default article image

Senior Spotlight: Dharm Patel

New Inductee of Sigma Xi, Scientific Research Society

default article imageDharm Patel came from Colonia High School in Colonia, NJ to the University as a Monmouth Medical Scholar in the combined 8 year B.S./M.D. program with Drexel University School of Medicine. In the summer of his sophomore year, he began research with Dean Michael Palladino of the School of Science by participating in the MU School of Science’s Summer Research Program (SRP) in 2009.

“Dean Palladino’s lab seemed the best fit for me,” Patel said, “because his lab had a very successful track record for understanding the fundamentals of basic science research in the field of reproductive biology. There needs to be a solid understanding of how the fundamentals work because you can manipulate that understanding to solve a problem through various techniques and experiments.”

In addition to being the PI (mentor) for Patel’s research, Dean Palladino is also the Chief Advisor for Patel’s Honors Thesis.

Patel’s current research project is entitled “Effects of Lipopolysaccharide-induced Inflammation on Hypoxia-inducible factor-1 Expression in the Rat Testis.” His research in immunology and reproductive biology is aimed primarily at identifying the molecular changes following inflammation of the human male reproductive tract from bacterial and viral infections.

His work explores the crosstalk and signaling pathways between NF-kB and HIF-1, two major transcription factors for inflammation. From his abstract submitted to Sigma Xi, “This relationship may be useful in studying disease states at the molecular level in which hypoxia, [deprivation of an adequate oxygen supply], and inflammation are a feature of the microenvironment.”

Patel views his research, which was funded through the School of Science’s SRP by Bristol-Myers Squibb, as “an important topic in immunology and combating male infertility, though it is not as applied as it is fundamental. We are focused on doing research to understand the problem so that someone can utilize our understanding to solve it. The ‘big picture’ problem is male infertility as a result of infection and inflammation, which primarily occurs in third world countries. What we are trying to understand in the lab is what happens at the molecular level. ”

“I love my project now.” By gaining exposure through upper-level biology classes and lab experience, Patel gained an even better understanding of his project through his Honors Thesis, a requirement of all students of the Honors School.

“The scientific writing process helped me understand what is known and what is not known in my area of research, which allowed me to become a better critical thinker. Dean Palladino gave me wonderful guidance and helped me see that research is a scientific process, not something that happens quickly.”

One major advantage Patel sees the University has in terms of research is the ability to engage its undergraduates in conducting high quality research. The School of Science provides exceptional mentorship to those who are involved in conducting research.

On October 29, he presented his research at the Metropolitan Association of College and University Biologists (MACUB) Regional Research Conference at Seton Hall University. Two weeks later, he presented his research at the 2011 Sigma Xi Annual Meeting and International Research Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, lasting from November 10 to November 13. Bringing recognition to the University, Patel won best poster presented in the four-year-student category in Microbiology and Immunology at MACUB. Placing again at Sigma Xi, Patel won the award for Best Undergraduate Poster Presentation in Cell and Molecular Biology.

The Sigma Xi Conference hosted over 300 presentations from an international pool of both graduate and undergraduate students. Patel presented under Cell and Molecular Biology, the largest category with 66 presentations from students from top-notch institutions with state of the art facilities such as Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, UC Berkeley, and UNC-Chapel Hill among others.

Former members of Sigma Xi include Albert Einstein, Al Gore, and Kary Mullis, who was invited by Dean Palladino to speak at the University’s School of Science Dean’s Seminar in Spring 2010.

“I was quite intimidated,” Patel admitted, “but I knew I had a major advantage as a student coming from Monmouth. Because of the excellent mentorship I received in the lab, I knew the peculiars of my project and I was able to communicate effectively the act of going from an idea to the analyzing literature and statistics, to going out in the lab and conducting experiments, and ultimately writing about it. Everyone likes a story. My presentation was pretty much a story of my work. I guess the judges liked that!”

The three judges for Patel’s presentation were all experts in their respective fields. The first was an immunologist, the second a molecular biologist, and the third was the chairman of Sigma Xi.

The conference proved a “wonderful experience for networking with distinguished scholars and receiving feedback for communicating this new understanding of my work. Receiving the award for first place was just the icing on the cake.” As part of his award, Dharm has been invited to apply for associate membership into Sigma Xi, a membership-by-invitation only society.

Dharm’s award was presented by Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space. She is currently the deputy administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“It was dramatic and I really didn’t expect it because I was competing against all these kids from all these top schools. It just goes to show that Monmouth has a one-up against all these top institutions because of the one on one mentorship available.”

Patel attributes his success not only to the School of Science, but also to the Honors School as he believes that it provides a network of people that allows honors students to become more well-rounded individuals. “It fosters an inquisitive learning environment with more discussion based classes, as opposed to lecture-based ones, that focus on enhancing the critical thinking skills of its students.”

In order for us to be competitive with other regional and national schools in the future, Dharm believes that the University needs to invest more money in research faculty and research facilities in order for Monmouth to become a regional competitor and leader in all the sciences – from anthropology to psychology to molecular biology.

Research, as Patel views it, is a “way of studying where I understand what is already known, ask questions about what is not known, and ultimately go out to answer questions I, myself, have asked. You don’t get that in other fields. This creative freedom to pursue your own questions is what is truly alluring about research in all disciplines.”

In terms of his career goals, Patel said, “Because of my amazing research experience at Monmouth, I am now applying to Ph.D. programs in molecular biology.”