the discovery of therapeutic targets for treatment and enable earlier detection of AD, facilitating improved patient outcomes.

Rohini Das - Poster Board 57

The Brain Web-App – a Personalized, Non-invasive Online-App to Measure Learned Models in the Brain – Deployed to Quantify the Impact of Sleep in Consolidating Prior Learning

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Tim Behrens 

Despite the recent remarkable advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), humans still learn orders of magnitude faster (Tsividis et al., 2021). Our brains have evolved to figure out hidden structures of problems and use this knowledge to generalize across similar problems, enabling complex rapid inferencing even when limited to sparse data (Behrens et al., 2018). Recent ground-breaking discoveries suggest that spatial relational inferences in the brain are based on internal representations of the world as two-dimensional cognitive maps (Moser et al., 2015). These internal models are supported by the neural mechanisms in the entorhinal hippocampal system including place cells and grid cells (Hafting et al., 2005). Moreover, these cells spontaneously recapitulate old and explore new spatial trajectories during periods of slow wave sleep – a phenomenon known as replay (Ólafsdóttir et al., 2015). Replay is known to play a critical role in consolidating the learned structure of spatial tasks and enabling generalization, a benefit that may operate below the level of conscious awareness (Liu et al., 2021). More recent studies in humans suggest that the mechanisms for constructing the spatial cognitive map may be
examples of a more general coding mechanism capable of building cognitive maps covering any nonspatial or abstract domain (Behrens et al., 2018; Eichenbaum 2017; Epstein et al., 2022). If so, could rest or sleep – associated with replay – also preferentially facilitate the learning of structure in non-spatial abstract tasks thereby allowing superior performance for inferencing? How could one quantify the impact of sleep on inferencing in abstract tasks in general environments on a mass scale completely outside of lab settings without the burden of invasive or expensive apparatus?
In this work, I aim to answer both of these questions. First, I built a Cloud-native, software application, The Brain App, which invites users to play an interactive “Card Memory Game” with scheduled learning and testing phases separated by a time delay. In the testing phase, the app scores the users’ mental model of the structure of relationships experienced in the learning phase. Second, I employed The Brain App to measure learning among a cohort of 68 human subjects divided into two groups: the Diurnal (Control) Group vs. the Nocturnal (Manipulated) Group. The differences in the aggregate learning metrics between two groups provide the first-ever experimental evidence out of the lab environment that indeed, sleep facilitates the learning of structure in non-spatial abstract tasks with improved inferencing, perhaps giving some adage to the phrase “Let’s sleep on it.”
My work provides a general end-to-end framework for personalized non-invasive cognitive metrics to quantify learning in any human subject. The Brain App can be tuned to monitor cognitive health in a neurodegenerative patient or to track learning of arithmetic among elementary students. Uncovering the Code of Human Thought is one of the greatest scientific quests ever undertaken, and the current and future work with The Brain App will play a role in this quest to understand the basis of cognition and to help engineer cognition in artificial intelligence systems.

Rudra Patel - Poster Board 58

Effects of Vibrational Insertion on Recording Performance of Intracortical Microelectrode

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr Takashi Kozai

Microelectrodes are essential tools for studying in vivo neural circuits by recording and stimulating neurons. The implantation of microelectrode tears the tissue and causes compression and tension of cortical tissues known as “dimpling” effect[1]. This tissue deformation indicates high insertional force applied on the tissue, which causes mechanical damage and disrupts the vasculature[2]. In fact, the mere insertion of probe generates oxygen deprivation given the high diffusibility of oxygen[3]. Implantation induced hypoxia has led to loss of neuronal density and thus compromising the reliability of the neuronal recordings[3, 4]. Additionally, increased force raises probe bending risk and reduces successful implantation [8]. Our project aims to explore the potential of vibration-assisted insertion in reducing tissue dimpling and assess its impact on recording performance. 
Vibrational insertion could minimize the tissue damage by relaxing tissue and reducing the friction encountered during probe insertion. Existing studies have suggested that vibrational insertion, performed at optimal frequency and speed, can reduce the maximum insertion induced force[5]. This reduced force is expected to decrease tissue deformation and also lessen the risk of probe bending. The vibrational insertion could minimize the tissue damage by relaxing tissue and reducing the friction encountered during probe insertion but could also cause more damage by sawing neural tissue at the insertion site. Understanding the effects of vibrational insertion on tissue dimpling and insertional force is crucial for optimizing implantation technique and improving insertion success rates.

We used single shank Michigan-style electrodes (A16-3mm-703-CM15) implanted into the left primary visual cortex (V1m) of mice, comparing two groups: vibrational inserted (n=6) and control (n=6).
Dimpling depth: Video footage of the microelectrode insertion captured using the Actuated Medical-provided camera at a frame rate of 24 frames per second. The timing of "penetration-start" (t_start) and "reach-initial-maximum-dimpling" (t_initial) during insertion was recorded using Adobe Premiere Pro. The insertion speed (vinsertion) was set to 0.05 mm/s. To determine the initial dimpling depth, we employed the following equation: 
dimpling depth = (tinitial - tstart) × v(insertion).

Electrophysiological recordings: For electrophysiological recording, the mice were situated on a rotating platform to facilitate awake, head-fixed recordings. Visual stimuli were provided on a computer screen positioned 20 cm away from one eye. The data was collected at a sample frequency of 24,414 Hz. 

Single Unit (SU) sorting analysis: To identify potential neuronal signal-units (SU) and multi-unit activities (MJU), we employed a fixed threshold set at 3.5 standard deviations below the mean. Only channels with a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) greater than 2 were considered for sorting single units. The SNR, obtained by dividing the peak-to-peak amplitude of each single unit by the noise, was reported as average SNR per active site (electrode channels reporting detection of SU) over time. Confirmation of sortable single units involved evaluating the quality and shape of neuronal waveform, auto-correlograms, and peri-stimulus time histograms (PSTH) using 50 ms bins. 

The SU yield is determined by calculating the percentage of electrode sites (out of 16) with at least one identifiable single unit. 

Multi-Unit analysis: The analysis focused on quantifying multi-unit activity, defined as events crossing a predefined threshold within 1 second following each stimulus or pseudotrigger. To evaluate evoked multi-unit activity, various parameters were employed, including temporal bin size (66.5 ms) and latency (30.5 ms) after stimulus presentation (the combination of these parameters was shown to optimize the multiunit yield [6]). This comprehensive approach allowed for the assessment of signal-to-noise firing rate ratio which measured the difference in firing rates of multi-unit activity before and after the stimulus, relative to the average standard deviation across all stimulus conditions. The reported values were calculated as absolute signal-to-noise firing rate ratios.
SNFRR = (μON-μOFF)/(1/2(σON+σOFF))
where μON and μOFF are the average firing rates (across 64 trials) during the stimulus ON and OFF conditions and σON and σOFF are the standard deviation of firing rates during ON and OFF conditions, respectively. 

Figure 1: Evaluation of dimpling effect (a, b) and recording performance (c) between vibration and control group.
The median of dimpling depth is around 100 microns and 400 microns in vibration insertion and control respectively (Fig. 1a, b), indicating vibrational insertion significantly reduces the dimpling depth (p<0.01). To assess the recording quality, we used Single Unit Yield (SU Yield), Signal-Noise-Ratio (SNR), and Signal-to-Noise Firing Rate Ratio (SNFRR). There is no significant difference in SU Yield (percentage of isolated single-unit activity), indicating that the number of active neurons is similar between control and vibrational groups (Fig. 1c). Furthermore, similar SNRs suggested the strength and health of neurons around the electrode were comparable between the groups. Similarly, comparable SNFRRs indicated the functionality and connectivity of neurons surrounding the electrode were similar between the groups. Overall, our results indicate that vibration insertion facilitates electrode placement without compromising the quality of single and multi-unit recordings.

Inserting a microelectrode can be challenging due to the dimpling effects. In this study, we investigated whether vibrational insertion could help to facilitate the insertion by reducing the dimpling effect. The reduced dimpling (Fig. 1a, b) indicates less insertion force [7]. Reduced insertional force has better implications in improving the successful insertion of flexible probes by increasing the ratio of buckling-to-insertion force [8]. One concern that arises is that the use of vibrations during the insertion process may lead to sawing neural tissue at the insertion site, resulting in rapid acceleration and deceleration forces that cause more damage and reduce recording performance [9]. However, our results demonstrate no significant difference in SU yield, SU SNR and SNFRR between vibrational insertion group and control group, suggesting that number of neurons, strength of recorded neural activity as well as functional connectivity of neurons around the electrode was not compromised by vibrational insertion. Nonetheless, it remains challenging to ascertain whether vibrational insertion reduces the tearing force required to rip the brain tissue [10].  Tearing force can disrupt the blood brain barrier and negatively impact recording performance[11, 12]. To address this, future studies should focus on real time monitoring of insertion force during the vibrational insertion to gain a better understanding of its effects on tissue integrity and potential blood brain barrier disruption. Looking forward, automation of vibrational insertion could be a future direction that will allow standardization of insertion procedure to minimize the bias of individual surgeons. 

Ruochong Zhu - Poster Board 59

Spatiotemporal Analysis of Power Outages in Puerto Rico: A Correlation Study with Geographical and Societal Factors

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Fernando Tormos-Aponte

This research undertakes a comprehensive spatiotemporal analysis of power outages in Puerto Rico, aiming to discern the intricate correlations between outages and both geographical and societal factors. Drawing data from Puerto Rico's power outage records, as well as geographical and societal vulnerability indices, we endeavor to provide a holistic understanding of the region's power infrastructure vulnerabilities. Our methodology integrates advanced statistical techniques, spatial analysis tools, and a bivariate LISA approach to evaluate the statistical significance of each county's and neighborhood’s (barrio) outages. By employing the error discovery rate, we aim to limit false-positive findings, thereby ensuring the robustness of our results. A pivotal component of our research is the visualization of our findings. Inspired by prior research, we will utilize a range of charts, including heat maps to depict outage distributions, scatter plots to illustrate correlations, and bar graphs to present aggregated data. Through this study, we anticipate unveiling potential links between power outages, climatic events, and societal vulnerabilities. The significance of this research lies not only in its potential to inform policy and infrastructure decisions in Puerto Rico but also in its provision of a research model that can be replicated in other regions to assess the multifaceted relationships between power outages and various influencing factors.

Saharsh Talwar - Poster Board 60

Analyzing COVID-19 Spread Mitigation Measures with Agent-Based Modeling in NetLogo 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Anne Yust

This project sought to employ agent-based modeling within the NetLogo framework to construct a COVID-19 spread simulation within a typical college classroom setting. The model was designed to facilitate an assessment of various preventive strategies implemented by the University of Pittsburgh, encompassing the cohort attendance system, mask and vaccine requirements, contact tracing procedures, and classroom sanitation protocols. By utilizing the model's interactive interface, it became possible to visually and analytically examine the consequences of modifying specific parameters, thereby offering a valuable resource for addressing diseases transmitted via respiratory droplets.

Sangmin Park - Poster Board 61

Characterization of Immunoregulatory Macrophage Subgroups in the Oral Muscoa

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Daniel Clark

The cellular immune response within the oral mucosa demonstrates complex functional and phenotypic changes as conditions change from periodontal health, disease, and resolution. Our lab is focused on improving our understanding of the immune response in the oral mucosa at the molecular and immune cell subpopulation level, to enable the identification of clinical disease markers early and accurately.
We utilized a ligature-induced mouse model of periodontal disease to analyze the immune response in healthy control (control), periodontal diseased (disease), and periodontal disease resolution (recovery) groups. Cell isolated from the oral mucosa were analyzed via single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) and flow cytometry to characterize the differential transcriptional signatures and immune cell subpopulations associated with the three conditions of periodontal health, disease, and resolution.
From the scRNA-seq analysis, we identified multiple macrophage subgroups that expanded and contracted during different conditions of disease and resolution. One subgroup expanded during the periodontal disease conditions and demonstrated a pro-inflammatory transcriptional profile that contributes to the pathogenesis of periodontal disease. Another subgroup was observed to expand during the resolution of the disease and demonstrated an immunoregulatory transcriptional profile with downregulation of Fn1 and significant upregulation of Tnip3, Tnfsf9, Apoe, and Cd74. Flow cytometry analysis validated Cd74 as the cell marker for this resolution-associated subgroup and demonstrated a significant increase in a Cd74+, Cd11b+ macrophage population in the oral mucosa of recovery samples. In addition, we observed communication between Cd74 and macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) as a sign of possible interaction with T-Cells during periodontal disease resolution.
Our findings from this work and the large cell atlas produced here can contribute to further characterization of the immune cells and the future development of therapeutics that could target this certain cellular subgroup to promote inflammatory resolution.

Sefakor Agbemadzo - Poster Board 62

Rethinking the Glass Cliff

College of General Studies

TRIO McNair Scholar

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Audrey Murrell


Selam Mekbeb-Gillett - Poster Board 63

Utilizing Edutainment and Motivational Interviewing to Address Dis- and Misinformation in the Healthcare Setting 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Beth Hoffman

The past three years have introduced a large gap in the deliverance of healthcare to underserved communities: misinformation. Patients are constantly introduced to various forms of information through social media, advertising, and television that causes communication between healthcare officials and patients to become disrupted. It is vital to understand that misinformation is not one baseline response or action, but rather a result of underlying psychological and sociological reasons. Information environments are the product of both individual choices and structural factors but are often an un-recognized social determinant of health (SDoH). Fictional medical shows are popular in classroom settings and are often used to illustrate diagnostic and medical methods for students. It is important to address the methods and reasons people maintain unscientific beliefs and how healthcare officials can use different tactics to combat this SDoH. This project used television clips to teach Physician Assistant (PA) students how to use Motivational Interviewing (MI) to approach patients immersed in unhealthy information environments.  

Over the course of two semesters, we developed a seminar for PA students to teach them how to address exposure to dis- and misinformation as a social determinant of health. The seminar was delivered in Spring of 2023 in an Introduction to Clinical Environments and Patient Care class. This seminar-based class included PA students from Duquesne University completing their 3+2 program. Students in the seminar class initiated conversation on topics including but not limited to health literacy, medical errors, language barriers, and more. An IRB approved pre-activity and post-activity survey with both closed and open-ended items was administered to course participants. Post-activity survey items assessed the feasibility and acceptability of the session and comparison of pre- and post-activity survey scores using t-tests were used to assess preliminary efficacy of using the television clips to address dis and misinformation as a social determinant of health.

All students (N=36) completed the pre and post curricular surveys. The session was considered highly acceptable with 94% of participants indicating they would attend a similar training session in the future. Thematic content analysis of an open-ended item on the post-activity survey illustrated that participants held a better understanding of strategies to teach and reinforce key concepts of effective patient provider and interprofessional communication. 
Quantitative data analysis was administered using paired t- tests which found that participants’ confidence in recognizing misinformation and using MI to approach patients in unhealthy information environments changed significantly (p = 0.04 and p < .001, respectively).

Simon Wang - Poster Board 64

Childhood Socioeconomic Position Relates to Adult Decision-Making: Evidence from a Large Cross-Cultural Investigation

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Jamie Hanson

Early life adversity and poverty may have profound and enduring impacts on developmental trajectories over the lifespan. This study investigated potential links between childhood socioeconomic position, current financial circumstances, and temporal discounting in a large international cohort (N=13,692 adults from 61 countries). Temporal discounting refers to the tendency to prefer smaller immediate rewards over larger rewards delivered after a delay, and connects to consequential outcomes including academic achievement, occupational success, and risk-taking behaviors. Results revealed that, independent of country, individuals who grew up in poverty exhibited greater temporal discounting in adulthood compared to peers who did not experience early life socioeconomic hardship. Furthermore, an interaction emerged between childhood and current socioeconomic status, such that the steepest temporal discounting was found for those facing persistent economic adversity across both time periods. These associations remained significant even when accounting for potential confounding factors like education level and current employment. Findings provide new evidence that childhood poverty relates to more impulsive decision-making and steeper devaluation of future rewards later in adulthood, despite changes in economic mobility. This highlights poverty's persistent effects on core psychological processes underlying decision-making, suggesting early life socioeconomic position may have longer-term impacts on developmental trajectories. Speculatively, childhood adversity may shape adult behavior through increased life stress, diminished access to resources, and lower perceived trust and reliability in social systems. By elucidating developmental mechanisms linking childhood poverty to adult well-being, findings inform policies aimed at narrowing socioeconomic gaps and disrupting cycles of disadvantage and economic marginalization.

Sofia Gurgel - Poster Board 65

Sex-dependent effect of adolescent stress on PV/SST content and activity in the plPFC 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Anthony Grace

Background: Stress is a socio-environmental risk factor for the development of psychiatric disorders with the age of exposure potentially determining the later outcome. Early life adversity, such as adolescence, has a significant impact on the development of neuropathological states in which females respond differently to stressors compared to males. Adolescence is a critical period for maturation of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and it is also when sex differences in PFC structure begin to emerge. Dysfunction of GABAergic network within the prelimbic portion of PFC (plPFC) during development increases vulnerability to adult affective dysregulation. However, the precise neurobiological mechanisms/circuits that contribute to differential sex responsivity to adolescent stress are understudied. Here we investigated the impact of stress exposure during adolescence on changes to PV and SST interneurons expression and on low/high gamma oscillations power, as low gamma is associated with PV activity and high gamma with SST. 

Methods: Male and female Sprague-Dawley rats were subjected to a combination of footshock/restraint stress during adolescence (postnatal day 31-40). Independent group of animals were submitted or not to stress and recorded for local field potential in the plPFC at PD31, PD41, PD51, and PD75 and later perfused for posterior immunohistochemistry analysis of PV/SST content in the plPFC. All procedures were carried out in accordance with the NIH Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at the University of Pittsburgh.

Results Stress increased the expression of PV interneurons in the plPFC at PD51 of males only (n=4 each group, p<0.05), no significant difference was observed at PD41 and PD75. No significant difference was found in the expression of the SST interneurons in the plPFC of males. Also, no significant difference was found in the expression of the PV and SST interneurons in the plPFC of females for all time-points (PD41 naïve and stress n=6; PD51 naïve n=7 stress n=6; PD75 naïve n=6 stress n=7). Moreover, stress decreased low gamma oscillations at PD51 in the plPFC of males (n=8 naïve n=10 stress, p<0.05), while no significant difference was found at PD41 and PD75. High gamma oscillation was also decreased in response to stress at PD51 in the plPFC of males (n=8 naïve n=10 stress, p<0.05), but no significant difference was found at PD41 and PF75. In females, stress increased high gamma oscillations at PD75 in the plPFC (n=10 each group, p<0.05), but no significant difference was found at PD41 and PD75. No significant difference was found in low gamma oscillations in females. 

Conclusion: Our findings indicate that stress during adolescence affect male and females differently recording PV/SST and gamma oscillations across adolescence to adulthood. Males have an increased expression of PV and SST markers at PD51 following stress but not females. Males have a pivotal decrease of PV and SST interneurons at PD51 following stress while females demonstrated an increase in SST activity only at PD75, but no change in PV activity. Therefore, a sex-dependent predisposition of early life adverse events that impair plPFC activity may enhance susceptibility to behavioral disturbance in adulthood.

Sophie Stefancic - Poster Board 66

Performance of the UCLA Scleroderma Clinical Trials Consortium Gastrointestinal Tract 2.0 Instrument in a Juvenile Systemic Sclerosis Cohort

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Kathryn Torok M.D. and Dr. Valerie Oke 

Gastrointestinal (GI) manifestations in juvenile onset systemic sclerosis (jSSc) reflect adult disease with a range of involvement along the GI tract, including oropharyngeal dysphagia and intestinal dysmotility, which lead to malnutrition (15-56% jSSc) and increased mortality.  Patient reported outcomes (PRO) to capture the impact of GI disease in children would be useful in detecting underlying GI problems and to establish outcome measures that capture change, optimizing understanding of therapeutic impact.  The UCLA Scleroderma Clinical Trial Consortium Gastrointestinal Tract 2.0 (UCLA-GIT 2.0; GIT) is one of the most widely used and validated PRO for severity of GI involvement in adult-onset SSc (aSSc).  To our knowledge the GIT 2.0’s performance in jSSc has not been established.

All jSSc subjects enrolled in the National Registry for Childhood Onset Scleroderma, a prospective observational clinical research registry at a multi-disciplinary center, with a GIT collected at study visit were included. Demographic, clinical, and PRO data of interest were extracted.  Summary statistics were applied to outcome measures.  Spearman correlation coefficient was applied to analyze relationships between the GIT total and subscales to a traditional global GI involvement PRO, the intestinal visual analog scale of the Scleroderma Health Assessment Questionnaire (SHAQ-GI-VAS) for convergent construct validity (significance defined a p <0.05).

Data for a total of 54 patients with jSSc were extracted. The average age of onset was 9.9 years old, and there was 3.3 years disease duration at time of initial GIT collection.  Demographics, autoantibody, classification and clinical variables are summarized in Table 1.  The median (IQR) of the GIT 2.0 and its subscales in our jSSc cohort are displayed in Table 2, adjacent to a published adult comparison cohort.  Most values are comparable to those found in adult SSc subjects with Distension and Reflux having the most impact.  The GIT and its subscales correlated well with the SHAQ-GI-VAS scale, with the Total score having the strongest association, and notable moderate correlations with Social functioning and Emotional well-being (Table 3).  Diarrhea was the only subscale not to correlate with SHAQ-GI-VAS.  In addition, the Total score also correlated moderately to the SHAQ Global overall Disease impact (rs 0.64, p <0.001).

Results from a single center jSSc cohort demonstrate the GIT 2.0 is likely a useful tool in pediatric scleroderma, despite its development in adult disease.  The literature finds the median Total score and subscale scores in adults to be similar to those reported here in jSSc, with greatest impact of GI issues to be from Distention and Reflux domains.  Targeting supportive and pharmacological therapy in these areas should be pursued.  This study also supports the social and emotional impact of GI disease using a PRO in pediatrics, which is important as patients (teens especially) are reluctant to fully answer GI related questions directly from the physician.  The next step is to evaluate the GIT’s sensitivity to change in jSSc via longitudinal study visits in relation to GI and other outcomes.

Taylor Starkman - Poster Board 67

Updated Monitor for Narrow Spectral Artifacts at the LIGO Hanford Observatory

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ansel Neunzert

LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) detects gravitational waves, or ripples in the fabric of space-time. The detector works by using lasers that are split and reflected by mirrors to detect tiny changes in the lengths of 4km perpendicular arms. Many different types of gravitational waves have been theorized, but the only type of gravitational wave that are currently detectable by LIGO are those produced by massive objects merging. This project focuses on a type of gravitational wave that has not yet been detected–the continuous wave. Continuous waves are produced by rotating neutron stars, meaning they are near single frequency and very weak, up to a thousand times weaker than currently detectable gravitational wave events. Any sort of noise present in the detector for long periods of time at single frequencies is called a “line”, and these lines can obscure continuous wave signals. This poster describes an improved monitor for the number of lines and results from the monitor that show a connection between increased line contamination and particularly large vibrations in the fibers that suspend the mirrors. 

Victor Wu - Poster Board 68

Predicting Core Temperature Changes using Metabolic Rate and Total Heat Balance

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Clifton W Callaway

Measuring core body temperature requires invasive equipment that is impractical for long-duration spaceflight. We set out to develop noninvasive methods to estimate changes in core body temperature for monitoring health. Core body temperature is an index of the heat content of the head and torso, and heat content is determined by the balance of heat production (metabolic rate) and heat loss (heat flux).

We hypothesize that heat flux sensors at key body sites along with metabolic rate can calculate total heat balance to predict core temperature changes.

We conducted a laboratory study in healthy volunteers in which we placed heat flux sensors on the forehead, upper arm, anterior abdominal wall, and above the knee. We cooled participants with gel-adhesive circulating water pads. We measured energy expenditure (J/min) by indirect calorimetry and gastrointestinal temperature (ºC) with an ingested telemetry capsule. Total body heat flux (W) was calculated from the sum of regional surface area x heat flux for arms, legs, torso, and head. We calculated net heat loss as the difference between total body heat flux and energy expenditure and calculated change in core temperature as ΔºC per 20 minutes. We used linear regression to estimate the association between change in temperature and net heat loss.

Seven participants ranged from ages 21 to 51 with a weight and height range between 61 kg to 84 kg and 160 cm to 175 cm. The average (SD) energy expenditure during rest was 74.2 (3.3) W and the total heat flux was 73.8 (12.3) W. Temperature change was proportional to the net heat loss of the participant (slope: 393 W/ΔºC per 20 minutes; 95% CI: [110, 677]) (pseudo-R2 = 0.28).

In conclusion, we found that 393 W of net body heat loss over 20 minutes predicts a 1ºC decrease in core body temperature.

Siddhant Khandelwal - Poster Board 69

Steth-o-Beat: A Smart, Cost-Effective, and Digital Stethoscope to Diagnose Respiratory Infections and Symptoms with the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

School of Computing and Information

Faculty Mentor: Adam J. Lee


Charley Wan - PowerPoint 1

Mathematical Modelling of Neurodegeneration and Regeneration Through Computer Simulations

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: 

Neurodegeneration occurs over time in the brain and eventually leads to illnesses such as Parkinson’s Disease. Maintaining the health of these neural networks during old age is a topic of interest in the neuroscientific community. In Parkinson’s Disease, neurodegeneration occurs within the basal ganglia, a collection of structures in the brain whose main purpose is voluntary motor control. Neuron death not only decreases the health and efficiency of neural networks, but it also impacts the connectivity and interactions within the network. In this way, computer simulations can be used to model neurodegeneration and regeneration without the need of human subjects and reveal potential behaviors of the brain system in years to come.

This paper includes two parts. The first part is the computer simulation experimentation where rsfMRI (resting-state functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain scan data from the 1000 Functional Connectomes project and multiple Python toolboxes are used to observe changes in brain connectome strength. The second part is a proposed predictive model from the data collected to forecast degeneration and regeneration rates in normal human brains and those that are affected by neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. This study seeks to extend its findings to helping diagnose and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases by narrowing down the origin of infection and focusing treatment on specific brain regions.

Satyaj Bhargava - PowerPoint 2

Robot-Navigated Pedicle Screw Insertion Can Reduce Intraoperative Blood Loss and Length of Hospital Stay: Analysis of 1,633 Patients Utilizing Propensity Score Matching

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: 

Background context- Navigation and robotic technologies have emerged as an alternative option to conventional freehand techniques for pedicle screw insertion. However, the effectiveness of these technologies in reducing the perioperative complications of spinal fusion surgery remains limited due to the small cohort size in the existing literature.

Purpose- To investigate whether utilization of robotically navigated pedicle screw insertion can reduce the perioperative complications of spinal fusion surgery—including reoperations—with a sizeable cohort.

Methods- Patients’ data were collected including age, sex, race, body mass index (BMI), upper- instrumented vertebra (UIV), lower-instrumented vertebra (LIV), number of screws inserted, and primary procedure name. Patients were classified into the following two groups: freehand group and robot group. The variable-ratio greedy matching was utilized to create the matched cohorts by propensity score and compared the outcomes between the two group.

Results-  A total of 1,633 patients who underwent primary instrumented spinal lumbar fusion surgery were initially identified (freehand 1,286; robot 347). After variable ratio matching was performed with age, sex, BMI, fused levels, and upper instrumented vertebrae level, 694 patients in the freehand group and 347 patients in robot groups were selected. The robot group showed less EBL (418.9 ± 398.9 vs. 199.2 ± 239.6 ml; P< 0.001), shorter LOS (4.1 ± 3.1 vs. 3.2 ± 3.0 days; P<0.001) and similar operative time (212.5 vs. 222.0 min; P=0.151). Otherwise, there was no significant difference in readmission rate (3.6% vs. 2.6%; P=0.498), reoperation rate (3.2 % vs. 2.6 %; P=0.498), and screw malposition requiring reoperation (5 cases, 0.7% vs 1 case, 0.3%; P=1.000).

Conclusion- Perioperative complications requiring readmission and reoperation were similar between freehand and robotic surgery. Robot-guided pedicle screw insertion can enhance surgical efficiency by reducing intraoperative blood loss and length of hospital stay without extending operative time.

Ariana Tanha - PowerPoint 3

A Correlational Analysis Between Sleep Quality and Caffeine Intake

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: 

The purpose of this study was to obtain caffeine intake and sleep quality numbers from teenagers in the US to correlate with each other to see if there is a relationship between the two variables. Prior research shows that there is a negative correlation between sleep quality and caffeine intake. However, no study has been conducted using teenagers in the US as a population of interest. Both qualitative and quantitative data was collected through a survey sent out through Outlook. Participants included people grades 9 through 12 in my high school. Results showed that there was a small negative correlation between sleep quality and caffeine intake. This means that as people drink more caffeine, their sleep quality gets progressively worse. Therefore, the conclusion can be made that caffeine intake does have a negative effect on sleep quality; however, this is limited to just students in my high school. The significance of my findings is that it is now proven that the correlation between sleep quality and caffeine intake is consistent throughout American teenagers as well.


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