Research Symposium 2022

The annual Research Symposium is a showcase of the hard work and dedication to intellectual curiosity by student doctors, residents, fellows, and faculty at KCU over the past year. We are so proud of their outstanding work and their contributions to the study of medicine through research. 

Research Symposium 2022

The annual Research Symposium is a showcase of the hard work and dedication to intellectual curiosity by student doctors, residents, fellows, and faculty at KCU over the past year. We are so proud of their outstanding work and their contributions to the study of medicine through research. 

2022 Research Symposium

KCU’s 2022 Research Symposium event held April 12-15 presented the best of both worlds – virtual and in-person on both KCU campuses in Joplin and Kansas City – featuring more than 175 research presentations. The four-day symposium opened with five outstanding nationally renowned keynoters speaking to an audience of 200 students, scientists, faculty and staff.

All KCU academic programs were represented in the symposium. Presentations included:

  • More than 165 iPosters
  • 17 Summer Student Research Fellows
  • 12 selected students presented their research
  • 33 KCU GME-Consortium Residents

In-person poster presentations on each campus totaled 58 - 20 in Joplin and 38 in Kansas City.

KCU extends our thanks to these external partners for their valuable contributions to our successful week of research:

  • BioNexus
  • Freeman Health System
  • Missouri Southern State University

To our KCU Students: Your participation exemplifies nimbleness, flexibility and a commitment to research, and the quality of your work continues to inspire us!

The 2022 Research Symposium award winners are in order by category below. Click on the red arrow to read the submission's accompanying abstract, if available. Download the Awards PPT file.

Watch the presentation videos on YouTube.

Poster Awards

College of Osteopathic Medicine

Background: Synovial cysts of the facet joint are a unique pathology that hold the potential to cause radiculopathy. While synovial cysts are extradural structures commonly found within the facet joint, they may appear in numerous locations throughout the spinal canal. We present two cases where patients experienced radicular pain due to lumbar synovial facet cysts.

Case report: We present two cases of synovial lumbar cysts of the right L4-L5 facet joint, patient 1 a 53-year-old female and patient 2, a 74-year-old male. Each patient suffered from lower back pain as well as radicular symptoms of the right lower extremity. Both patients underwent percutaneous aspiration and steroid injection into the facet joint, resulting in symptomatic relief. 

Conclusion: Historically, patients suffering from cysts of the facet joint had undergone open surgical procedures. Percutaneous aspiration of lumbar synovial cysts of the facet joint paired with local steroid injection appears to provide immediate pain relief and drastic quality of life improvement. We hypothesize the steroid injection into the facet joint leads to a lower rate of recurrence compared to traditional percutaneous aspiration. Perhaps these patients should be offered percutaneous aspiration and steroid injection prior to considering surgical procedures.

Drugs biotransformation processes convert novel drug candidates and known pharmacotherapy into new chemical species that may have either toxic or therapeutic effects. Drug metabolism studies are usually initially performed in laboratory animals, however, due to inter-species metabolic variability when compared to humans, rodent animal models are unable to replicate the metabolic profile of a given drug in humans. Human hepatocytes in primary culture provide the next best in vitro model when compared to human liver. However, the limited availability and restricted access to suitable human liver tissue samples for primary cultured hepatocyte production is prohibitive. We have therefore initiated a biochemical and genetic characterization of the human hepatoma cell line, HepG2, as a replacement model system for primary cultures of human hepatocytes. The ligand-activated nuclear receptor superfamily member Pregnane X Receptor (PXR. NR1I2) is the primary regulator of drug inducible cytochrome P450 sub-family member CYP3A4 gene expression in human liver. Because we discovered that HepG2 cells lacked appreciable endogenous PXR we used an adenoviral approach to deliver exogenous PXR to provide a novel cell model for exploration of drug inducible CYP3A4 gene expression. We further characterized the expression levels of numerous genes involved in fatty acid metabolism, energy homeostasis and inflammatory signaling pathways. Our results provide a foundation for the use of HepG2 cells as a novel model for exploration of drug candidates for their ability to induce CYP3A4 gene expression in humans and a replacement for primary cultures of human hepatocytes. 

College of Biosciences

Congenital heart defects (CHD) affect 1% of babies. Despite a large effort, the genetic or epigenetic causes have not yet been identified. scaRNAs (small noncoding RNAs) are often overlooked but appear to have an important contribution to heart development. Our research team has identified 12 scaRNAs that are involved in regulating mRNA alternative splicing during development, specifically within the developing vertebrate heart. We have found that within right ventricular tissue from children with tetralogy of Fallot (TOF, a specific severe heart defect) many genes involved in heart development were alternatively spliced, and all 12 scaRNAs were significantly reduced. scaRNAs are involved in maturation of the spliceosome and we hypothesize that scaRNAs are influencing alternative splicing of mRNA in a developmentally important manner. To test this hypothesis, I targeted scaRNA2 for knockdown and evaluated its biochemical modification of its target nucleotide and subsequent impact on mRNA splicing. I showed that as scaRNA2 decreased there was a decrease in methylation at its target nucleotide on snRNA U2, C61. I also evaluated the transcriptome and showed a significant change in mRNA splicing. I found gene transcripts with altered splicing that were involved in embryonic and heart development. My results are consistent with scaRNAs playing an important role in heart development.

Human longevity is increasing; in fact, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that there will be a 10% increase in individuals 65 years of age and older by 2050. Unfortunately, increases in longevity is associated with risk factors for numerous health issues and decreased effectiveness of medical interventions. Aging cells lose their ability to renew and repair damage. RNA sequencing and bioinformatics analysis of Normal Human Fibroblasts (NHFs) from healthy donors of different ages (3 day – 70 year) ranked lipid metabolism as the top metabolic process that is significantly altered during aging. Using BODIPY C11 fluorescent probes to measure ratio of toxic lipid peroxides (LOO•) to neutral lipids, our results showed an age-associated increase (up to 100%) in lipid peroxidation in NHFs aged from 17 years up to 79 years. Results from immunoblot analysis showed significant decreases (greater than 50%) in the expression of G0-G1 Switch 2 (G0S2), a negative regulator of the lipolytic enzyme, Adipose triglyceride lipase (ATGL) in older NHFs. No significant difference was observed in the protein levels of fatty acid synthase (FASN), ATGL or its co-activator Comparative Gene Identification-58 (CGI-58). Using Platypus cell migration assay, results showed that NHFs from older individuals have slower wound closing ability when compared to NHFs from younger individuals. Overall, these results indicate that G0S2-dependent lipolytic signaling contributes to age-related impairment in wound healing via lipid peroxides. Intervention of the G0S2-ATGL lipid signaling pathway is an attractive and novel avenue to mitigate age-associated decline in the regenerative efficacy of tissues.


Concussion is the most common form of head injury, with a yearly incidence rate of approximately 100-300 people per 100,000. Concussion can lead to difficulties with physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning. Individuals diagnosed with a concussion typically recover within 14 days after injury. However, many individuals experience prolonged symptoms lasting up to 6 months post-concussion injury. Traditional recovery methods have emphasized prolonged rest without physical or mental stimulation. Through research, these methods have been proven to be ineffective and further perpetuate existing symptoms. The proposed study aims to test the feasibility and acceptability of a new 6-week telehealth treatment modality that incorporates psychoeducation about concussion, exercise, and mindfulness techniques to aid in recovery. The proposed study will recruit 15 participants. Participants will be provided with weekly modules that focus on topics related to concussion recovery and return to normal activity. The study will also consist of weekly meetings with participants to track their recovery progress, endorsed symptoms, and evaluate their weekly exercise and mindfulness goals which use a FitBit activity device. This study is unique in that it combines well-established interventions for concussion recovery and uses them as one treatment modality for individuals with long-term concussion symptoms. It is expected that participants will endorse fewer concussion symptoms and cognitive difficulties over the course of the 6-week intervention. Taken together, results from this pilot study will be used to inform future study direction. This new treatment intervention could potentially improve the health and quality of life for many patients.

Autoimmune diseases can cause cognitive impairments in the domains of attention, working memory, memory, language, processing speed, motor control, and executive functioning. Pseudo-dementia (i.e. depression) can also cause cognitive deficits. Autoimmune disorders and depression are heavily comorbid, demonstrating how physical and psychological symptoms can lead to declines in cognitive functioning. The variables autoimmunity, cognitive functioning, and pseudo-dementia have rarely been studied together. The current study aims to examine if autoimmunity or depression is a better predictor of cognitive impairment, or if the combination of both contribute to cognitive deficits. Cognitive domains of attention, working memory, short and long-term memory, processing speed, language, and executive skills will be assessed. Hypotheses include: 1) Autoimmunity and high depression will predict lower cognition scores 2) Autoimmunity and depression will be significantly correlated 3) Individuals with an autoimmune diagnosis will endorse higher depression rates and therefore score lower on neuropsychological tests compared to those without an autoimmune disorder 4) Both depression and autoimmunity will be significant predictors of cognitive impairment. The current study consists of a retroactive chart review from Kansas City Medical Center. Roughly 100 individuals with Celiac disease or Diabetes Type I will be identified. T-tests and regressions will be run to explore the relationships between the three variables. Findings from this research may provide insight into early preventative treatment options, such that knowing whether depression or autoimmune deficiencies is driving cognitive decline will help inform practitioners whether it is more critical to first address the medical disease or the psychological disorder.

Summer Student Research Fellowship Presentations

The anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) is one of the lateral ankle ligaments stabilizing the ankle joint, primarily involved with restricting foot supination. It is the most commonly injured of the ankle ligaments, and surgical repair or reconstruction runs the risk of limiting normal ankle movements. There has been limited research on precise ATFL anatomy and variations, and several studies have conflicting results. In this study, 39 cadaveric ankles (15 male, 24 female) were dissected free of overlying structures to reveal the ATFL, which was classified based on the number of ligament fascicles. In all, 9 of the ligaments had one fascicle, 13 had two incompletely separated fascicles, 12 had two completely separated fascicles, and 3 had three fascicles. Two ankles had no ATFL. The length and width of the ligaments were measured using the program ImageJ, and these measurements were then correlated to biological sex, height, weight, and age with Microsoft Excel. The average length of the ATFL was 19.2 mm, and the average width was 9.59 mm. Male ligaments were longer and wider than female ligaments. However, there was no correlation between height, weight, or age and ligament length, width or structural variation among all individuals. The findings of this study may encourage future studies exploring the physiological significance of ATFL variation, and may also aid physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of ankle injuries.

Introduction: Cancer survivors represent a growing group of patients at risk of premature cardiovascular disease due to complications caused by chemotherapeutic drugs, including doxorubicin. Doxorubicin is an effective chemotherapeutic agent that has been demonstrated to also target cardiac endothelial cells.

Research Design: Our previous studies have shown increased microvascular permeability, abnormal dilation of microvessels and reduced deposition of collagen, type IV. As these microvascular defects are often indicative of disturbed endothelial-mural cell crosstalk, we hypothesized that doxorubicin exerts its effects through upregulation of endothelial production of platelet derived growth factor BB (PDGF-BB) leading to activation of microvascular mural cells, pericytes. Results: We have detected increased production of PDGF-BB in cardiac tissue of doxorubicin treated mice, as compared with saline treated mouse hearts. Furthermore, density of cells positive for pericyte markers, NG-2 and PDGFRbeta, significantly decreased as a result of doxorubicin treatment, due to either loss of pericytes or their reprogramming leading to greatly diminished expression of these markers. We then used an in vitro model of human umbilical vein endothelial cells to examine the effect of doxorubicin on pdgfb gene expression. Similarly to the in vivo model, pdgfb expression was upregulated in endothelial cells during and after doxorubicin treatment and was rescued by treatment of endothelial cell cultures with the TGF- pathway inhibitor, administered either concurrently with or after the doxorubicin treatment period. Conclusion: This study has demonstrated increased endothelial production of PDGF-BB and pericyte alterations in doxorubicin treated hearts and implicated the TGF-beta pathway in microvascular remodeling by doxorubicin.

Resident Research Award

1. Nicholas Faron, DO
St. Luke’s Des Peres Family Medicine 2nd year resident

Outcomes of Refractive Lens Exchange to Treat High Myopia in Special Needs Children & Adolescents

2. Charles Dunn, MD
ADCS-Orlando Dermatology 1st year resident

Vaccines and Dermatology: Expanding the Role of Dermatology Clinics in the Name of Public Health

Yale U. Castlio, DO, Prize for Research Fund 2022 Honoree

Background: Suboccipital inhibition is an established osteopathic manipulative therapy technique that affects the autonomic nervous system and cerebrovascular hemodynamics to treat cervicogenic headaches. Limited research data has been documented regarding the physiological complexity of related mechanisms, possibly due to cost and variability in subject demographics. Additionally, multimodal simultaneous physiologic measures during manipulation have not been thoroughly studied. Using biosensing technology, psychological assessment, and a unique sham intervention, we aim to provide a framework for future economical, subject-appropriate, reproducible studies involving osteopathic manipulative therapy.

Methods/design: This is a randomized controlled crossover pilot trial that will follow Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) guidelines. Eight healthy osteopathic medical students will be recruited and randomized into two groups. Each group will participate in two sessions with three conditions using an [ABAC and ACAB] design where (A) is control, (B) is suboccipital inhibition and (C) is sham low-level laser therapy. Sessions will be spaced one week apart. Physiologic measurements will be recorded before, during, and after each session. Primary outcome measures will be evaluation of (I) recruitment, (II) data collection and analysis procedures, (III) acceptability of the design, (IV) intervention suitability, (V) and preliminary response to the intervention. Secondary outcomes will include measures of autonomic and cerebrovascular activity.

Discussion: Results of this study will provide a framework for a larger randomized controlled trial using economical, subject-appropriate, and reproducible means to measure the complex physiology of suboccipital inhibition.

Trial registration: following IRB approval

Congratulations, everyone, on research well done!