Skip to main content Skip to main navigation Skip to footer content

Fresno State RISE Program

Research Focus 

Second Cohort (2020)

Mentor: Dr. David Lent

The focus of thisproject is to study the Double Empathy Problem (DEP) currently documented exclusively bypsychological studies.The Double Empathy Problem describes a phenomenon in which autistic and neurotypicals(people with typical neurological functioning) struggle to communicate effectively in 1:1 scenarios. 

 Mentor: Dr. Paul Price

As a RISE scholar in Dr. Paul Price’s Judgment and Reasoning Lab, our research focuses on topics relating to judgment and decision-making, social cognition, and exploring important issues in psychology, like the publication bias. Part of my responsibilities as a research assistant involves creating studies and necessary measures to empirically study these issues with human subjects, analyze data, and write about the significance and implications of our results.

 Mentor: Dr. Qiao-Hong Chen

In the Western world, prostate cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers as well as one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among men. Androgen (male sexual hormone) receptor plays a crucial role in the progression and proliferation of prostate cancer, and if not mediated, its activity can contribute to patient death. Current treatments that inhibit the activity of androgen receptor are not only a temporary solution for treatment, but can also inhibit the quality of life in prostate cancer patients. Furthermore, prostate cancer can progress to a stage where current standard treatments are no longer effective and can become resistant to treatment altogether. One way to prevent this deadly outcome is by targeting androgen receptor activity using natural products with novel chemical scaffolds. Several natural products from a wide variety of plant, fungus, and sessile marine life have been reported to interrupt the androgen receptor transcriptional axis. However, their moderate potency and poor selectivity hinder them moving toward clinical use. This project is to optimize the natural product androgen receptor modulators through chemical manipulation for the potential treatment of prostate cancer.

 Mentor: Dr. Ellen Woo

My research is focused on the impact of demographic factors on cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment (the risk state for dementia). These factors include socioeconomic status and level of education.  

 Mentor: Dr. Lorin Lachs

For auditory memory, it is known that the voice of the speaker is an important factor in recalling memories. Voices that are typical are easily confused with other typical voices and voices that are atypical are easier to identify than others. Previous research using lists of words has shown that participants will correctly identify words they heard in a previous condition even when it is read in a different voice, but they often will identify words they haven’t heard as words they have heard when the words are read in the voice they heard in the first condition. Memory is incredibly fragile and has been proven to be somewhat malleable. In previous research, when a false childhood memory is closely associated with a participant’s actual childhood memories and is corroborated by a family member, participants were likely to remember the false memory as one of their actual memories. This lab is designed to study effects similar to these, but with paragraphs rather than words in order to simulate how earwitness testimony works when two different voices are describing the same event or when the same voice describes two different events while also exploring how fragile memory can be.

 Mentor: Dr. Masaki Uchida


Cage-like proteins, like viral capsids and ferritins, are ideal synthetic nanoscale building blocks for constructing 3D array materials. The main characteristics that make them ideal are their homogeneous size and structure, the ability to encapsulate various functional cargo materials in their interior cavities, and the ability to utilize their exterior surfaces to facilitate the directed assembly of individual cages. This research looks to design and express a mutant ferritin protein cage with a positive surface charge. Once developed, this mutant could be mixed with negatively charged protein cages to form an ordered protein array material via electrostatic interactions. 

 Mentor: Dr. Qiao-Hong Chen

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancer in American men, with 1 man in 41 will die of prostate cancer. Androgen/androgenreceptor transcriptical axisplays a vital role in the progression of prostate cancer; hence thestandard strategythat has long been used totreat prostate canceris Androgen Deprivation Therapy (ADT). ADT work by lowering the plasma concentration of androgens within the patientwhich proves to be an effective treatment for beginner stages but fail to work when prostate cancer later advanced to castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). Even with the low level of androgens, CRPC continues to grow with the rise in serum prostate-specific antigen levels. Given that androgen/androgen receptor transcriptional axis continues to play the primary role in the growth of CRPC, Heat Shock Protein 90 (HSP90) inhibitorsmay serve asa novel approach in treating CRPC by degrading Androgen Receptor. Heat Shock Protein (HSP) are chaperone proteins with the ability to modify their client protein’s stability and activity. HSP90 inhibitors hold the ability to regulate the stability of androgen receptor, making it a possibleAR Degrader. The purpose of this study is to test the effectiveness of natural product-based HSP90 inhibitors as potential treatment for CRPC.

 Mentor: Dr. Qiao-Hong Chen

Potential Natural Product for the Treatment of Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC)

Triple negative Breast Cancer is the second leading cancer death in women. Although more common in females, males can also be affected. There are three different types of breast cancer, it can begin in different parts of the breast depending on which cells in the breast grow out of control. Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive type of breast cancer that grows quicker and has higher proliferation. TNBC is highly drug resistant and has low prognosis because TNBC has no receptors commonly found in breast cancer, limiting the treatment options for patients. Chemotherapy is still a viable option but even then, one in four people diagnosed will die from TNBC. Therefore, it is important to find effective treatments for TNBC. Natural products have been proven to be an excellent resource for the treatment of various cancers. Several natural products including ilamycin E, strictin, salvianolic acid B, chetomin, jatamanvaltrate P, and lycochalcone A have been demonstrated by in vitro and in vivoexperiments to possess potential in treating TNBC. In this study, licochalcone A (LA) was chosen as our lead compound due to its relatively greater potency and synthetic accessibility. Aiming to optimize the potency of lycochalcone A, a group of analogues by replacing the hydroxyphenyl in licochalcone with its bioisosteres will be synthesized and evaluated in cell models. 

 Mentor: Dr. David Lent

We experiment with the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism for investigating Alzheimer’s disease (AD). One of the first types of neurons affected by AD is those containing the chemical messenger acetylcholine, which transmits modulatory signals throughout large portions of the brain. The breakdown of these neurons destroys neural connections, leading to memory loss, reduced executive function, and disturbed sleep. Our research analyzes the effects of prolonging the effect of acetylcholine in the remaining healthy neurons of flies expressing AD.  We compare AD-expressing flies that are either given an inhibitor that slows the metabolism of acetylcholine and to those that are not and run tests designed to measure each of the three symptoms mentioned previously. My particular role is to better understand how AD neuropathology correlates with sleep disturbance in fruit flies. The purpose of our project is to determine whether the inhibition of acetylcholinesterase, which has the effect of prolonging the activity of acetylcholine in the remaining neurons, in Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies reduces these symptoms of AD. This will further advance the fruit fly model of AD.

 Mentor: Dr. Rory Telemeco




Stress in animals is a complex phenomenon and can have severe long-term effects on overall health and, for endangered species, may increase extinction risk. Stress levels can be partially interpreted by measuring the concentrations of corticosteroids (CORT)  in an animal’s blood plasma or feces. Since the Blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia sila) may be nearing extinction in some areas, it is important to validate a procedure that will facilitate further research addressing CORT levels among various populations and microhabitats. In the Telemeco Reptile Ecology and Evolution Lab, I aim to validate an enzyme immunoassay (EIA) using CORT from blood plasma and fecal samples from a captive population of G.sila at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. After validating an EIA, I will quantify variation in baseline CORT  and in average CORT using blood plasma samples and fecal samples, respectively. Samples will be collected from wild G. sila across multiple sites within the San Joaquin Valley Desert to obtain a clearer image of physiological stress in wild populations. These sites have various microhabitat compositions so this research will be a step toward determining if microhabitat affects CORT levels in Gambelia sila and ultimately influences conservation of the species.

     Mentor: Dr. Dermot Donnelly-Hermosillo

Earlier studies involving Chemistry card sorting activitiesin undergraduate sciencecurriculums have measured how well students thinklike scientific “experts” whenorganizing the cards. However, it is not known howmuch background informationstudents possess when engaging with the cards to organizethem. In addition, many of thecards developed revealed to have minimal context,which can be a reflection fromundergraduate chemistry programs. We have developedboth contextualized andnon-contextualized chemistry cards for students tosort to examine how they approach andmake connections between concepts. Our assumptionis that students will moreeffectively make connections of chemistry conceptsin a contextualized manner, whichcan aid in their card sorting. The study will involvetwo groups of students (Chemistryand non-Chemistry majors) from several Biochemistrycourses. The students in eachcourse will be divided up and work in groups to arrange16 cards into 4 categories ofchemistry topics.

First Cohort (2019)

 Mentor: Dr. Alija Mujic

DNA methylation is an important factor in understanding epigenetic gene regulation in symbiotic species. Ectomycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with tree species that are beneficial for forest ecosystems. Fungi in the genus Rhizopogon, in this project specifically Rhizopogon vesiculosus and Rhizopogon vinicolor, are host-specific sister species that colonize Pseudotusga menziesii (Douglas-fir) in different ways. To investigate downregulation and upregulation in R. vesiculosus and R. vinicolor in colonizing P. menziesii, whole-genome bisulfite methylation sequencing  will be used. DNA methylation patterns observed in Rhizopogon fungi will be compared to metatranscriptomes of with fungal and host-tree interaction to investigate the role of DNA methylation in regulation of symbiosis genes.  DNA methylation studies are a novel way to provide valuable information about the symbiotic relationships between R. vesiculosus and R.  vinicolor on P. menziesii.



Mentor: Dr. Karl Oswald


In the past, researchers have examined the best practices for learning new material. Research on the “spacing effect” reliably shows that people learn more when learning trials are distributed across time rather than massing the learning trials. This effect has been shown with both ‘restudy’ and ‘retrieval’ (testing) methods during learning trials. The current research explored whether the spacing effect can be enhanced using retrieval versus restudying during additional learning episodes. Participants were tasked to memorize 12 SAT word pairs. Participants learned by using a restudy or testing method in both distributed and massed learning trials. Consistent with previous research, we found a spacing effect such that distributed learning trials (M=3.26, SD=1.78) resulted in better learning than massed trials (M=2.53, SD=1.66). We also found that testing (M=3.49, SD=3.49) resulted in higher learning than restudying (M=2.30, SD=1.73). Most importantly, we found a larger spacing effect for testing trials than restudying trials (F(1,134) = 11.87, p < .00). These findings support an encoding explanation of the spacing effect and argue against theoretical explanations that describe the spacing effect in terms of deficient processing. The deficient processing theory indicates that distributed learning trials (spaced trials) of learning allows for additional processing of the information when compared to massed information. Our results fit with a large body of research outside of the spacing effect on how disuse affects the accessibility of memories. Future research is discussed in terms of practical applications. 


Mentor: Dr. Paul Price 

In Dr. Price's Judgment and Reasoning lab, the research areas we focus on considers matters pertaining to judgment and decision making, including risk perception and communication, risk-taking, and basic processes involved in making quantitative judgments. Furthermore, the team is also interested in helping address the current replication crisis in psychological research. Currently, Dr. Price's research team directs their inquiry to replicate a study that began in the Fall term of 2019 and will finish through the Spring term of 2020. Dr. Price and his research team involve themselves with a multi-site replication project of a classic study showing that feeling powerful improves people’s ability to focus their attention on a cognitive task. This study is being done in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Smith from Appalachian State University and Dr. Jonathan Pettibone from South Illinois University. The contributions I have done for the multi-site replication study involved getting the project ready for the Fall term of 2019 and collecting data for analysis during the Fall term of 2019 and the Spring term of 2020.

Mentor: Dr. Chris Miller 

My research is focused on investigating Gender Dysphoria in order to possibly provide better and more effective treatment options for the symptoms that often accompany the diagnosis.

Maladaptive self referential thinking, rumination, and distorted perception of self could be the fault of weakened functional connections between components of the Default Mode Network within the brain. Other disorders such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Anorexia Nervosa have been linked to altered functioning of the Default Mode Network as well. Looking into the similarities between Gender Dysphoria and other disorders involving maladaptive views of self, may lead to a wider variety of treatments being made available as well as a better understanding of the disorder itself.

Mentor: Dr. Ellen Woo

I am currently studying semantic clustering in Alzheimer’s disease. Semantic clustering is a memory strategy in which a person groups to-be-remembered words by category. It is known that a hallmark of Alzheimer's is the breakdown of semantic networks, and I am researching whether clustering is affected. 

Mentor: Dr. Paul Price 

I am currently involved in several projects in Dr. Price’s Judgment and Reasoning Lab, including projects on how people make judgments of other people’s attractiveness and how they make judgments of the diversity of groups.

In the lab we are also concerned with the more general issue of reproducibility in psychological science. Recent studies have suggested that up to half of published research results cannot be replicated by other researchers.

The main study I am involved in is a replication of a study that was originally published in 2007 but that has never been replicated. The original study seemed to show that feeling more powerful improves people’s ability to focus their attention in a difficult mental task. Along with research teams at two other sites (Appalachian State and the University of Southern Illinois), we are attempting to replicate the original study as closely as possible to see if we get the same result. If we do, then this would suggest that the effect of power on attention is real and reliable. If we do not, then this would suggest that there may be no such effect.

However the results come out, we plan to present the Fresno State data at conference of the Western Psychological Association in Spring 2020 and to present the results of the combined data at one or more additional conferences. We also hope to be able to publish the results in a professional journal

Mentor: Dr. Qiao-Hong Chen 


Prostate cancer is a global issue with high prevalence in the U.S., South America, Central and South Africa, and Australia. Current treatments for advanced stages of prostate cancer often results in recurrence. Luteolin is a dietary flavone ubiquitously distributed in several of vegetables and fruits, as well as traditional medicines. Luteolin has been demonstrated to have capability in suppressing prostate cancer cell proliferation in cell models and in reducing tumor size in mice models. However, the therapeutic potential of luteolin is limited by its moderate potency. To alleviate this drawback, fifteen new 7-O-substituted-3',4',5-O-tertramethylluteolins have been designed and synthesized from commercially available hesperidin through a four-step procedure, including oxidation, global methylation, glucoside hydrolysis, O-alkylation, and N-alkylation. Among them, twelve derivatives have so far been evaluated for in vitro potency against both androgen receptor-positive LNCaP cells and androgen receptor-null DU145 and PC-3 cell lines. Luteolin and enzalutamide (a current leading prostate cancer therapy) were used as positive controls. The following conclusions can be drawn from our current data from the WST-1 cell proliferation essay: (1) modification on 7-OH of trimethylluteolin can significantly improve its antiproliferative potency; (2) 7-O-bromopropyl-3',4',5-O-tertramethylluteolin was established as the optimal compound that is more effective towards androgen receptor-positive LNCaP cells than androgen receptor-null cell models; and (3) the optimal derivative exhibits greater efficacy than enzalutamide in the LNCaP cell model.


Mentor: Dr. Joy Goto 

Beta-Methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) is a non-natural amino acid produced by cyanobacteria and can biomagnify in the food chain to humans. Chronic exposure to BMAA leads to increased incidents of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis-Parkinsonism Dementia Complex (ALS-PDC) and is manifested by dementia, myopathy, and tremors. Drosophila melanogaster, more commonly known as fruit fly, is the model organism used in my research. Fruit fly neurons are similar in structure and function to that of humans, and therefore, is ideal for studying the biochemical effects of BMAA as it relates to humans. In previous research from Dr. Goto’s lab, L-serine abrogated the effects of the BMAA neurotoxin, and more research is underway to further explore the effects L-serine has on BMAA at the cellular level via protein analysis in fruit flies. I am investigating the relationship between the amount and enzymatic function of the antioxidant, copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD1), L-serine, and BMAA.

Mentor: Dr. Rosa Toro

Acculturative Family Distancing and Latinx College Student’s Well-Being: Examining the Influence of Parent and Peer Relationships

I joined Dr. Rosa I. Toro’s Immigrant Families' Acculturative and Environmental Settings (IFACES) Laboratory from the Psychology Department. Here, I have worked on numerous research tasks. I started off recruiting and interviewing immigrant Latinx families and from there transitioned into inputting, cleaning-up, analyzing, and developing a codebook for survey data. Such as, inputting parent and child reports onto ADM Assessment Program for the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), which generates scores for various behavioral problems experienced by a child

Mentor: Dr. Hubert Muchalski 


Isocoumarin are naturally occurring organic compounds that are an unsaturated, non-conjugated aromatic isomer of coumarin. They have wide ranges in pharmacological drugs for antifungal, anticancer, anti-HIV, and anticoagulant to name a few. This project focuses on the gold-catalyzed synthesis of isocoumarins and their analogs in order to discover new efficient pathways to create these compounds. For this project, isocoumarins are first made by reacting commercially available products such as iodo-benzoic acids and iodo-acyl chlorides with esterification type reactions. Then, with the synthesized alkynyl ester a cross coupling palladium catalyzed reactions is utilized to add on an alkyne in place of the iodide on the ester or in some cases just aryl iodides with different substituent groups to replace said iodide. Mainly, because cross-coupling organometallic reactions are efficient ways to add on an aliphatic or aromatic group to compounds such as alkynes or aromatic heterocycles without potentially reacting other groups on the compound. Then, utilizing gold catalyst complexes such as Au(IPr)OH or Au(IPr)Cl2 that makes the alkyne more electrophilic, it can cause the nucleophilic oxygen atom on the alkynyl ester to perform a nucleophilic attack on the alkyne which causes a cyclization reaction to occur. With this synthesis pathway, isocoumarins can be developed with more efficiency and lesser dependency on environmentally harmful chemicals. Thus, allowing for future scientists to create new therapeutically agents that could potentially save the lives of many.

Mentor: Dr. Jason Bush


Follicular variant papillary thyroid carcinoma (FVPTC) is a form of aggressive malignant thyroid cancer. Histological examination of this tissue often reveals an encapsulated appearance with multifocal nuclear features. However, there are discrepancies in the field of pathology on how to distinguish this form of thyroid cancer from others. As a result, cancer determined to be follicular adenoma may show signs of malignancy many years later. Therefore, the purpose of this project is to evaluate the genetic material taken from thyroid cancer tissue for angiogenic markers involved with metastasizing.


 Mentor: Dr. Alejandro Calderon-Urrea


Plant parasitic nematodes cause billions in monetary loss in the agricultural industry each year. Previous studies discovered that certain chalcones are 100% effective in killing the model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Research done by Dr. Calderon-Urrea and his students at Fresno State isolated mutant nematodes that are resistant to certain chalcones. In this study, we measured the life span of four different strains of C. elegans: N2 wild type, GFP, chalcone 17 mutant and chalcone 30 mutant. The purpose of this experiment is to test if the life span of the mutant strains are the same as the GFP standard strain. Other studies has suggested that the mutant strains may have a longer life span than the GFP and the wild type strains.