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Jesuit Seniors Present Groundbreaking Research

Jesuit Dallas seniors Antonio Dimafelix and Dawson Zavala presented the findings of their work to members of the Jesuit Dallas community at the UT Southwestern STARS presentations at the Melsheimer Family Theater. The students were selected to participate in the prestigious STARS Summer Research Program, where they worked one-on-one with faculty researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center on an investigative project in a laboratory setting.

To be accepted into the intensive eight-week program, students were asked to demonstrate high achievement through standardized test scores, grades, an essay, and two faculty letters of recommendation, after which each candidate completed two rounds of interviews with Jesuit and UT Southwestern faculty. Often, students in the program will see their work eventually published.

Zavala’s research project was titled, Enhancing Lung Preservation Strategies by Exploring Glucose Metabolism in Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion. Ex vivo lung perfusion (EVLP) is an innovative therapy applied to donor lungs outside of the body before transplantation that improves organ quality and makes lungs that were previously unsuitable safe for transplant. According to Zavala, “This study aimed to give us a better fundamental understanding of EVLP and how basic metabolic processes are affected by it. With this knowledge as a baseline, future studies into other metabolic pathways (such as the Pentose Phosphate Pathway) and, eventually, into the practice and effectiveness of EVLP can be more effective and informed, as well as having previous data and knowledge from which to build.”

Dimafelix, whose research project was focused on How ER-localized E2 Enzymes Control Protein Homeostasis, shared, “Understanding the ubiquitin labeling system is crucial for curing diseases as it regulates protein levels and maintains cellular health. Dysregulation of this system can cause the accumulation of harmful proteins, a common feature in diseases like cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. Additionally, it acts as a quality control mechanism, preventing the buildup of misfolded or damaged proteins. The ubiquitin system is also integral to many signaling pathways, and malfunctioning in these pathways can lead to diseases like cancer and autoimmune disorders. Thus, comprehending and manipulating this system can be fundamental to developing effective disease treatments and potential cures.”

Jesuit Dallas students have had the wonderful and rare of opportunity of being selected to the STARS Summer Research Program every year since 2012. The experience provides students the chance to work in a modern biomedical research laboratory and is designed to inspire high school students with excellent academic records and a love of science to pursue science-related fields.