Thursday, January 21, 2016

9th Annual COM Research Forum Winners Announced

University of South Alabama College of Medicine research winners pose for a photo Jan. 12, 2016. Pictured from left are Dr. Hyeonsoo Park, Dr. Qusai Al Abdallah and Tiffany Norton.
The University of South Alabama College of Medicine hosted its 9th annual Research Forum on Dec. 4, 2015. Travel awards recently were presented to Tiffany Norton, Dr. Qusai Al Abdallah and Dr. Hyeonsoo Park for their extensive research.

Forum organizer Dr. Donna Cioffi, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at USA, said the winners were very enthusiastic. “They all were very knowledgeable about their projects and answered critical questions about their research,” Dr. Cioffi said.

Tiffany S. Norton, a basic medical science graduate student, won a $1,000 travel award for best overall graduate student presentation. She was recognized for her poster presentation titled “The Aspergillus fumigatus Farnesyltransferase β-Subunit, Ram1, Regulates Ras Protein Localization, Conidial Viability, and Antifungal Susceptibility.” Norton entered the program in Fall 2012 and is now in her fourth year of study. She chose to do her research in the department of microbiology and immunology in the lab of Dr. Jarrod Fortwendel, working with the filamentous fungus Aspergillus fumigatus.

Aspergillus fumigatus can cause invasive aspergillosis, a severe disease affecting immunocompromised people. “Current treatment options are frequently inadequate, and the mortality rate for invasive aspergillosis has been estimated at 60 to 90 percent,” Norton said. Her study focused on inhibiting the post-translational processes that contribute to proper intracellular localization of the Ras proteins and other proteins that control Aspergillus fumigatus.

“I became interested in post-translational processes because my mentor originally worked with the Ras protein, which is a protein that contributes greatly to the filamentous growth of Aspergillus fumigatus,” Norton said. “I wanted to back up one step from that and look at the processes that directed Ras to its proper localization in the cell, and let it do its job.” She hopes research will eventually pave the way for the development of improved antifungal drugs to combat the disease.

The post-doctorate awards included co-winners Dr. Qusai Al Abdallah and Dr. Hyeonsoo Park. Dr. Park, of Dr. Steve Lim’s lab in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, presented his research project on “Mitochondria FAK Promotes ATP Generation.”

He plans to spend his $500 travel award to attend the 2016 American Society for Cell Biology Conference. “It was good to hear feedback from other researchers regarding my project, and I also enjoyed seeing what everyone else is studying,” Dr. Park said.

Dr. Qusai Al Abdallah, also from Dr. Fortwendel’s laboratory in the department of microbiology and immunology, presented his research on “The Post-Translational Modification of RasA by –AAAX Proteases in the Human Pathogenic Fungus Aspergillus fumigatus.”

“I see this research forum as a great opportunity to introduce my research and discuss it with my colleagues,” Dr. Al Abdallah said. Dr. Al Abdallah said he plans to use his $500 travel award to attend the American Society for Microbiology Meeting or the Fungal Genetics Conference.

To learn more about participating in the annual College of Medicine Research Forum, contact Dr. Cioffi at

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