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NMSU student one of five in U.S. to win award, present research at international conference

When 7,300 scientists from around the world gather in San Antonio next week to discuss the latest developments in toxicology, an undergraduate from New Mexico State University will be among them.

Headshot of Naing Bajaj
New Mexico State University biochemistry major Naing Bajaj will present her biomedical research at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Society of Toxicology in San Antonio as a recipient of a Pfizer Undergraduate Student Travel Award.

Naing Bajaj, a biochemistry major in the College of Arts and Sciences, is one of five students nationwide awarded a Pfizer Undergraduate Student Travel Award to present research at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Society of Toxicology (SOT). The conference will take place March 10-14, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

"I am very excited to attend, because this is my first opportunity to present my research to experts working within the field of toxicology at a national meeting. Plus, it is my first opportunity to travel outside of Las Cruces," Bajaj said.

Pfizer Undergraduate Student Travel Awards are designed to foster interest in graduate studies in the field of toxicology. They are presented through the SOT to five outstanding undergraduates who are presenting research at the annual meeting.

"Naing's selection as a Pfizer recipient is quite an accomplishment," said Aaron Rowland, assistant professor of chemistry at NMSU. "Hopefully, this experience will provide additional insight into research career opportunities, and confirm Naing's aspiration to pursue biomedical research."

Pfizer's annual award provides for travel, plus a stipend for expenses. At the conference, Bajaj will also receive special recognition from Pfizer and attend the SOT Undergraduate Education Program.

The three-day program is designed to give 50 undergraduates, as well as the award recipients, valuable networking experience with scientists who perform toxicology research. She will also learn about summer internship opportunities and graduate school application strategies.

Bajaj, who is currently applying for summer research internship programs, submitted a detailed abstract of her research to SOT as part of the application process. She was also required to write a short narrative on how she might benefit from the conference.

"I believe that knowledge of how chemicals influence human health will benefit me in contributing to biomedical research in either industry, academia or government," Bajaj said.

Bajaj's scientific research began as a freshman through NMSU's Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement program or RISE. The program aims to increase the number of underrepresented minority students who achieve a doctoral degree in a biomedical and/or biobehavioral discipline.

As a junior, she transferred into NMSU's Minority Access to Research Careers program, which is designed to prepare undergraduate students for post-graduate studies in the biomedical sciences, leading to a Ph.D. Rowland, a MARC mentor and member of the SOT, encouraged her to apply for the award.

The work in Rowland's laboratory focuses on understanding the role of the drug metabolizing enzyme, Cytochrome P450 2S1 (CYP2S1). Naing's project examines the implications of known human CYP2S1 polymorphisms on the transformation of an inactive anti-cancer drug to its active form. These studies may lead to a better understanding of inter-individual differences in response to cancer treatment.

"I am very proud of Naing for her accomplishments in the laboratory," Rowland said. "Naing is a very dedicated and hard working individual and is deserving of this honor.

Founded in 1961, the SOT is a professional and scholarly organization of scientists from academic institutions, government, and industry representing the great variety of scientists who practice toxicology in the U.S. and abroad. Their annual meeting is the culmination of a year's worth of achievements in research and education. For more information visit their website at http://www.toxicology.org/index.asp.

For more information about the Pfizer Undergraduate Student Travel Awards visit their website at http://www.toxicology.org/ai/af/awardDocuments/Pfizer_UG_descrip_13.pdf.