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Young Scientists Shine at SOT
Three top biology majors were selected to present their lab research at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Society of Toxicology, held in mid-March in San Antonio, Texas.
When Mindy Reynolds, associate professor of biology and department co-chair, accompanied three of her students to present their work before toxicology experts from all over the world, she couldn’t have been prouder. The three—Maija Adourian ’18, Adam Lanphear ’18, and David Pitts ’19—were selected to participate in the annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology based on the strength of their previous research.
At the meeting in San Antonio, they presented posters graphically describing their findings and spent two hours answering questions posed by toxicologists who attended the meeting. Adourian, who aspires to a career in medicine, used the opportunity to network. Lanphear, a future professor, got a taste of the life of an academic. And Pitts was even asked to deliver a lecture.
“David presented his poster representing the work that he did at the FDA, won a competitive travel award through the society, and gave a lecture to a room full of expert toxicologists with such poise,” Reynolds remarked. “I never did that as an undergraduate, and he was a pro! These students are phenomenal and I was so proud to be there with them and to have them represent Washington College.”
Reynolds, a toxicologist who studies how heavy metals affect cells and the mechanisms by which they cause diseases such as cancer, has been taking students to the Society meetings since 2009. Adourian presented research she did in Reynolds’ lab examining the impact of cadmium, cobalt, and nickel on certain types of yeast.
“It was actually a lot of fun,” says Lanphear, who presented work he did in a University of Montana lab last summer. He studied lung macrophages, white blood cells critical to the body’s immune response, and how they change when they’re exposed to certain nanomaterials. Nanomaterials are exceptionally tiny particles with exciting applications in everything from medicine to electronics, but researchers are still testing the risks associated with them.
Lanphear is excited about the prospect of continuing his research this fall, when he will return to the University of Montana as a doctoral student to work on the classification of lung macrophage subtypes. “Working with Dr. Reynolds helped me decide toxicology was something I want to pursue, and that I want to become a professor,” he says.
Pitts presented research he did last summer in a lab at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into the impact of nickel on various lines of animal and human cells. He says Reynolds “opened the door for me at the FDA” and Reynolds says her colleagues there were delighted with his work.
“They were impressed with his poise,” she says, “and he has great lab skills. Plus, if he doesn’t know something, he is willing to ask. It’s a tough thing to learn, but he already has that ability.”
Pitts, who won the 2018 Medical Device and Combination Product Specialty Section Student Travel Award, has always wanted to become an osteopathic doctor, but is now considering a research career as well.
Adourian plans to go to medical school, but working with Reynolds has inspired her to consider combining clinical practice with a research career. She says the most worthwhile—and demanding—part of the conference, in addition to her poster presentation, was the opportunity to debate with professional toxicologists during a luncheon Reynolds moderated.
“Toxicology so pertinent to our daily lives, yet most of us don’t think about everything we’re exposed to,” Adourian says.
Reynolds says Adourian is “one of the most phenomenal students I’ve ever worked with. She’s humble, independent, and I think the basic research she has been doing is really going to help her connect with her patients and understand the science behind the practice of medicine.”