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Thesis Competition Highlights Miller School Graduate Students’ Research

The University of Miami Graduate School’s seventh annual Three Minute Thesis competition gave nine students from eight of the University’s schools and colleges a chance to share their groundbreaking work.

Young woman speaking from stage
Acadia Moeyersoms, a Ph.D. student in cancer biology at the Miller School, won the Graduate School’s annual Three Minute Thesis competition.

Today, if an ophthalmologist suspects a patient may have ocular cancer, they must take a biopsy from the eye, which is painful and can sometimes lead to infection.

Acadia Moeyersoms, a Ph.D. student in cancer biology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, wanted to create a less intrusive solution. She worked with her advisor, research professor Daniel Pelaez, Ph.D., of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, to design a test where doctors and nurses could simply wet a small piece of paper with the person’s tears to determine if they have ocular cancer.

“My project focuses on developing less invasive diagnostic tests using the molecular information in your tears,” she said. “Tests like these are extremely important for communities such as South Florida where UV exposure significantly increases the risk of developing eye surface cancers.”

For her ingenuity, and her ability to explain this innovation easily, Moeyersoms won the Graduate School’s seventh annual Three Minute Thesis competition last week, earning a $750 cash prize, along with a trophy for the Miller School of Medicine. She said she was shocked to win.

“Everyone did so well, and this was such an amazing competition — I am honored to win,” she said. “It’s a unique opportunity to explain your research this way and to also get to learn about other research going on at the University.”

Recaps of Dissertation Research

Moeyersoms was one of nine accomplished graduate students who summarized their dissertation research in a flash during the competition on Thursday evening at the Lakeside Village Expo Center. The students were judged by Devang Desai, president of the University of Miami Alumni Association; Jeffrey Duerk, Ph.D., the University’s executive vice president for academic affairs and provost; Kathi Kern, Ph.D., vice provost of educational innovation; and Nichole Crenshaw, DNP, APRN, AGACNP-BC, ANP-BC, CHSE, FAANP, associate provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion and associate dean for undergraduate nursing programs at the School of Nursing and Health Studies.

Young woman holding trophy, with three other people
(From left) Guillermo “Willy” Prado, Ph.D.; Acadia Moeyersoms; Patricia Abril, J.D.; and Olivia Williamson

Leaders from the Graduate School praised the students for being courageous enough to join the competition.

“The importance of being able to distill and clearly convey complex ideas into a nutshell just gets more important every year, as the amount of information we all encounter increases in scope, speed, and volume,” said Patricia Abril, J.D., associate dean of the Graduate School, who helped coach the students before the event. “If everyone could do that, it would be amazing, and this is what they are doing here today.”

Guillermo “Willy” Prado, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School, also commended the students: “You all are already winners in all of our eyes,” he said.

Moeyersoms, who also took home the People’s Choice Award and an additional $350, explained her research alongside nursing sciences doctoral student Kathryn Gerber, who observed a traumatic brain injury firsthand when her brother fell off a sled one winter near their Minnesota home and suffered a concussion. Although he recovered, as Gerber grew up and played sports, she observed more traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and decided she wanted to help these patients by becoming a nurse. Gerber said that she hopes her research on TBI will help doctors and nurses understand the importance of treating the most severe injuries in a timely way.

The aforementioned were joined by other graduate students from a range of different subject areas. Miller School biochemistry and molecular biology student Chloe Kirk is analyzing a mechanism called amyloid bodies to better understand cancer at the cellular level.

Read the complete article here.

Tags: Acadia Moeyersoms, Chloe Kirk, Dr. Daniel Pelaez, Dr. Guillermo "Willy" Prado, Dr. Kathi Kern, Graduate School, Kathryn Gerber, Patricia Abril, Provost Jeffrey Duerk