Tufts University

A Day for Discovery

Research DayThe Office of the Vice Provost's Research Day promotes interdisciplinary research among Tufts' three campuses and affiliated hospitals.

Entering the lobby of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging on Oct. 17, a distinctive hum seemed to fill the space.

The cause? Dozens of conversations in every corner, as post-doctoral researchers, graduate students, faculty and clinical staff mingled with each other, sharing ideas and techniques about varying aspects of cancer research.

While the attendees, coming from a range of fields and backgrounds, were prepared to learn new insights or techniques relating to the topic at hand, most came out of the day with something they never expected—a better understanding of all that Tufts has to offer researchers across its three campuses.

That is the mission of Research Day, a program run by the Office of the Vice Provost that gives researchers the opportunity to reach across disciplinary boundaries and discover connections that they never imagined possible.

"I have seen people looking at research that they did not think was relevant to them before, and realizing possible links that help them explore new opportunities."

— Sergio Fantini

"I have seen people looking at research that they did not think was relevant to them before, and realizing possible links that help them explore new opportunities," said Sergio Fantini, professor of biomedical engineering and associate dean for graduate education at the School of Engineering, who was one of three keynote speakers at the event. "Being so broad in terms of involving everyone is a great thing—it's not something that one is typically exposed to in their professional career."

"It's unifying," said Joanna Xylas (E'12), a biomedical engineering student who presented during the event's poster session. "It's nice to see all of Tufts come together."

The event on Oct. 17 was the sixth for the Office of the Vice Provost. Past Research Day topics have included infectious disease and pathogens and drug discovery and development.

"It's part of the mission of the Office to promote research at the university and facilitate interdisciplinary and collaborative research [that we can] showcase both internally and externally," said Assistant Provost Suna Grassi. "We wanted to make sure that the Tufts name got out there in these areas where we're so strong."

Research Day

The event, drawing attendees from as far away as California, pulls together researchers from not only the three campuses, but also all of Tufts' affiliated hospitals, providing for possible clinical collaborations, according to Grassi.

"Historically, not just at Tufts, there wasn't as much cross-disciplinary work going on, but now that [cross-disciplinary work] is growing,"according to Grassi. "People have to think, 'OK, I'm working on cancer research—that may not just be in the oncology division, there may be somebody in the engineering department that works on this, there may be someone in the veterinary school who has applications for this.'"

Zeroing in on Cancer

This year's event, focusing on cancer, consisted of a variety of different forums, including several keynote speakers and shorter "lightning talks."

Fantini gave a talk discussing the use of optical mammography in detecting breast cancer.

"Using light for breast cancer detection is not a new idea; it was first proposed in the 1920s," Fantini said. "The talk [discussed] the state of the art of the field, which is introducing a number of new approaches to optical mammography, and my own research at Tufts aimed at developing a novel instrument for oxygenation mapping of the breast for cancer detection and monitoring."

Research Day

This year's "lightning talks," broken up into categories including susceptibility, biomarkers and emerging technologies, featured Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences Professor Daniel Jay and Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine Assistant Professor Chieko Azuma.

Jay, a professor of physiology and neuroscience, presented research in the area of emerging technologies. His group, which has been working on cancer research for nearly eight years, has developed two new molecular technologies through a National Cancer Institute program.

"One is a technology called FALI (fluorophore-assisted light inactivation), which targets light energy with dye-labeled antibodies, destroying proteins on cells [allowing researchers] to understand what their function is in cancer," says Jay. "It has allowed us to discover novel proteins required for cancer invasiveness. The second thing is, using these antibody libraries we generated [through the use of FALI] as a means of molecular classification of cancers, particularly breast cancers, and their susceptibility to chemotherapy." (continued)

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Profile written by Kaitlin Melanson, Office of Web Communications

Photos by Jodi Hilton for University Photography

This story originally ran on Oct. 27, 2008.