Friday May 5, 2017

Undergraduate Research Fellowship

University of Dayton pre-medicine major Dante Pezzutti is one of 24 students globally to receive an international fellowship award and stipend to perform scientific research in summer 2017.

Pezzutti, a junior from Columbus, Ohio, won the American Physiological Society Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship award. The award provides a $4,000 stipend for the summer and transportation costs to attend the Experimental Biology National Research Conference in San Diego in spring 2018.

The award targets undergraduates who are new to research. In addition to the monetary prize, the program also provides online educational modules in which fellows learn about research ethics, writing scientific papers and various other professional development topics.

“My research is focused on a freeze-tolerant frog called Hyla chrysoscelis, which instead of hibernating or migrating away from the cold during winter, can actually freeze up to 65 percent of its body,” Pezzutti said about the project he's been working on since fall 2016. “Instead of leaving the cold these frogs simply tolerate it. In the springtime it thaws and essentially resumes life. It’s almost as if the animal is frozen in time.”

Pezzutti added that examining the frogs' capability to freeze itself is important because many of the proteins found in frogs are similar to the proteins found in humans.

“If we can gain a better understanding of how these proteins work in the frogs’ bodies then we could potentially apply these freeze-tolerant mechanisms to human organs, which further in the future could revolutionize the way in which we preserve human organs for transplant,” Pezzutti said.

Knowing he wanted to attend a research-based medical school in the future, Pezzutti sought research opportunities at the University at the midpoint of his sophomore year.

“I was looking for professors to do research under and I saw that Dr. Carissa Krane had a research interest that aligned with some of my initial interests,” he said. “I set up a time to meet with her to discuss some of those interests and as we continued to explore research opportunities I found this new interest with the freeze-tolerant frogs, and then I started research at the beginning of the fall 2016 semester.”

Pezzutti’s advisor also has high hopes for his complex research.

“As a premed major, Dante became interested in pursuing an honors thesis project that uses the tools of molecular biology, molecular physiology, and ecophysiology to explore the underpinnings of freeze tolerance in Cope’s gray tree frog, Hyla chyroscelis,” Krane said. “The American Physiological Society Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship award that Dante received is aimed at supporting his faculty mentored undergraduate research experience this summer. We have high goals for the outcome of this project, which includes Dante publishing and presenting this research as a first author on a poster at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting.”

Pezzutti said before choosing an undergraduate institution, he was torn between the University of Dayton and a much larger school. Ultimately, he is appreciative of his choice because he feels that the University has allowed his involvement with research to expand beyond the classroom.

“The characteristics of UD have allowed me to get really involved with undergraduate research,” Pezzutti said. “It was easy for me to reach out to various professors and ask about their research, and professors are able to meet with students and discuss in-depth research interests and possibilities.”

Like many other University undergraduates who have participated in research, Pezzutti described the experience and opportunities as transformative.

“Through doing undergraduate research at UD, this whole new world of research and the possibilities of research in medicine have opened up to me and really expanded my interests, so I definitely want to integrate research into my medical career in the future,” he said. “I used to want to be a doctor so I could help others, and that dream is still alive, but now I want to integrate research into that career to expand the opportunities that there are in medicine to help a greater number of people.”

- Alex Burchfield ’16, communication assistant, College of Arts and Sciences

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