Brandon Klein, a sophomore biology major, received honorable mention recognition in the 20th annual American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Undergraduate Poster Competition on Apr. 2 at the San Diego Convention Center. Klein was one of five students in a pool of 70 to 80 contestants to earn honors in the cell and developmental biology category.
His poster was titled “Characterization of Retinal Thickness Measurements and Their Relationship to Visual Acuity in Progressing Cases of Dry Macular Degeneration.” Klein was also awarded an honorable mention for the Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s premier undergraduate scholarship in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.
The honors represent an important milestone in his education, he says. While in high school in Las Vegas, Klein volunteered at an ophthalmology practice. During a “gap year” following high school, he worked full-time at the clinic and began conducting retinal photography. He became intrigued with what the images — high-resolution cross sections of microscopic retinal tissue — could reveal about eye diseases, including dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which involves the deterioration of retinal cells and leads to vision loss.
“While looking at the scans, I had questions about how they could be used to understand the disease pathology,” he says. “I felt there was a great deal of untapped information there.”
That led to a research project at LMU under the guidance of Lily Khadjavi, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics and Klein’s freshman mathematics professor. Over the past year, using data from the Las Vegas clinic, Klein created a mathematical model that showed quantitative retinal measurements were highly predictive of patient outcomes.
“The award changed my perspective a lot,” he explains. “I didn’t have any idea of where my work would stand in relation to students at other universities. It was extremely exciting and validating to know what you are doing is good at the national level.”
This summer, Klein plans to submit his findings for possible publication. He will also return to the Las Vegas ophthalmology clinic to work and prepare for an exam to become a certified ophthalmic assistant. He credits his mentors at LMU with helping him pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.
“LMU offers a small, integrated community where students get individualized attention that caters to their needs and career aspirations,” he says. “But the education here is not just about being a one-dimensional expert in your field. It’s about expanding your awareness of yourself and the world around you through education of the whole person.”