UCI Grad Slam 2024 - 10th Anniversary Edition

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Grad Slam is a systemwide competition that showcases and awards the best three-minute research presentations by graduate scholars. This competition not only highlights the excellence, importance and relevance of UCI graduate scholars and their research, but it is also designed to increase graduate students’ communication skills and their capacity to effectively present their work with poise and confidence. It is an opportunity to share accomplishments with the campus, friends of UCI, the local community, and the broader public.

2024 Top-Three Finishers

Onwodi Ifejeokwu - First Place

School of Medicine

Kill the cancer; Spare the brain!

Each year, approximately 2 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer. With more effective therapies leading to longer life expectancies, there has been a massive influx of cancer survivors suffering from unintended, debilitating side effects, including cancer therapy-related cognitive impairments. Many will face long-term consequences ranging from lapses in memory, difficulty multi-tasking, and for childhood survivors an inability to graduate from high school. Our lab’s previous chemotherapy and radiation studies have shown that it’s not just the cancer or therapy that can cause brain damage: the immune response raised because of the disease and treatment can cause damage, too. This is of particular concern with the modern wave of cancer treatments known as immunotherapies. Unlike more traditional methods of killing cancer which use toxic agents, immunotherapies utilize the body’s own cancer defense mechanisms to kill the cancer. Unfortunately, these mechanisms can also cause brain injury. The great news is brain damage prevention is possible; we have discovered mitigation strategies for chemotherapy and radiation induced brain injury and will do the same for immunotherapies. We hope that future research will further refine our tools to treat cancer and improve quality of life for survivors.

Nnaoma Agwu - Second Place

Henry Samueli School of Engineering

Restoring a Child’s Heart: The IRIS Valve

Every year, 40,000 children in the US are born with congenital heart defects (CHD), and 1 in every 4 with critical CHD will not live past their first year of life. One of the reasons for this issue stems from abnormalities in the right ventricular outflow tract or damage from the surgical repair of an ineffective pulmonary valve surgery. There is one FDA approved pulmonary valve replacement to restore valve function in young children. The Melody’s valve (Medtronic, Minneapolis, MN) is a 20mm diameter balloon expandable valve implanted with minimally invasive surgery into children with a minimum weight limitation of 44-55lbs. Children less than 44lbs. must wait until they have grown, increasing damage to the right ventricle. To eliminate the wait, we designed and developed a new transcatheter pulmonary valve; IRIS valve. Through in vivo implants in piglets, computational simulations and benchtop testing, the IRIS valve functions as a 12mm diameter balloon expandable valve and growth accommodating ability can be deployed for infants as early as 18lbs. IRIS valve will be implanted to replace the faulty pulmonary valve space at 12mm which will be expanded to 20mm to accommodate the growing size of the pulmonary valve space to maintain function.

May Hui - Third Place

School of Medicine

Flipping the Switch on Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is a complex condition that affects nearly 1 in every 5 adults worldwide, posing a major public health concern. Yet, despite its widespread prevalence, few effective strategies for pain management exist – fueled in large part by our limited understanding of the underlying mechanisms of chronic pain.

In my graduate research, I’ve identified a key neural circuit that mediates both physical and emotional aspects of chronic pain, using cutting-edge viral tracing techniques. Activation of this circuit is sufficient to induce chronic pain-like symptoms even in uninjured animals, while silencing the circuit not only relieves pain hypersensitivity but also mitigates anxiety-like behaviors in injured animals.

These findings not only shed light on the neural basis of chronic pain but also pave the way for more targeted interventions. By understanding how pain is encoded in the brain, we can develop next-generation, neural circuit-based therapies that not only eliminate the addictive elements of current prescription opioids, but also treat pain symptoms more effectively. This is the future I envision.

Previous Competitions

General Information

Contact: Raslyn Rendon, Director of Alumni Relations
Media Inquiries Contact:  Derrick Fazendin, Director of Communications