KU News Release

Feb. 25, 2011
Contact: Roberta Pokphanh, Office of Research and Graduate Studies; or Allen Rawitch, KU Medical Center

Graduate students win awards for research presentations

LAWRENCE — Four projects by graduate students from the University of Kansas each received $1,000 awards at the eighth annual Capitol Graduate Research Summit held Feb. 17 in Topeka.

The winners are

— Sommer L. Amundsen, doctoral student in bioengineering from Lawrence, and Gustaf Van Acker III, doctoral student in molecular and integrative physiology from Roeland Park
— Michael D. Mangus, master’s student in mechanical engineering from Kanorado
— Ashlee Nicole (Widler) Martz, doctoral student in audiology from Clearwater
— Shane R. Stecklein, medical student and doctoral student in pathology from Dodge City and Prairie Village

KU student Emily Kessler explains her research project to Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. (Photo by David McKinney/University Relations)

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and members of the Kansas Board of Regents and the Kansas House of Representatives and Senate attended the poster session that featured graduate students from KU, KU Medical Center, Kansas State University and Wichita State University. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and the presidents of Kansas State and Wichita State were on hand to visit with the students, regents and elected officials as well as the public.

Following the presentations, awards were presented to two projects from each campus. Tom and Jill Docking and KansasBio funded the awards.

Sara Rosen, dean of graduate studies, noted that KU was represented by 13 graduate students — eight from the Lawrence campus and five from KU Medical Center. Their work represents issues important to Kansans including rural health care, childhood obesity, breast cancer treatment, biofuels and water quality.

“The presentations showcased a small sample of the research being conducted at KU by our graduate students — research that impacts not only KU, but our state,” Rosen said.

Allen Rawitch, vice chancellor for academic affairs and graduate studies at KU Medical Center, described the projects presented at the Capitol Summit as “great examples of the outstanding and relevant work that our graduate students are doing here at KUMC and at all of our research university campuses.”

KansasBio was founded in 2004 by the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute to unify Kansas’ bioscience industry, academic research institutions and economic development organizations. Its goals are to enhance the state’s business and research climate and to work with leaders across the state to attract and retain bioscience talent, companies and funding.

Tom and Jill Docking are KU alumni. Tom, a partner in the Wichita law firm of Morris, Laing, Evans, Brock and Kennedy, earned a bachelor’s in economics and political science in 1976 and a law degree and a master’s of business administration in 1980. He served as Kansas lieutenant governor from 1983 to 1987. Jill received a bachelor’s degree in history at KU in 1978 and a master’s of business administration in 1984. She works as a financial adviser and recently served as chair of the Kansas Board of Regents. She is a member of the KU Endowment Board of Trustees. The Dockings recently were named co-chairs of the next comprehensive campaign for KU.

The KU award winners are listed below by hometown, previous schools attended or degrees earned, parents’ names and brief notes about their research.

From Lawrence 66046
Sommer L. Amundsen, doctoral student in bioengineering, is collaborating with Gustaf Van Acker III, doctoral student in molecular and integrative physiology, to study “Optimal Stimulus Parameters for Mapping Muscle Synergies and Associated Movements Evoked From M1 Cortex with Repetitive ICMS.” Their advisers are Paul Cheney, professor of molecular integrative physiology, and Carl Luchies, associate professor of mechanical engineering. Amundsen is a Self Graduate Fellow at KU. Amundsen received a bachelor’s degree in dance and engineering from Hope College, Holland, Mich. Her research investigates the method by which the brain controls voluntary movement, using monkeys as well as healthy humans and Parkinson’s disease patients. She is looking for muscle groupings called synergies in measured muscle activity to use as a model explaining brain control of muscle activity and motion. The research has implications in improving therapies for neuromuscular diseases as well as improving basic understanding of brain control of movement.

From Dodge City 67801 and Prairie Village
Shane R. Stecklein, medical student and doctoral student in pathology, is researching “Antagonizing Repair-Mediated Resistance in Breast and Ovarian Cancer.” His adviser is Roy A. Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center and the William R. Jewell Distinguished Kansas Masonic Professor. Stecklein earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from KU in spring 2006. He is the son of Terry Stecklein of Dodge City and Diane Stecklein of Prairie Village and a graduate of Dodge City Senior High School. Stecklein’s poster showcased an important discovery he made to improve treatment for women with ovarian and breast cancers. He explained that a number of ovarian and breast cancer cases are therapy-resistant, meaning these cancer cells aren’t affected by chemotherapy. “Therapeutic resistance is a huge obstacle to prolonging life in these patients,” said Stecklein. “If we can reverse or prevent this resistance from occurring, then that is a huge advance in patients who have these types of cancers.” Stecklein thinks he has found a drug that can reverse the resistance of these stubborn cancer cells, potentially improving outcomes for these patients.

From Prairie Village 66208 and Dodge City
Shane R. Stecklein. SEE FORD COUNTY

From Roeland Park 66202
Gustaf M. Van Acker III, doctoral student in molecular and integrative physiology, and Sommer L. Amundsen, doctoral student in bioengineering, are working collaboratively to study “Optimal Stimulus Parameters for Mapping Muscle Synergies and Associated Movements Evoked From M1 Cortex with Repetitive ICMS.” Their advisers are Paul Cheney, professor of molecular integrative physiology, and Carl Luchies, associate professor of mechanical engineering. Van Acker received dual bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and molecular biophysics and molecular and cellular biology from the University of Arizona. His research focuses on neural control of movement, specifically acquiring a complete representation of stimulus-evoked forelimb movements within the forelimb representation of the primary motor cortex in the brain. The results will contribute to the fundamental understanding of neuromotor control of movement and the possible future treatments of neuromotor diseases.

From Clearwater 67026
Ashlee Nicole (Widler) Martz, doctoral student in audiology, is researching “A New Method for Diagnosing Hearing Loss.” Mark Chertoff, associate professor in the School of Allied Health, is her adviser. Martz earned a bachelor’s degree in speech-language-hearing from KU in spring 2007. She is the daughter of Todd and Kim Widler and a graduate of Clearwater High School. Martz is researching a new method for diagnosing hearing loss by finding the exact location of anatomical damage in the auditory system. She explained that “pinpointing the location is important because there have been extraordinary advancements in therapeutics for hearing loss in the past several years, but these treatments require us to know the precise anatomical structure that is damaged.” She carried out the research using low-frequency stimulus and recording cochlear microphonics in Mongolian gerbils before and then after inducing noise damage to various regions of the cochlea.

From Kanorado 67741
Michael D. Mangus, a master’s student in mechanical engineering, is researching “Performance and Emission Testing of Feedstock Biodiesels.” Christopher Depcik, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is his adviser. He is the son of Danny and Charlene Mangus and a graduate of Goodland High School. Magnus will enter KU’s doctoral program in fall 2011. He completed his bachelor’s degree in mechanical and nuclear engineering in 2008 at Kansas State University. His research focuses on biofuels. He is performing a study to determine what biodiesel properties influence engine performance and emissions in an effort to determine the ideal biodiesel characteristics.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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