Faculty of Science biology student Kiu Ming April Kong is one of six winners of the Genetics Society of America (GSA) Victoria Finnerty Undergraduate Travel Award to present her research on fruit flies at a conference in Chicago.
Kong, who works under the supervision and mentorship of Kyle Belozerov, a sessional lecturer in York’s Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, at York University, will discuss her research at the 56th annual Drosophila Research Conference sponsored by GSA, March 4 to 8, 2015 thanks to the travel award. “I feel very honoured,” says Kong. She says she is grateful to Belozerov for all the time he has invested in helping her with the project.
“My research uses a simple laboratory animal, the fruit fly, to examine how sugars, proteins, and fats in food influence the growth and spread of cancer cells,” says Kong, a fourth-year student. She beat 46 other undergraduate students in this year’s competition and is the first student from a Canadian university to have won this award. Kong started the research project in May with lab partner and fellow student Lisa Shim. Both are working in the lab as research practicum students in the Department of Biology.
They chose fruit flies because this organism offers a wide variety of genetic tools to model and investigate the molecular mechanism of human diseases. Many of the characteristics of human cancers, such as metastatic behavior, are also seen in experimentally induced tumors in flies. Kong and Shim hope their research will eventually lead to a better understanding of how diets high in sugar, fats or proteins affect cancer growth and spread in humans. Shim will co-present the research with Kong at the conference.
“We are excited to provide what will likely be the first opportunity for these talented students to participate in an international scientific research conference,” said Helen Salz, chair of the Finnerty Award review committee and a professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. “The winners will be presenting their research to more than 1,500 scientists attending the largest assembly of fruit fly researchers in the world.”
The Victoria Finnerty Undergraduate Travel Award program was established in 2011 to honor the memory of its namesake, an exceptional geneticist known for her creativity in and commitment to the training of undergraduates. Finnerty was a long-time GSA member, a dedicated undergraduate educator at Emory University for 35 years, and an active member of the Drosophila research community and the genetics community at large. This is the fourth year the Victoria Finnerty awards have assisted undergraduates to attend the Annual Drosophila Research Conference, having already provided more than $20,000 to 27 undergraduates thus far.