Two Research Conferences Converge at UAMS for Young Scientists

By Benjamin Waldrum

Held at the I. Dodd Wilson Education Building, the combination event merged two annual conferences, the Drug Discovery & Development Colloquium (DDDC) and the MALTO Medicinal Chemistry Meeting, for the first time.

Dan Voth

Dan Voth, Ph.D., UAMS vice chancellor for Research & Innovation, was one of several UAMS representatives who welcomed attendees to the joint conference.Benjamin Waldrum

“I’m delighted to see so many esteemed colleagues and friends who’ve gathered here today,” said Cindy Stowe, Pharm.D., dean of the UAMS College of Pharmacy. “I’m confident that this program will not only deepen your understanding of drug discovery and development, but also spark new ideas and hopefully more collaborations. So let’s embrace the opportunity to learn from one another, and continue to push the boundaries of what is possible.”

“All of the faculty appreciate the importance of having a student-driven conference for the next generation of scientists,” said Dan Voth, Ph.D., UAMS vice chancellor for Research & Innovation. “Anytime you get together like this to share ideas and network, it helps build your career, and science gets better because of it. Drug discovery and development touches every aspect of our campus, and we’re always looking to learn from researchers like you.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the DDDC, which was created in 2014 by a group of students, researchers and faculty at UAMS, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s National Center for Toxicological Research. The regional meeting brings together scientists from the Mid-South across multiple fields including medicinal and natural products chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology, bioinformatics and computational biology. The DDDC meeting is coordinated by American Association of Pharmaceutical Sciences (AAPS) student chapters from UAMS and other host institutions.

The June 6-8 meeting was organized by Baku Acharya, Saloni Sood, Chimezie Nwadinigwe, Rachael Abolade and Rand Albayati from the UAMS AAPS student chapter, under the mentorship of Darin Jones, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences; Amit Tiwari, Ph.D., associate dean of research and graduate studies; and Cesar Compadre, Ph.D., professor of pharmaceutical sciences and one of the founders of the DDDC conference.

Founded in 1973, the MALTO research conference is a forum for graduate, undergraduate and professional program Pharm.D. students and postdoctoral fellows to present their research and engage in discussions together. It serves as a platform for faculty from schools and colleges of pharmacy in six states: Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma (MALTO) to discuss drug discovery research.

Begum and Chaturvedi

Amena Begum (center) shares her research with visiting keynote speaker Pravin Chaturvedi, Ph.D.Benjamin Waldrum

The event began Thursday, June 6, with a workshop on machine learning, led by Samuel Kakraba, Ph.D., from Tulane University, followed by a series of speakers and research presentations. Thirty-four graduate researchers from UAMS and nearby states held poster presentations that evening.


Pravin Chaturvedi, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Oceanyx Pharmaceuticals, was one of several keynote speakers for the conference. He spoke passionately about the possibilities of a research career but cautioned those present to do more than just innovate.

“Innovation is a necessary, but insufficient, tool,” Chaturvedi said. “You innovate something, but you don’t know how to translate it to a useful product. There is innovation that goes from ‘bench to bookshelf.’ If you go bench to bookshelf, it’s lost.”

Each day, several graduate student and postdoctoral fellows, both from UAMS and other universities, gave crisp 12-minute presentations on their latest research and took questions from the audience. It was a chance for each person to hone their presentation skills in front of a live audience. A mentoring session held June 7 provided students and postdoctoral fellows the opportunity to consult with experts about career paths in academia, industry, and government.

Amena Begum, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Mississippi, said that each conference she attends helps her refine her presentation skills.

“I always try to capture the things that big scientists actually follow: from the smallest things, like how they present, how they make their slides, how they talk, and also other things like politeness and how they communicate with other scientists,” Begum said. “It’s a big learning thing for me.”

A highly anticipated panel discussion closed Friday’s events and included Chaturvedi and keynote speakers Gary Piazza, Ph.D., head of Auburn University’s Department of Drug Discovery and Development, and Pankaj Daga, Ph.D., principal scientist for Neuron23, a leading biotechnology and drug development company. Representing UAMS on the panel were Compadre and John Imig, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.


Cesar Compadre, Ph.D., (far left, with mic) speaks during a panel with (from left) John Imig, Ph.D., Pankaj Daga, Ph.D., Gary Piazza, Ph.D., and Pravin Chaturvedi, Ph.D.Benjamin Waldrum

Panelists took turns and talked about their own paths to building a research portfolio and growing their careers. All emphasized how difficult the long process could be, and mentioned their own setbacks before they broke through. The casual discussion prompted questions from the audience on how to bring more attention and focus to their work, as well as greater research interest in the South and Midwest.

While acknowledging the reality of huge research networks on the East and West coasts, panelists responded with equal measures of optimism and encouragement.

“Be open to suggestions, because that is going to be the key to your future,” Daga said. “My suggestion is, whatever you are doing, put in your best. Time will tell whether you have done a good job or not.”

“The secret sauce is people,” Chaturvedi said. “If I make a promise to a patient, then it’s on me to find the right combination of technology, team and people that allow me to develop something for it. You’ve got to do it right here, with your team. Build a team. Build a network.”

“If you’re passionate for a certain area, find that passion and stick with it,” Piazza said. “If you have something of value, people will find it.”

The last day of the event started with an insightful keynote presentation from Shraddha Thakkar, Ph.D., a senior scientist from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluations and Research, and concluded with the announcement of the winners of the best oral and poster presentation awards.