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Research Day 2009: From sun screen dangers to diabetes care

Awards go to posters on zinc oxide effects, glucose monitoring and pancreatic virus

By Nick Piotrowicz

Sept. 21, 2009

It’s a hot, sunny day with no clouds in sight. But before you race outside, don’t forget to lather on the sun block—right?

According to Lisa Martorano, OMS II, award-winning presenter at the eighth annual Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM) Research Day held  Friday, Sept. 18, some sunscreens may actually harm human skin cells.

The study, which won the $200 prize in the category of basic science research, examined the effects of zinc oxide-based sunscreens. She worked with Yang Li, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical sciences, on the project.

“Zinc oxide is routinely used in commercial sunscreens because it’s transparent on the skin; however, it can scatter light—but it also absorbs it,” Martorano says. “If it absorbs light, it has potential for cellular aging and cellular damage.”

Martorano also noted that such sunscreens release free zinc—a compound harmful to skin cells—into the skin. “When we added UV light, (free zinc levels) nearly doubled,” Martorano says. She is quick to add that most sunscreens are safe to human skin, but she says it doesn’t hurt to check labels for zinc oxide.

Martorano’s project was one of 19 research posters completed by Ohio University students at Research Day. A panel of judges rated the posters based on professionalism, clarity of presentation, ability to answer questions, and readability and visual impact of  the posters.

Projects were in one of three groups: two for basic science research and one for clinical research. In addition to Martorano’s poster, two other OU-COM student projects won awards. Tara Edwards, OMS II, won the other basic science award for her project on the Coxsackie virus of the pancreas and its relation to diabetes, and Kim Phan, OMS II, won the clinical research award for her study on continuing glucose monitoring of rural ICU patients.

Phan worked with Jay Shubrook, D.O., associate professor of family medicine, and Edwards worked with Kelly McCall, Ph.D., assistant professor of specialty medicine, on their respective research projects.

“I was looking for professional presentations, and I was also looking for how excited they were about what they learned,” says Joe Bianco, Ph.D., a judge on the panel and a research scientist in OU-COM’s Department of Geriatric Medicine. “Whether the content has significant findings or not, it’s the enthusiasm and doing the research that counts.”

According to Jessica Wingett, Research Day coordinator and accounting specialist in OU-COM’s Office of Research and Grants, Research Day participants often do go on to present and win research awards at national medical conferences. 

Martorano doesn’t yet know her future plans in biomedical research, but she agrees that the experience was invaluable.

“When I first got into [research], I didn’t quite know what I was going to do,” Martorano says. “I didn’t have a blueprint out there in front of me, so I had to really work with other people in the lab, and they really taught me how to plan, experiment and guide the direction of my study.”

In its eight years, Research Day has become a benchmark of OU-COM, Bianco says. “I think the energy and enthusiasm and the resources put forth towards [Research Day] show that you can really integrate clinical and research.”

 
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