Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An Academic Adventure in Morocco

Francesca Messina, a Nursing major in the Verrazano Class of 2014, is one of several Verrazano students who received a Verrazano Conference Travel Grant to present her research at an International Taurine conference in Morocco over spring break.  Below, Francesca shares how she she got involved in research at CSI and what it was like participating in the conference in Morocco.

Dr. El Idrissi and Francesca Messina
Over spring break 2012, I had the pleasure of attending a research conference on Taurine in Morocco with the help of a Verrazano Conference Travel Grant. This was one of the best experiences of my life. Not only did I get the chance to study abroad for a week and experience a completely different culture, but I also presented research along with many brilliant researchers from around the world.

I transferred to CSI from Quinnipiac University for the fall of 2011.  Upon entering CSI, I took a summer anatomy class which Dr. El Idrissi taught . Afterwards, I continued to keep in touch with Dr. El Idrissi as I knew he was a neuroscientist and I was interested in the research he was doing. I did not know how big of an influence he would be on my life.  I started to do research with Dr. El Idrissi, which was a bit out of my element being that I am a nursing major, and I was doing research in neuroscience. However, I gradually came to love what I was doing.
The conference in Morocco was held every day for students and researchers alike to see the groundbreaking findings that had been discovered. This conference gave us the opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of people’s research. It also enabled us to see the implications that taurine has on human beings. Taurine is a vital organic acid in our bodies that is essential for the functioning of major organ systems in our bodies. It aids in cardiovascular function, skeletal muscle function, retina function, the central nervous system, and much more. In today’s world, taurine is commonly known as the major ingredient in energy drinks.

My research dealt with taurine and diabetes. I examined diabetes-induced retinal degeneration. Alloxan is a diabetogenic compound. When given to mice, it induces diabetes within 72 hours by selectively killing the beta cell of the pancreas. This leads to a similar condition as type 1 diabetes. Alloxan-induced beta cell death is mediated through free radical production. Since taurine has potent anti-oxidative properties, I tested the ability of taurine to block the alloxan-induced beta cell death and diabetes induction.

Morocco was an astonishing place to see. The people, food, culture, and lifestyles were completely unfamiliar to me. It was amazing to see how differently people can live in another country. Some people in Morocco make their living by selling their wares in the markets. I was buying presents for my family as the vendors were making a living off my money. I felt such a gap when I experienced this huge difference in our economies. Walking through dirt roads, I learned many things about the people there, and I really saw how different their appreciation for life was. They celebrate life in ways Americans would not think to appreciate life.

The Taurine Conference in Morocco was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.  The Verrazano Conference Travel Grant enabled me to learn and experience many new amazing things about the world, the Moroccan culture, research, and even myself. Without this grant, I would not have been able to present my research in Morocco. I would highly recommend studying abroad, and I hold the Verrazano scholarships and grants in high regard.  They are very valuable tools for any student of the Verrazano program.  Verrazano students should actively take advantage of every opportunity that the Verrazano Honors Program offers.

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