Combating COPD and Finding Signs for Colon Cancer

Research Competition Highlights Innovative Student Projects During Touro College of Pharmacy’s Research Week

February 07, 2024
Four Touro College of Pharmacy students stand by a placard describing a research study.
TCOP students displayed their work during the school's Research Week in October.

The scope of Touro College of Pharmacy’s student research was on display during the school’s research poster competition, held annually during the school’s research week in October. The competition bookended the week, which featured a keynote speech by Amy Liao, PhD, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Couragene, a biotech company focused on novel delivery platforms for genetic medicines, as well as a research orientation for first-year students. Presentations were judged by accomplished TCOP alumni: Svitlana Abramov, PharmD; Brigitte Azzi, PharmD; Daniela Berger, PharmD; and Aviva Rakhamimova, PharmD. This was the first school-wide research week held in TCOP’s new location in Times Square.

“Pharmacy research drives the future of drug development and delivery, creating new medications, discovering different uses for existing drugs, and applying the latest technologies to create better patient outcomes,” said TCOP Dean Dr. Henry Cohen. “The event also underscores the College’s full-time commitment to research, with a unique research track and exceptional practice experience electives alongside a dedicated research faculty who involve students in their ongoing projects.”

“The breadth and depth of this year’s competition demonstrated the continued growth of the research initiative of our pharmacy students,” said TCOP’s Associate Dean of Research Dr. Zvi Loewy. “Moreover, the competition also showcased the partnerships we maintain with other schools as students from Touro University’s New York Medical College were part of the research effort. The competition was unique in that it was judged by our alumni. The winners for this year’s competition focused on anti-microbial candidates for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and understanding genetic regulation in the onset of colon cancer.”

The winners were:

1st Place: Adina Kagan. "The Role of Cannabinoids in the Inhibition and Eradication of Biofilms Formed by PA14, a Clinical Isolate of Pseudomonas aeruginosa." Mentored by Dr. Zvi Loewy.

2nd Place: Miriam Sprei. “Identifying DNA Regulatory Elements in the TPM4 Gene." Mentored by Dr. Michael Papetti. 

3rd Place: Rajsumeet Macwan. “TPM4 Overexpression Promotes Colon Epithelial Cell Tumorigenesis.” Mentored by Dr. Michael Papetti.

Kagan, who attended Lander College for Women before joining TCOP, said she was very gratified with the award and acknowledgment of her research, but also noted how much she enjoyed doing the research. “Research is something we do outside class, but I was excited about it. Even though I had exams, I was running to the labs before and after class to see our results. Research forces you to ask questions instead of just absorbing information.”

Kagan’s winning research focused on the use of cannabinoids (CBD) as an anti-microbial drug, specifically in the case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) where bacteria enter the lungs and are then encased in biofilms that are resistant to antibiotics. CBD was shown to work both to inhibit the development of biofilm as well as eradicate it. “Dr. Loewy [TCOP’s Associate Dean of Research] really encourages question and is very supportive,” said Kagan. “It was such a pleasant experience.”

Dr. Mariana Babayeva, an associate professor at TCOP who organized the competition, said that participating in the competition helps students better understand their research. “It helps with critical thinking,” said Dr. Babayeva. “Presenters need to be prepared to answer questions posed to them during the presentations and they must have a deeper understanding of what’s going on. It’s not just reciting the data.”

Both second and third-place winners investigated the role of tropomyosin-4 (TPM4) regulation in colon cancer under faculty mentor Dr. Michael Papetti.

“Not much is known about how the expression of the TPM4 gene is regulated,” said second-place winner Miriam Sprei, who is also an alumna of Lander College for Women. “My project focused on identifying DNA regulatory elements such as promoter, enhancer, and silencer sequences. Using bioinformatics, I identified a putative regulatory region in the TPM4 gene… Knowing how TPM4 gene expression is regulated can help us develop novel therapeutic treatments for the early stages of colon cancer.”

Third-place winner Rajsumeet Macwan measured TPM4 expression in premalignant versus normal human colon tissue, as well as different stages of human colon adenocarcinoma versus normal tissue.