Calling medical research “opening a door no one has ever walked through before,” College of Medicine graduate student Jamillah Hammond hopes to mend broken hearts – literally – with stem cells. Hammond, who is doing a master’s in biotechnology, was one of 17 master’s and Ph.D. students who presented their thesis research at the College of Medicine Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences 12th Annual Graduate Research Symposium May 8.

The symposium gives students an opportunity to present their research in front of their peers, faculty and staff, providing a forum for interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration. Students presented research on screening, preventing and treating diverse health issues including Crohn’s disease, schizophrenia, breast cancer and malaria.

Delivering opening remarks, Dr. Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president for research and dean of the College of Graduate Studies, told students that medical research is one of the most important areas of study at UCF.

“If you look at the amount of our gross national product that goes to supporting health care, the nature of the debates going on about funding, our aging population and their increased need for health care, it is clear that life sciences research is very important to society as a whole,” she said.

“And so the work you are doing is crucial to building a society that functions well, that takes care of its own, that makes sure it’s providing what everyone needs in order to have a satisfying and healthy life, hopefully predicated on wellness.”

Faculty members judged the presentations and winning students received monetary rewards made possible by donations from the Annie Oakley Fund, the Burnett Family Fund and Burnett School faculty.

First place Ph.D. student Christopher Grube’s research focused on identifying new treatment for drug-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus (MRSA) that cause infections in the body that are difficult to treat. The top master’s student, Anika Saxena identified a distinct protein that regulates the secretion of bad cholesterol, which can cause heart disease.

“Research does have its challenges,” Saxena said. “Not everything goes the way you expect it to. But at the end of the day it’s very rewarding to be here and to have people appreciate my work.”

Doctoral student Levi Adams, who developed a new screening method for Parkinson’s disease using gene editing, was thankful for the symposium experience and the opportunity it provided to publicly share his research.

“Research means nothing unless you can present it to other people, so it’s very important for us as students to learn how to do that,” Adams said.  “This symposium really gives us the experience we need to present to a large forum, in a larger format than we’re used to, but in a familiar environment.”

Hammond’s research found that particles released from embryonic stem cells can regenerate and rebuild damaged tissue in the cardiovascular system for patients with heart failure.

“Research is important because science changes every day,” Hammond said. “The more we know about diseases, the more we learn about their mechanisms and how each one affects you. These are smaller details for us to research and try to resolve and before you know it, we’ve found a cure for a disease.”

Dr. Saleh Naser, professor of medicine and associate director of graduate affairs at the Burnett School, said the symposium shows the improving quality of graduate student research and mentorship from faculty.

“We are one of few universities that have a strong research program as part of our medical school,” Naser added, “and the research we do here at Burnett is very important to advance scientific discovery, improve the country’s health care, and also improve the visibility of UCF in the field of scientific study.”

To watch a video version of this story, visit