Annual Research Showcase celebrates its 30th year

The showcase celebrated a milestone year with record participation among pharmacy student researchers.

By: Matt Splett

A record 89 poster entries and a keynote address about how technology is transforming clinical drug development highlighted the College of Pharmacy’s 30th Annual Research Showcase event on Feb. 17.

The day of excitement and discovery offered an opportunity for professional pharmacy students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to share research findings and compete for awards in either oral or poster competitions.

For second-year Pharm.D. student Latoy Waite, Research Showcase presented the first opportunity for her to compete in a research poster competition. Waite studies in the research lab of Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D., professor and chair of medicinal chemistry and the Debbie and Sylvia DeSantis Chair in Natural Products Drug Discovery and Development. Her research poster featured two different drug discovery approaches involving sponges from a marine environment, with the idea of testing the sponges to explore if they have bioactivity against cancer cells and persistent bacteria.

“One of the reasons why I decided to attend the University of Florida’s College of Pharmacy is that we have many opportunities to get involved with research,” Waite said. “Events like this allow me to share my research with others and gain valuable experience in improving my presentation skills.”

Johannes Kast, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in the department of pharmaceutics, competed in his fourth Research Showcase this year. His poster examined how medications work in space — specifically how the efficacy of amoxicillin could be impaired during space missions. Through modeling and simulation, he found that the bacterial burden in space may be higher due to increased antibiotic resistance and deceased amoxicillin concentrations in the body.

Kast has regularly competed in Research Showcase because it makes him a better scientist.

“Since Research Showcase is a college-wide event, you have scientists outside your field visiting your poster, and you are challenged to communicate your research in a way that they understand it,” Kast said. “Researchers are always presenting their work, and the best way to improve your communication skills is to compete in events such as Research Showcase.”

Edmundo Muniz, M.D., Ph.D., CEO of Certara, a company offering technology and consulting services for optimizing drug development and improving health outcomes, offered insight into the intersection of technology and biology in his keynote remarks. He defined a paradigm shift underway in biology, including drug discovery, development and use, where technology is radically transforming the process of knowledge generation and decision-making.

“Rapid advancements in information technology and computer processing power are transforming our understanding of biology to revolutionize drug discovery, development and patient care as never before,” Muniz said. “In the future, models and simulations will drive decisions, not small numbers of real-life patients, and drug development will become largely virtualized.”

Muniz predicted that technology will reduce the role of humans in clinical trials. Furthermore, “one size fits all” drug development will give way to personalized medicine and individualized care. He also told the audience that translational science will be required to show not just efficacy and safety, but meaningful value to the health care system.  He added that pharmaceutical drug development will shift from a predominantly biological scientific focus to a hybrid with a strong focus on technology.

Adding to the significance of this year’s event was the 30th anniversary milestone. The Annual Research Showcase began under the leadership of former UF College of Pharmacy Dean Michael Schwartz, Ph.D., who saw the event as an opportunity to bring greater visibility to the college’s research efforts and promote collaboration among departments. A video from College of Pharmacy alumni who had participated in previous Research Showcase events was shown to commemorate the milestone year.