Biology students’ stem cell/organoid research takes off

By Chris Machado

Whether it’s cataracts, kidney stones, or cancer, advances in treating these diseases and disorders have begun under a microscope at the cellular level. If you think the road to discovery requires a Ph.D., a group of Providence College biology students recently proved otherwise.

This past semester, Dr. Charles Toth, associate professor of biology, led a first-time seminar entitled Human Organoids. The aim of the lab-intensive course was to grow cellular versions of human organs, such as a kidney, pancreas, and a retina.

“When Dr. Toth introduced us to this, I was excited because we were going to be working on something that is happening in research right now,” said Joseph Dowling ’18 (Ronkonkoma, N.Y.), a biology major who worked in a retina group.

The teams of students created organoids — artificially cultivated masses of cells or tissue that resemble an organ — using human-induced pluripotent stem cells, which were made possible through a gift by Dr. John Mullen ’78.

“Stem cell research is so incredibly important, as this might be the true pathway — along with immunotherapy — to cure so many conditions that plague humanity,” said Mullen, an orthopedic physician. “It can’t be stressed how important this is.”

The stem cells used in the PC lab, which are human cells that are reprogrammed into stem cells, were subjected to various tests that were intended to see if the organoids could mimic natural human behavior. In each group, that happened.

In offering the course, Toth said he wanted to create an open-ended, project-based learning exercise that put the students in control. He charged the students with determining which organoid to grow and which research protocols to follow and scientists to contact, as well as performing the cell cultures and analyses.

“I was extremely proud of the students for stepping up to the plate and owning their work,” he said. “I attended an international stem cell conference recently and met up with a kidney organoid scientist that the kidney group was working with. He saw their completed poster and commented that he was surprised it worked. But, he was very impressed with how well the students did on their project.”

While Dowling admitted that there were disappointments throughout the semester, after weeks of tests he said the outcomes were staggering. The group’s data showed that several of the organoids matured into a tissue known as RPE (retinal pigment epithelium), which has several functions, including light absorption.

“Our main goal was to see if what is being done by researchers was replicable in a classroom environment,” Dowling explained. “We were holding our breath trying to keep these organoids alive. When we got the last (cell) line to work, it was super rewarding.”

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For PC’s first Luce scholars, summer is all about science

By Vicki-Ann Downing

A summer of paid research, a full-tuition scholarship for senior year, and the chance to develop a program to encourage young women in the sciences — those are the opportunities enjoyed by Emma Burgess ’18 and Bianca Saliba ’18, the first Clare Boothe Luce scholars at Providence College.

The Luce program is made possible by a $288,538, four-year award PC received from the Henry Luce Foundation to encourage women in the study of science, engineering, and mathematics. Burgess and Saliba were selected based on their academic standing, commitment to the sciences, and interest in pursuing an advanced degree or career in their fields of study.

They each received a $4,000 stipend to spend the summer on campus in research with faculty. Burgess, from Huntsville, Ala., an applied physics major and mathematics minor, works in the lab of Dr. Seth T. Ashman, assistant professor of physics, on computational and experimental projects. Saliba, from Johnston, R.I., is a chemistry major working with beta-Carbolines in the lab of Dr. Seann P. Mulcahy, associate professor of chemistry.

Burgess and Saliba, who are students in the Liberal Arts Honors Program, are among about 70 science students doing research on campus this summer. As part of the Luce grant, they will continue the research for academic credit during the 2017-18 school year and will undertake a service project to encourage young women to study science.

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Koikou ’16 chosen as one of Africa’s most promising young female leaders

Marie-Florence Koikou ’16 of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, who majored in finance at Providence College, has been selected as one of Africa’s most promising young female leaders by the Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa.

Koikou was one of 28 women selected as a 2017 Moremi Initiative Leadership and Empowerment Development Fellow after a competitive process that drew more than 2,500 applicants from 45 African nations. Selection was based on leadership promise, community service, and commitment to the advancement of women in Africa.

Koikou will spend three weeks at an intensive training program hosted by the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana in Legon. She will learn about leadership in the broad African context, cultivate skills to occupy and excel in leadership positions, and explore issues critical to African women and their communities.

The fellowship is for a year. It will include networking, media coverage, career planning, management, and access to opportunities and resources. Each fellow will initiate and lead a community change project on an issue of importance to her community or to African women.

Koikou applied for the fellowship because she noticed that few women from French-speaking countries in West Africa were represented each year.

“I hope to pave the way for more young African women, especially from Francophone Africa, to realize their potential for leadership and impact in their respective communities,” said Koikou. “I would like to use this fellowship to get more tools and resources, and to learn good practices from the other inspiring participants to make my organization more impactful.”

After graduating from PC, Koikou returned home to Abidjan to work for one year with GE Africa. She then applied for the prestigious GE Financial Management Program, which accepts only a few people from Africa each year. The process included a written examination and interviews in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Koikou was one of three people accepted for the program. Employees work in six-month rotations in four different countries over the course of two years. In August, she will move to Johannesburg to begin the first rotation.

Since graduation, Koikou has continued to work on her social ventures, including Ahiman Women (Women of Tomorrow), an empowerment and mentorship program she started for young girls.

“I organized boot camps and shadowing days to give them more resources and visibility to develop their potential,” Koikou said.

She also became deputy secretary of the alumni board of her all-female high school, Lycee Ste. Marie. While attending school there, Koikou was accepted to the African Leadership Academy, a high school in Johannesburg for the top students from 54 African nations. She spent two years learning about entrepreneurship, leadership, and service, 3,000 miles from home.

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Accountancy class project approach sharpens students’ real-world view

Once each academic semester, Dr. Sonia Gantman, assistant professor of accountancy, provides her accountancy students a valuable, real-world business experience through a hands-on term project. In her course, Accounting Information Systems, a required class for accountancy majors, students work in small teams with organizations on and off campus to study and analyze their business processes and help them to improve their methods.

“The goal of the project is to give the students an opportunity to work with real-world organizations and compare what they learned in class with what happens outside of class,” said Gantman, who said 30 to 40 students enroll in her class each semester.

She continued, “Finding a client organization on their own, interviewing people about their jobs, dealing with logistics contingencies, and handling interdependencies within the team are all invaluable experiences gained from the project that help students get a better grasp of the profession and prepare them to the job market.”

During the Fall 2016 semester, each student group studied the buying and other processes within one of four businesses: Peter Pan Bus Lines, the New England Patriots’ ProShop, PC’s Phillips Memorial Library, and the College’s Raymond Dining Hall. In studying the processes, the students aimed to identify problems with their client’s current methods and help them to become more efficient in their buying.

Therese Nessralla ’18 (Raynham, Mass.) explained that while working on the Raymond Dining Hall project, her group learned how the cafeteria operates its purchasing and inventory management by interviewing the unit controller, John LaBreche of Sodexho, the College’s food services provider.

In order to create a flow chart of purchasing activity, her group asked detailed questions concerning the recording process, the cafeterias vendors, and any delays that might impede purchasing.

Nessralla explained how learning about business methods, such as purchasing, in the context of a real business was not what she expected in her class.

“It is surprising to see why a process is done a certain way, whether it is for cost-efficiency, timeliness, and/or accuracy,” said Nessralla. “I also find it interesting to see how many risks we face in order to do business. The most challenging part is being extremely thorough and trying to detect risks that we normally do not think about.”

While working with the New England Patriots’ ProShop, Kathleen Cronin ’18 (York, Maine) explained that her team worked with a different type of inventory process called “complimentary item process.” Through this process, team members analyzed how the ProShop updated its inventory when items were given to visitors of the stadium as complimentary gifts.

From left, the team of Kellie Roach ’17, Lauryn Picknelly ’18, Brenna Williams ’18, and Jake Beaton ’18 studied processes at the Peter Pan bus company as part of the Accountancy Information Systems course.

Cronin discussed how working with the ProShop built off her classroom lessons and put them into the context of the business world.

“Throughout the interview, my group and I could envision ourselves taking on the inventory process and creating a detailed flowchart that would represent it,” said Cronin. “In the classroom we were able to see how the flowcharts and context diagrams worked, but by working with a business we were challenged to take what we knew and create our own narrative, context diagram, and flowchart.”

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