It was a special night at the Outrigger Canoe Club on May 2, 2023, as three John A. Burns School of Medicine graduate students were recognized by Honolulu’s chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation for their accomplishments in doing vital, high-impact research.
Nina Allan, Lance Nunes, and Troy Odo are doing research that will have a meaningful impact on the people of Hawaiʻi and beyond and received their awards at the annual ARCS banquet.
Here’s a closer look at each graduate student’s work.
Troy Odo is studying antibody responses to covid vaccination. His research is centered around developing an assay platform which measures the quantitative and qualitative aspects of antibody responses to the MRNA vaccines.
“The hope is with this platform, we can apply what we’re learning with COVID-19 to the other viruses, like ebola, marburg virus which are more prevalent in tropical regions.”
Troy’s work has the potential to make a global impact and he hopes to make a difference in regions that aren’t fortunate to have access to the tools and laboratories needed to be able to evaluate vaccine responses and diseases.
“It’s a huge honor to win this award. We put in a lot of work into our research and to be recognized for it is great and it’s a testament to not just me, but the lab and my Principal Investigator, Axel Lehrer.”
Nina Allan is studying autism under Principal Investigator Alika Maunakea. After being diagnosed with autism months prior to moving to Hawaiʻi, it’s an issue that’s close to her heart.
“Alika’s autism project was one of the main reasons I chose to study in his lab. It helped me understand a lot more about myself. I wanted to know more about the way my brain works and hopefully help others in my situation,” she said.
Nina is looking at how epigenetics interacts with the gut microbiome to cause the changes that result in autism. Ultimately she’s seeking a more effective way to diagnose it.
“We want to tease out the different varieties of autism so those with autism have a better outcome,” she said. “It’s an honor to be here representing JABSOM and it’s exciting to represent this community that I’ve been involved with for the last three years.”
If it weren’t for JABSOM’s INBRE Program that puts undergraduates on the path to careers in biomedical research, Lance Nunes might not be studying human disease.
“INBRE introduced me to different research labs. I found people who were willing to spend time nurturing the education and skill set of future scientists,” he said.
Lance is working with Dr. Peter Hoffmann on a research project studying a motor movement disease.
We all have enzymes in our bodies, but some patients with hereditary spastic paraplegia don’t have the selenoprotein 1 enzyme. Lance is researching how significant this enzyme is when it comes to motor movement. This enzyme is known to be involved in lipid production. Lance removed the enzyme in the central nervous system of mice and discovered dysregulated lipid content, resulting in motor movement issues in the mice, which resembles the disease in humans.
Lance, the valedictorian of Farrington High School’s class of 2013, says it’s an extreme honor to be an ARCS scholar and is happy to be doing research at home.
“A lot of times you grow up hearing you have to move away from Hawaiʻi to succeed in something like science, and to be able to do it here at home is reassuring because it tells me I have what it takes and location is not going to stop me from doing what I have to do and what I want to do, which is contributing to science,” he said.