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UW-La Crosse’s Madison Moore wins research poster competition at 2022 WiSys SPARK Symposium

More than 50 posters and innovations were presented by students at the WiSys SPARK Symposium at UW-La Crosse. (Photo: Sashi Popke, UW-La Crosse)

LA CROSSE—Students from across the UW System were recognized for presenting their research posters at the WiSys SPARK Symposium in early August.

The award winners were:

  • Madison Moore, UW-La Crosse (1st)
  • Kai Olson, UW-Eau Claire (2nd)
  • Kiera Balding, UW-River Falls (3rd)

The symposium is WiSys’ annual celebration of the best and brightest researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs working in or with the UW System’s 11 regional universities. This year’s event was held at UW-La Crosse and was attended by nearly 200 people, half of which were students.

Students had the opportunity to present a research poster or showcase an innovative project during the Student Research Poster & Innovation Showcase, which was evaluated by a team of faculty and staff judges.


WiSys President Arjun Sanga, right, congratulates Madison Moore, left, on winning first place in the research poster competition. (Photo: Sashi Popke, UW-La Crosse)

UW-La Crosse student Madison Moore’s research poster “Lethal Factor Identification for Treatment of Staphylococcus Aureus by Novel Antibiotic SK-03-92” earned first place and a $750 prize.

UW-La Crosse’s Dr. William Schwan was Moore’s faculty advisor.

  • POSTER ABSTRACT: "In 2017, the United States reported that of 119,247 Staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections, 16.6% were fatal. About 60% of all clinical isolate strains are methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. The emergence of multidrug resistant organisms is an ongoing problem in treating these infections. To address this problem, a drug discovery project was undertaken at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. From this project a new drug coded as SK-03-92 was shown to kill Gram-positive bacteria, including S. aureus. A study was done to determine SK-02-92’s mechanism of killing. A RNA microarray of SK-03-92 treated versus untreated S. aureus showed transcriptional changes in several genes including lrgA, srtA, brpR, and brpS. Furthermore, a preliminary analysis showed SK-03-92 treatment caused the release of a lethal factor that killed the S. aureus cells. This lethal factor has been shown to be a protein using proteinase K and boiling, which destroys the protein and its ability to kill. The next step is to identify the lethal factor protein. Preliminarily, we have detected a protein that has a molecular weight around 13 kDa. Further analysis of the structure of the protein will be done using N-terminal sequencing. Once identified, a deletion mutant of the protein’s gene will be treated with SK-03-92. Loss of growth inhibition by mutant as compared to wild-type will confirm the protein’s function as the lethal factor for SK-03-92 treatment. Understanding the mechanism of killing by SK-03-92 treatment of bacteria is necessary for further pharmaceutical development."


WiSys President Arjun Sanga, left congratulates Kai Olson, right, on winning second place in the research poster competition.(Photo: Sashi Popke, UW-La Crosse)

UW-Eau Claire student Kai Olson took second place and a $500 prize with the poster “Synthesis of Smart Polymers for use in Architectural coatings.” 

UW-Eau Claire’s Dr. Elizabeth Glogowski was the faculty advisor.

  • POSTER ABSTRACT: "Our research focuses on the synthesis and characterization of stimuli responsive polymers for architectural coating applications. Stimuli responsive polymers, or smart polymers, can be used as dispersants to spread out titanium dioxide and prevent the formation of titanium dioxide aggregates within paints, primers, and other architectural coatings. Smart polymers are polymers that change their properties when exposed to different environmental conditions such as temperature, pH level, and salt concentration. By controlling the environment, we can use the smart polymers as a dispersant to improve the dispersion of the titanium dioxide, lowering the amount needed in the coating and therefore lowering the cost of production while maintaining the same opacity. Additional potential coating improvements from smart polymer applications include the creation of single coat paint-and-primer-in-one and reduced levels of volatile organic compounds making the paints easier and safer to use. We have been able to successfully synthesize polymers with controlled copolymer composition and stimuli-responsive properties using activators regenerated by electron transfer atomic transfer radical polymerization. Additionally, we have characterized the smart properties of these polymers using pendant drop tensiometry and rheology. Pendant drop tensiometry allowed us to measure the interfacial tension of each polymer at varying pH levels, polymer concentrations, temperatures, and salt concentration in order to predict how the polymer will behave when mixed with the titanium dioxide. Rheology allowed us to measure the viscosity and viscoelastic properties of the smart polymers, plus the ideal polymer concentration as dispersants with titanium dioxide. Ongoing synthesis of new copolymer structures and characterizing of smart properties will enable identifying the optimal polymer dispersants for titanium dioxide in architectural coatings."


WiSys President Arjun Sanga, right, congratulates Kiera Balding, right, on winning third place in the research poster competition. (Photo: Sashi Popke, UW-La Crosse)

UW-River Falls student Kiera Balding claimed the third place prize of $250 with the poster “Synthetic and Natural Compounds for Potential Treatment of Melanoma Growth and Metastasis.” UW-River Falls’ Dr. Cheng-Chen Huang was the faculty advisor for the project.

  • POSTER ABSTRACT: “Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and when compared with other cancers, one of the most metastatic forms. Therefore, it is imperative to melanoma research to find treatments that are not only effective at reducing the growth of, but also the spread of melanoma, which this study seeks to do. Here, we report three chemicals, SK0408, SK0459, and cucurbitacin, which show significant inhibition of proliferation and metastasis of human melanoma cells. The enzymatic MTT cell proliferation assay was used to survey a large number of chemicals, and cucurbitacin showed significant reduction in cell proliferation. A mitotic index was created by performing immunostaining with a standard mitotic marker, showing moderate decrease in SK0408 and SK0459 treatments, and major decrease in the cucurbitacin treatment. After the mitotic index, a cell invasion assay was used to test whether the chemicals had effect on melanoma metastasis. It was found that cucurbitacin and SK0408 showed significant reduction in metastasis, while SK0459 showed marginal reduction. It is known that cancer stem cells (CSC) are responsible for cancer metastasis, so the next experiment performed was immunostaining, using known melanoma stem cell markers CD133 and CD271. Cells treated in SK0408 and cucurbitacin were used, showing reduction in relative frequency by 22% and 71% respectively. In all experiments, all three chemicals were shown to reduce mitotic activity and metastasis in treated cells, though cucurbitacin proved the most effective in all cases. More importantly, all three drugs showed no notable negative effects on non-cancerous human embryonic cells, making them a promising candidate for melanoma treatment.”

WiSys is a nonprofit organization that works with faculty, staff, students and alumni of the UW System to facilitate cutting-edge research programs, develop and commercialize discoveries, and foster a spirit of innovative and entrepreneurial thinking across the state.