Physiology Graduate Student Wins Top Prize at Graduate Exhibition

Huck Graduate Student Advisory Committee President Isabel da Silva was given top honors in the Health & Life Sciences category of the 2021 Graduate School Exhibition

Maria Isabel da Silva

Maria Isabel da Silva, a graduate student in the Integrative and Biomedical Physiology program, has been named first-place winner in the Health & Life Sciences category of the 2021 Graduate School Exhibition Awards.

Da Silva, from Manaus, Brazil, is also chair of the Huck Graduate Student Advisory Committee, and studies the immunology of pregnancy using cattle as an animal model in Troy Ott's lab. Her winning exhibition—selected from a competitive field of 38—was titled "Expression of immune tolerance molecules in peripheral blood leukocytes of dairy heifers during early pregnancy."

"Embryo loss during early pregnancy is a major cause of reproductive failure in cattle and directly impacts milk production, efficiency, profitability and sustainability of farms," said da Silva. "The maternal immune system is a critical challenge to early embryo survival due to the paternal genes in the embryo. Little is known about how the embryo avoids immune attack and regulates uterine and peripheral blood immunity. Thus, the immunology of pregnancy is an emerging field with potential implications not only in animal agriculture, but also in comparative physiology of the wild species and human reproduction."

"I am thrilled to win this award," she added. "This event challenges graduate students from all fields to present their research in clear, comprehensible terms to a broad audience. This accomplishment has a special meaning to me as an international student who does research in science and is passionate about science illustration and communication. Scientific research and vocabulary can be complicated and even boring to non-science audience. To me, as a scientist, I find it important to make sure my writings and presentations are clear, simple, understandable, and exciting to the audience"

Her mentor, Dr. Troy Ott, is a professor of animal science and associate director in the Huck Institutes. His research focuses on the role of the immune system in pregnancy and in successful transition to lactation after parturition.

“I am so very pleased that Isabel’s work was recognized at the Graduate Exhibition," said Ott. "This annual event brings graduate students from across the university together to share and learn from each other. This is type of cross-disciplinary activity helps build a culture of interdisciplinarity that we strive to cultivate in the Huck Institutes.”

In addition to the recognition, the first-place prize comes with a cash award of $500.