Three Techies Gather Medical Research Awards

SOCORRO, N.M. June 7, 2012 – Three Tech students came home with top awards at the annual INBRE Conference in Santa Fe in April.

Mika Myers in a chemical engineering lab at New Mexico Tech.

Monique Garcia (right) with her research poster at the 2012 INBRE Conference. Also pictured are her fellow students and researchers, Sarah Bryant (left) and Maribel Baeza.

Anntherese Romero

Mika Myers, a junior in chemical engineering won the top prize. Monique Garcia, a master’s student in biology won second place. Anntherese Romero won an honorable mention awards.

Myers, a junior from Tularosa, has been working on research projects since her first year. Dr. Michaelann Tartis of the Chemical Engineering Department hired Myers as an intern as a result of her work through the First-Year Experience program.

“It was amazing,” she said. “It opened my eyes. To understand all the pieces of equipment is an amazing experience for an undergraduate.”

Myers research with Dr. Tartis involves characterizing microbubbles – or liposomes – as anti-cancer drug delivery vehicles. Myers’ job has been to discover how much medication can be carried in a microbubble.

“I think this is fantastic,” Tartis said. “Mika put in the time and effort to learn the science and how to present research properly – not just the mechanics of day-in and day-out lab work. She presented her work coherently so it made sense to a broader audience.”

Myers came to Tech undecided about her major. Her experiences in Tartis’ lab and classes helped her decide to pursue chemical engineering. She was thrilled to win the top award at the INBRE conference.

“I was freaked out,” she said. “It was really unexpected. I didn’t feel like I was going to even place. It was humbling because it was a lot of hard work that went into that poster. It’s really spectacular.”

Myers became familiar with New Mexico Tech when she participated in Science Olympiad – until her school cancelled the program.

Monique Garcia, who will received her master’s degree in biology in May, won second place for her poster presentation. She gave a student talk at the BioInformatics Conference, which preceded the INBRE event. She was unable to attend the INBRE Conference, so her fellow students Maribel Baeza and Sarah Bryant presented the posted and accepted the award for her.

Garcia’s research is “The Role of Diet in the Regulation of the Nuclear Hormone Receptor Gene NR4A2 in Rats Exhibiting Metabolic Dysfunction.” She and others looked at how diet affects gene expression in rats.

They used gene sequencers at the National Center for Genomic Research in Santa Fe to examine changes in genes.

“Unfortunately I wasn’t there, but they were shocked,” Garcia said. “They were all happy and I was very pleased and quite ecstatic.”

Garcia hopes to enter the field of forensics. She intends to get her first experience in a crime lab in El Paso after graduation.

Anntherese Romero earned her bachelor’s in chemistry at Tech in 2010. She now is a graduate student in biology. She won honorable mention for her research examining anti-cancer drugs with chemistry professor Dr. Igor Magedov.

“I was really surprised and flattered because I had never presented my own research before,” she said. “It was really neat and good experience … I was really felt good to talk about my work. I am thankful to all my collaborators because it was a collaborative project. It felt good to get recognized for your work. ”

She is synthesizing and characterizing new compounds called rigidins, which are found in marine organisms that are similar to sea cucumbers.

“Plants have been a good source for medicinal agents,” she said. “Now, we’re looking at one of the less explored areas – these marine alkoloids, things derived from animals deep in the sea.”

Romero is working with Dr. Igor Magedov, who launched a project to investigate rigidins as potential anti-cancer compounds, and chemistry professors Dr. Alexander Kornienko and Liliya Frilova. Romero, as part of that larger team, synthesized and characterized aspects of rigidins’ biological activities in Tech’s biology laboratories.

Romero – along with fellow students and under the guidance of the research professors – analyzed about 50 compounds synthesized to mimic the naturally-occurring compounds. She found two strains that seem to stunt the growth of cancerous tumors.

Dr. Snezna Rogelj, who directs the Chemical Biology and Screening Collaborative group at Tech, said the team investigating rigidins has a few obstacles to overcome before this drug can be considered for human trials, but Romero – and everyone else on the team – are determined and optimistic about continued progress.

A graduate of Belen High School, Romero is uncertain about her career path. She is considering medical school, but is also considering medical research.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech