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Five student researchers awarded SPARC Grants

Five School of Medicine student researchers were awarded 2017-2018 Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity (SPARC) Graduate Research Grants. The grant is sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research and is a merit-based award designed to inspire research and creativity across all disciplines at USC.

The SPARC program encourages students to explore research areas in their graduate studies. Eligible students have the opportunity to earn up to $5,000 to support their research or scholarly project. The funds can be used to pay for salary, supplies, travel and other project essentials.

The following students worked with faculty advisors to prepare and submit proposals to earn grant-writing experience and funds to support their research.

Fadi F. Abboodi is earning his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences and plans to graduate in 2020. His project“Genetic/Epigenetic Changes in Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infected Cells Can Preclude the Need for Continuous Expression of HPV Oncogenes in Developing HPV-Associated Cancers,” explores the role of the HPV in cervical and head and neck cancers. The results of the project will elucidate the ways that HPV-mediated cancers become HPV-inactive and will clarify the significance of vaccinations in the prevention of these cancers. Abboodi is mentored by Lucia A. Pirisi Creek, M.D., professor in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology.

Kathryn Miranda is working towards her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences. She plans to graduate in in 2019. Her project “Anti-Inflammatory Role of MicroRNA-30 in Adipose Tissue Macrophages” will determine if artificially increasing microRNA-30 in adipose tissue macrophages of obese mice can lead to decreased inflammation and weight loss. Her mentor for this project is Mitzi Nagarkatti, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology.

Richard McCain is earning his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences. He plans to graduate in 2021. His project “Intracellular Stress Responses Underlying Models of Mitochondrial Neurodegenerative Disease” seeks to understand how particular models of mitochondrial dysfunction result in different disease states, with an emphasis on mitochondrial encephalopathies and Parkinson’s disease. Ultimately the project will help target the underlying stress earlier in disease development. His mentor is Norma Frizzell, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology, & Neuroscience.

Sarah “Kitty” Tryon is earning her Ph.D. in Exercise Science in the Arnold School of Public Health. She plans to graduate in 2019. Her project “Modulation of Glutamatergic Neurotransmission to the Basolateral Amygdala by Muscarinic Acetylcholine Receptors” will provide insight into how emotional memories, such as fear memories, can be established and regulated and potentially unveil new targets for therapies to treat emotional disorders, such as PTSD, anxiety and the emotional dysregulation seen with Alzheimer’s Disease. David Mott, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology, & Neuroscience, is her mentor for this project.

Huda Atiya is earning her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences. She plans to graduate in December 2018. Her project “Role of the microenvironment in promoting left-right differences in mammary tumor metastasis,” focuses on identifying the differences in metastatic regulators – particularly the immune cell content – of left and right mammary tumors. Based on her pervious results, the tumors display similar growth, but significantly different metastatic behavior. Identifying differences in immune cell content in metastatic versus non-metastatic breast tumors can influence the sensitivity of tumors to specific immunotherapies. Her mentor is Ann Ramsdell, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy.

For more information about the application process for the SPARC Grant, visit

March 13th, 2018