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Exercise science student is first undergrad to win national sports medicine award

Tuesday, June 25, 2019 • Media Contact: UT Arlington Media Relations

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An exercise science student at The University of Texas at Arlington has become the first undergraduate ever to win the President’s Cup, a coveted award for poster presentations given by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Sara Peper has become the first undergraduate ever to win the President’s Cup, a coveted award for poster presentations given by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Sara Peper, a senior who is scheduled to graduate in August, won first place for her poster presentation at the association’s recent annual convention in Orlando, Fla. Her research presentation was titled “Silicon Ions Enhance Myogenic Differentiation in C2C12 Skeletal Muscle Cells.” The research abstract is published in the International Journal of Exercise Science.

Matthew Brothers, a UTA associate professor of kinesiology and president-elect of the Texas chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine, said Peper’s achievement marks the first time a student from a Texas chapter has won this award. It’s also notable, he said, because the contest rarely features undergraduates.

“The rationale is that they would not be able to compete with MS or PhD students, but Sara won anyway,” Brothers said.

Peper works in the laboratory of Venu Varanasi, associate professor in the Bone and Muscle Research Center in UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. The laboratory focuses on traumatic injuries, particularly those involving tissue loss. She credits Varanasi, researcher Neelam Ahuja and graduate student Kamal Awad with her research success.

“They taught me everything I know,” she said.

Peper’s research interest is in tissue regeneration using silicon-based biomaterials.

“So far we’ve shown that silicone-based biomaterials enhance bone healing, and we’ve shown that silicon ion enhances muscle tissue regeneration,” Peper said. “The next step will be to look at silicon biomaterials to see if that also enhances muscle tissue regeneration.

“We’re looking for a way to heal an injury involving bone muscle, connective tissue and nerve tissue, but in a way where they all heal together instead of a tissue-specific approach,” she said.

After graduation, Peper will begin work on a master’s in biomedical engineering at UTA and said she eventually plans to pursue a joint MD/PhD degree. Paul Fadel, a professor of kinesiology and the college’s associate dean for research, said Peper is “a scholar who is destined to do great things.”

“This is a phenomenal accomplishment—for Sara, for this lab, for the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and for UTA,” Fadel said. “This research has the potential to reduce the complications and recurrence rates in traumatic nerve or muscle injuries.”

--Lekan Oguntoyinbo