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Research Day preps students for life beyond their degrees

The annual competition is USC’s largest event dedicated to scientific inquiry and discovery

Growing enamel-like surfaces on teeth was one of the topics at hand on Research Day. (Photo/Damien Thorne)

How do you grow enamel-like surfaces on teeth or apply a recently discovered stem cell to avoid a common birth defect? And how might estrogen be used to reduce skeletal muscle damage in young women?

Research posters took center court at the Galen Center as the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC held its eighth annual Research Day, the university’s largest event dedicated solely to scientific inquiry and discovery.

The daylong event on March 25 drew hundreds of faculty, staff and students to the second-floor practice basketball courts where, beneath the larger-than-life sports posters of victorious athletic moments from the past, row after row of research posters stood — a record 144 in all.

A passion for research

From 9 a.m. to noon, a panel of Ostrow faculty judged the posters for an awards ceremony that took place at day’s end.

While many of the researchers — students, residents, postdoctoral fellows, faculty and staff members from the dental school, including the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy — might like to list a Research Day win on their resumés, many discovered just how gratifying research is on its own.

“I learned from doing this that I really have a passion for research,” said Andrew Hooyman, a Ph.D. student in biokinesiology. “It’s a humbling experience, but it teaches you to always have a healthy sense of skepticism.”

Another biokinesiology Ph.D. student Kristamarie Pratt, whose research presentation won second place in the biokinesiology and physical therapy category, thought the experience would prepare her for life beyond her degree.

“Presenting at Research Day is an opportunity to practice and improve presenting skills that will be utilized not only at scientific conferences worldwide, but also in applying for jobs and discussing future opportunities with collaborators,” Pratt said.

Dental hygiene student Candace Liu pointed out that the process of research would have an impact on the patient care she provides.

“This research further prepares us for our professional career after school in situations with future patients,” she said. “We are prepared to provide the best care and to answer our patient’s inquiries by looking at the facts given to us through evidence-based research.”

Robert Hanna, whose research poster with Moshe Eizdi swept three categories, said, “After all the hard work it took to get there, winning felt really validating. I almost want to get right back to work and keep the momentum going.”

Big ideas

In the afternoon, Research Day participants welcomed Randolph W. Hall, USC vice president of research, who praised the school for its continued commitment to research, stressing the importance of innovation in health care delivery.

Your event today provides a tremendous opportunity to learn from each other and renew your commitment to discovery.

Randolph W. Hall

“I particularly admire the work of the Ostrow School,” Hall said, during his speech. “Your event today provides a tremendous opportunity to learn from each other and renew your commitment to discovery.”

Afterward, Paul Thompson from the Institute for Neuroimaging and Informatics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC gave the first of three keynote speeches. In his speech, he discussed the Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics Through Meta-Analysis (or ENIGMA) program that uses a worldwide network of 185 institutions to collect thousands of brain images to study the effects of disease, drugs and alcohol and developmental disorders on the brain.

In her keynote speech, Sook-Lei Liew MA ’08, PhD ’12, who holds joint appointments at both the physical therapy and occupational therapy divisions as well as at the Keck School’s neurology department, spoke of using real-time brain imaging technology to help stroke survivors regain use of body parts that are resistant to traditional repetitive motion-based therapies.

Ostrow associate professor Pascal Magne delivered the final keynote address, with a discussion on the use of biomimetics in restorative dentistry.

While he’s spent his career working to perfect the aesthetics of dental restorations, he said he looked forward to the day when actual living teeth could be used as dental restorations.

He suggested a person’s children could potentially donate their unneeded wisdom teeth for use as restorations in their parents’ aging mouths. 
It’s this sharing of big ideas that gets Chai excited every year to put on the event. It also drives him to continue sharing the importance of research, even when sequestration or other budget-stripping events threaten federal funding levels.

“All of the benefits that we enjoy as a society — whether it’s the discovery of antibiotics or tissue regeneration using stem cells or a vaccine that prevents disease — none of these would be available to us without research,” he said “That kind of benefit — the cost versus the benefit — it’s just enormous.”

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Research Day preps students for life beyond their degrees

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