Honors Students' Research Showcased at Conference

Honors Students' Research Showcased at Conference

by Brandon T. Bisceglia ’14
UNH Today Contributing Writer

Honors student Alice Aleksandrovich '14 has uncovered some information that could help municipal officials charged with developing economic development strategies for their cities and towns.

As part of her honors thesis project, she developed an economic model that analyzes different types of government spending, and she found that investment in infrastructure and transportation were the best strategies for sustained economic growth. She was part of a group of UNH students who presented their honors projects earlier this month at the Northeast Regional Honors Council conference in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

(L-R) Matt Wranovix, Alice Aleksandrovich '14, Lisa Luke '14 and Christina Kling '14

It just so happened that Seth Piccarillo, the community development director for the city of Niagara Falls, was the conference's keynote speaker. His talk focused on the economic challenges facing his city. “It was great to see the relationship between my research and what was happening in Niagara Falls itself,” Aleksandrovich said.

Aleksandrovich said Piccarillo discussed some of the measures his office was exploring to build a more cohesive community. “It was interesting to be in this place where they're facing the exact issues I've been studying,” she said. “The conference was a great example of UNH's goal of promoting experiential education.”

Aleksandrovich’s model showed that the amount of spending mattered less than the type of spending. "If we allocate resources more efficiently, we can have a better economic outlook," she said.

Senior Kristin Alfano's research project explored whether there could be a genetic connection between chiari malformation (CM), a structural defect in which the cerebellum lays below the opening to the spinal cord, and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a hereditary connective tissue disorder.

Both conditions range from a negligible impact to being life-threatening. While the genes responsible for EDS are known, those that cause CM are not.

Alfano conducted an intensive statistical analysis of the existing literature on both conditions and looked for potential relationships. Despite the seemingly obvious link between them, she was unable to find any documentation that specifically investigated the possible connection. "There's still a lot of research to be done," she said.

Alfano said connecting CM and EDS could help with faster diagnoses.

“These two conditions are not well-known at all,” she said. “But they cause a lot of suffering, and many people don't know they have it," she said.

Christina Kling's '14 research focused on finding a treatment for Lyme disease. She worked with Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Eva Sapi’s Lyme research team to look into claims that bee venom could be used to combat the bacterial infection that causes Lyme disease.

“Dr. Sapi has one of the best labs on campus,” said Kling. “There’s very high interest around what she does, and she works very hard with the Lyme community.”

Some studies have suggested that melittin, the main active component of bee venom, has useful antimicrobial properties. Kling’s tests suggested that bee venom, indeed, might be effective against Lyme bacteria.

If the mellitin hypothesis proves true, Kling said it could be possible to develop a drug to help treat Lyme patients. She said that a similar discovery was used to make a diabetes treatment using the venom of a Gila monster lizard. “There are a lot of potential applications for venoms,” she said.

Matt Wranovix, director of the Honors Program, said he was impressed by the confidence and composure of the students at the conference. “They all presented their ideas clearly,” he said, “and they fielded all sorts of questions with great self-assurance.”

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