Biochemistry poster competition highlights student work

5/10/2007 7:00:00 AM

The Howard Building at the University of Nevada School of Medicine had a good problem Wednesday morning.

It was next to impossible to successfully negotiate one of the hallways, as student work from the Department of Biochemistry in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources filled the walls.

Faculty members, visitors and students participating in the annual Biochemistry Student Poster Competition created a gauntlet of enthusiastic scientific conversation. More than 20 posters were entered, including work by Biochemistry seniors Dan Reynolds, 22, of Carson City, and Michael Mouradian, 28, of Reno.

The posters were part informational, and part competitive. Winners were announced later Wednesday, and, as Reynolds explained, "The poster titles were for grading as well as judging."

If Reynolds and Mouradian's work was any indication, determining a winner was difficult.

The two students had focused their projects on refining some of the groundbreaking omega-3 fatty acid cancer work done by Ron Pardini, professor of biochemistry and associate director of the Agricultural Experiment Station. Pardini's research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish, have an added benefit of combating cancer in laboratory animals.

Pardini's work has also been credited with saving the life of one of his neighbors, who, thanks to a diet rich in omega-3 and in the right proportion with omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in food products such as in vegetable oil, has successfully combated the effects of cancer for more than five years.

"That's work done out of Dr. Pardini's lab," Reynolds said. "And it's work we wanted to take a closer look at. They've made the link with diets rich in fish and cod liver oil, and the anti-cancer effects these diets can have. What we're trying to do is see what causes nutritional intervention to work so well with (fighting) cancer."

Added Mouradian: "We need to find the mechanism that makes this work."

The student researchers designed a compelling study, consisting of two 50-day trials using lab mice.

Reynolds' study investigated the effects of nutrition intervention with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on the growth of tumors as well as the cholesterol levels of the study's subjects.

In Mouradian's study, the effects of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids were explored to better understand possible relationships with tumors. The results showed that omega-3 fatty acids reduce growth of certain tumors when compared to omega-6 fatty acids.

Both student researchers said that one of the keys to maximizing the benefit of omega-3, as evidenced through both studies, is to keep omega-3 and omega-6 intake in the proper proportion.

"In Western developed countries, the ratio is about four omega-6 to one omega-3, which isn't a very optimal ratio," Reynolds said. "The people who first spurred this type of knowledge, the Eskimos, Japanese fishermen, were shown to have lower incidences of cancer because of their diet, which were rich in omega-3 and low in omega-6."

What did the students learn?

"It's been a very valuable exercise," said Mouradian, who will attend graduate school in CABNR in the fall. "We've learned how to present, how to talk about your results, how researchers go about writing and getting grants. It has really prepared all of the seniors in the department in how to do serious research.

"One of the most important things I've learned is there is an important signal (in omega-3's ability to fight cancer) and we still need to go in there and find it somewhere."

"That there's still so much work to do, which is exciting," said Reynolds, who hopes to attend Nevada's School of Medicine and one day become a surgeon. "We're both planning on working through the summer in Dr. Pardini's lab to look at different areas of study."


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