Two seniors win Dean’s Prize Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research

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Recent graduates Nooriel Banayan (’15) and Kyle Travaglini (’15) received the Dean’s Prize Medal of Excellence at the 2015 UCLA Science Poster Day.

The students were presented their awards by the Dean and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education at the May 12th event. Winners were chosen by the faculty judges as students who exemplify excellence in presentation of their faculty-mentored research. Only seniors participating in Science Poster Day can be nominated for a Dean’s Prize. The annual event is sponsored by the Undergraduate Science Journal.

Nooriel BanayanNooriel Banayan (’15) transferred from Pierce College to UCLA in 2013 as a chemistry major. He is currently conducting research at the David Geffen Medical School under Prof. Paul C. Tumeh. His research focuses on exploring the tumor microenvironment in advanced stage melanoma patients. PD-1/PD-L1 blocking therapies have shown significant clinical activity in various cancer types. A grand challenge in the field of cancer immunotherapy is the identification of immune cell types that are altered (i.e. density, proliferative status, phenotype, effector function) during PD1 blockade and the downstream mechanistic investigation into how these immune cell-types mediate rejection. Nooriel aims to develop a method of targeting a wide variety of epitopes in the tumor microenvironment in order to identify the different immuno-cellular niches that may be contributing to the rejection of PD1 blockade therapy.  

Nooriel also works under Dr. Jia Ming Chen at CNSI for the High School Nanoscience Program that Dr. Chen runs. The program brings university level science concepts and experiments to high school students. He is also involved with transfer community on campus; he is a mentor for the “Show me the Ropes” program which aims to link up new transfers with senior transfers. Nooriel also volunteers for the non-profit organization “Special Needs Network” which aims to bring services to families of special needs children in underrepresented communities.  

He is also a Science Remediation instructor for the Nursing program at Pierce College: he teaches basic chemistry, physics and biology to pre-nursing students who wish to enter the college’s nursing program. In addition to the Dean’s Prize Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research, Nooriel has also received College Honors, Highest Departmental Honors, and Dean’s Honors.

KyleKyle Travaglini (’15)

 started at UCLA a freshman biochemistry major in the Fall of 2011. After finishing his lower division courses, he sought out research through the biomedical research minor. His first research project at UCLA was in Prof. Steven Clarke’s lab during his junior year. His project focused on the structure and role of eukaryotic elongation factor methyltransferases (EFMs). He focused on the conserved elongation factors (EF) 1 and 2 that guide tRNAs through the ribosome as new proteins are made and are extensively methylated on lysine residues. When he began, little was known about the role of these modifications or the enzymes responsible for them. Methylation in general is a common post-translational modification and there are several examples that exhibit deep biological significance. Methylation of other ribosomal proteins and rRNA, for example, has a critical role in fidelity and assembly of the ribosome.

Over the next two years Kyle and his graduate mentor Maria Dzialo (Ph.D.’15) identified two new enzymes that methylate EF1A and EF2 and showed loss of methylation causes issues in translational fidelity and inhibitor resistance. These discoveries suggested methylation of both EF1A and EF2 aid in mRNA decoding by fine-tuning their communication with the translational apparatus. During this period, Kyle presented three posters (twice at Science Poster Day and once at the Biomedical Research Summer Scholars Poster Symposium) and helped co-author two publications in JBC and BBRC. His research was supported by a UCLA Chemistry and Biochemistry alumni fellowship, a UCLA College Honors research stipend, and an Undergraduate Research Scholar’s Program (URSP) scholarship. 

Kyle graduated from UCLA cum laude last spring and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. as a Stanford Graduate Fellow in the Biochemistry department. In graduate school, he is pursing rotations in human disease-related research so he can apply and develop basic research skills he learned as an undergraduate.