UNC SOM students recognized with Graduate Education Advancement Board Impact Awards

The awards are given each year by The Graduate School to students whose work has made a positive contribution to the state of North Carolina. The School of Medicine had six students recognized with these awards.

The 2015 GEAB Impact Award winners will be formally recognized at the 17th Annual Graduate Student Recognition Celebration, to be held April 9 at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center. A list of recognized SOM students and a summary of their projects is below.

Jin Di
Jin Di, Biomedical Engineering
Jin Di, Department of Biomedical Engineering

Almost one in 10 North Carolina residents has been diagnosed with diabetes. Traditional treatment of type 1 and advanced type 2 diabetes involves multiple injections of insulin daily to control blood glucose levels. However, frequent insulin injections are often associated with pain, microbial contamination and nerve damage at the injected site.

Doctoral student Jin Di has developed a system that painlessly releases insulin by applying focused ultrasound waves to a single injection of an insulin reservoir, which is made up of insulin-loaded biodegradable nanoparticles. The remote ultrasound waves can promote the release of insulin from its reservoir.  This work has been published in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials, featured as a front cover.

Christopher Giardina
Christopher Giardina, PhD - Biomedical Engineering
Christopher Giardina, Biomedical Engineering

Working with surgeons at UNC Hospitals, MD/PhD student Christopher Giardina has constructed custom surgical tools designed to detect cochlear trauma at the time of implantation. This information can help surgeons recognize trauma and ideally adapt their technique to minimize further trauma during surgery.

Giardina's custom surgical tools are routinely used in the operating room at UNC Hospitals.

Jessica Kinard
Jessica Kinard, Speech and Hearing Sciences
Jessica Kinard, Speech and Hearing Sciences

Previous research has identified possible gaps or lags in diagnosis and treatment for Hispanic children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and little research exists on the effectiveness of interventions for primarily Spanish-speaking families. Doctoral student Jessica Kinard explored the success of an early intervention called Adapted Responsive Teaching (ART) in improving the communication skills of young children with ASD from Hispanic families in North Carolina. She also examined the perspectives of the participating families after the intervention. Through ART, a professional coaches families on strategies they can use to improve their child's communication skills.

Patrick Lang
Patrick Lang, Cell and Molecular Physiology
Patrick Lang, Cell and Molecular Physiology

Cancer is the fifth leading cause of death in North Carolina's children, and medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain tumor of childhood. Current treatments for medulloblastoma damage both cancer cells and normal cells, and this can have lasting consequences on a child's brain development. Research by MD/PhD student Patrick Lang, in the laboratory of Timothy Gershon, MD, PhD, has found a promising new method to treat medulloblastoma.

"Patrick's efforts to find new ways to treat medulloblastoma may increase patient survival and inform the treatment of other brain tumors," said adviser Timothy Gershon, MD, PhD.

Megan Meyer
Megan Meyer, Microbiology and Immunology
Megan Meyer, Microbiology and Immunology

North Carolina surpasses the national rate of adult smoking (19 percent) by nearly 2 percent. Increased levels of destructive respiratory enzymes are associated with smoking-induced diseases. However, it is unknown if increased respiratory enzyme activity contributes to the increased rates of respiratory viral infections seen in smokers. Doctoral student Megan Meyer's research points to nutritional interventions as a cost-effective secondary strategy – after total cessation – to protect against cigarette smoke-induced health complications and possible respiratory viral infection.

Justin Milner
Justin Milner, Nutrition
Justin Milner, Nutrition
Justin Milner's research uncovered complex factors potentially explaining how obesity results in more severe influenza. In a clinical study performed at the UNC Family Medicine Center, Milner and colleagues found that obese study participants exhibited impaired responsiveness to the influenza vaccine as shown by a lower induction of protective antibodies following vaccination. This research demonstrates that obesity impairs antibody defenses against influenza. Milner's data suggest that current vaccination measures for obese individuals require enhancements, and that lives could be saved as a result.