Celebrating JABSOM research: CMB graduate studies mechanisms related to Alzheimer’s Disease

Related News Articles
Featured graphic: Rachel Sachs at the 2021 Commencement Ceremony (Deborah M. Dimaya photo).
Bottom courtesy photo.

With the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) medical school’s Annual Biomedical Sciences and Health Disparities Symposium held completely virtual in April, first-time faculty co-chairs Drs. Saguna Verma and Peter Hoffmann diligently planned to make sure everything from the registration process to the webinar presentations as well as the breakout poster sessions were hiccup-free.

“I think the whole event went very smoothly- better than I expected. There was a good distribution of presenters from all departments and the scientific quality of the talks was also good. Most of them made an effort to make the presentation clear and interesting,” said Verma, associate professor in the department of tropical medicine, medical microbiology and pharmacology at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM).

Verma noted that there were between 40-55 people logged in at any given time during the sessions. She also said that the judges communicated well and supported the event.

“Overall it was a very positive experience. The keynote talk was also great and very appropriate for both graduate and medical students,” said Verma.

Dr. Peter Hoffmann, professor in the department of cell and molecular biology, called the presentations “outstanding” and pointed out the wide variety of topics including medical education/remote learning, infectious disease, neuroscience, orthopedics, and many others. For the clinical track, there were 64 talks: 52 by medical students, 11 by interns and one by a fellow.

“I loved seeing the students rise up to the challenge of scientific presentations, answering questions and the relief when they pulled it off!” Hoffmann said.

This year the awards for “2021 Best Poster Presentation” went to two medical students and three graduate students, including Rachel Sachs, who graduated in May with her master’s degree in cell and molecular biology from UH Mānoa.

More about the research of Rachel Sachs
Sachs was a graduate student and research assistant for the past two years in the laboratory of Dr. Ben Fogelgren, JABSOM associate professor. Her poster, “The Exocyst Complex Regulates Trafficking of the Amyloid Precursor Protein in Neurons,” focuses on the involvement of the exocyst in trafficking the amyloid precursor protein (APP), a protein in Alzheimer’s Disease that gets cleaved into amyloid beta, and how that process is influenced by insulin.

The most significant part of her research found that the exocyst is involved in the trafficking of APP in the cell and its association with APP is significantly reduced in the presence of insulin in primal hippocampal mouse neurons.

For Sachs, she says it was really interesting to be part of a team working on a completely previously unknown connection and to be able to contribute to a broader understanding of mechanisms related to Alzheimer’s Disease. “Many of us in Hawaiʻi and around the U.S. have very personal connections to people with Alzheimer’s and I feel lucky to be able to contribute in this small way to understand the aspects of the disease,” said Sachs.

Sachs hopes to continue conducting research and move forward in the pursuit of a PhD. “I’ve worked with so many incredible scientists who have inspired me by their passion for their work over the years,” said Sachs.

Stay tuned as we feature the additional Best Poster Presentation award winners including including Shirley Cheng (Genomic Landscape of Cell-Free DNA in a Diverse Cohort of Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients), Marissa Miyagi (Three-Dimensional Ovarian Tissue Culture Supported by Dextran Hydrogel with Polyethylene Glycol Crosslinker), Nicole Nakamatsu (Cross-Cultural Classroom: Assessing Student Opinion of Online, Case-Based Learning Modules, Utilizing MRI and XR Technology, in American and Turkish Medical Students) and Alexandru Sasuclark (Changes in Selenium Status Impact the Development of Parvabulin Interneurons and Perineuronal Nets).