From left to right, medical sciences doctoral students Senem Cevik and Jazzlyn Jones pose with Medical and Molecular Sciences Professor and Chair Esther Biswas-Fiss with an ancient castle or fortress-like structure in the background in Spain
(L to R) Medical sciences doctoral students Senem Cevik and Jazzlyn Jones pose with Medical and Molecular Sciences Professor and Chair Esther Biswas-Fiss as they take a little time for sight-seeing on a trip to Córdoba, Spain.

Medical sciences doctoral students travel to Spain

November 21, 2023 Written by Amy Cherry | Photo submitted by Esther Biswas-Fiss

Medical sciences doctoral students present research on ABCA4 gene at conference in Spain

Medical sciences doctoral students Senem Cevik and Jazzlyn Jones recently returned from a trip to Torremolinos, Spain, where they had the opportunity to learn, network, and present research at the 20th International Symposium on Retinal Degeneration and BrightFocus Macular Fast Track Workshop.

Cevik and Jones work closely with Esther Biswas-Fiss, chair of the Department of Medical and Molecular Sciences in the College of Health Sciences, on her research into the ABCA4 gene and its thousands of genetic variants. The gene is the leading cause of a rare genetic eye disease, Stargardt disease, which often results in blindness. Understanding these variants may help predict disease prospectively, facilitating important life-planning decisions for patients and is critical to direct patients to new clinical trials.

Cevik, a fourth-year Ph.D. student, called attending the conference an “eye-opening experience.”

“In our lab, we focus specifically on the ABCA4 protein, but I gained broader knowledge on retina sciences and the different diseases that affect the retina,” she said. “Seeing other’s research helps me think outside the box, and when they ask me questions about my research, it helps me think about different perspectives and teaches me how to better communicate my research to others.”

Jones, a third-year Ph.D. student, was inspired to work harder.

“Those presenting at this conference are pioneers in retina research,” Jones said. “It showed me that I have a lifetime of working in this field to look forward to, and it motivated me to want to grind a lot harder and make the most of my education.”

Biswas-Fiss moderated a panel entitled “Mechanisms of Degeneration.” She also loved seeing her doctoral students shine.

“Their work was very well-received,” Biswas-Fiss said. “The entire experience was so important for their training and helped reinforce the impact of their research.”

The trip marked their first time in Spain. While there, they traveled to Córdoba, Spain, and learned about its rich cultural history as an important Roman City and a prominent Islamic Center in the Middle Ages. They visited La Mezquita, a mosque-cathedral dating back to 784 A.D., known for its exquisite architecture.

“It was such a historic, charming, and fascinating place,” Cevik said.

After Cevik earns her doctorate, the first-generation college student plans to return to her home country of Turkey and become a professor.  She credits Dr. Biswas-Fiss for helping her realize her career dreams.

“She’s always so supportive,” said Cevik. “When I found this conference in Spain, she jumped at the chance for us to all go together. She’s always thinking about us and wants us to be independent.”

When Jones enrolled at Thomas Jefferson University for her undergraduate studies, she never dreamed she’d now be pursuing her doctorate. But it was there she met Dr. Biswas-Fiss, who inspired her.  

“I wasn’t always the best student, but when I got into Dr. Biswas-Fiss’ program, she gave me the first opportunity to work in a lab, so I’ll be grateful to her for the rest of my life for this experience,” Jones said.

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