Biology major wins UAH’s 3MT competition, heads to New Orleans for regionals


Aleksandra Pivovarova won first place in the Master’s Category of UAH’s Three Minute Thesis competition.

Aleksandra Pivovarova, a graduate student in the Department of Biological Sciences at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), took home the top prize in the Master's Category at the third-annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition. The event, which was hosted by UAH's School of Graduate Studies, challenges graduate students to describe their research in just three minutes and using only a single slide.

Pivovarova, who has a bachelor's degree in biology from UAH, entitled her presentation "Targeting Cancer's Sweet Tooth." Its content is based on research she's currently performing on breast cancer cells in Dr. Gordon MacGregor's lab, which she describes as "a creative environment" that enables her to explore her own ideas.

"Cancer is smart, but it has weaknesses," says the Kemerovo, Siberia, native. "So in my presentation I tried to explain the weak spots that I am planning on targeting in cancer cells, in other words, cancer's sweet tooth. The basic idea is to look at what factors contribute the most to cancer growth and then find a way to use them against cancer."


The winners of this year’s 3MT pose with Dr. David Berkowitz, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies.

With only three minutes to explain how, however, Pivovarova needed to keep things short and simple. "I condensed my research down to the key points that could be understood by non-specialists," she says. As an illustration, she opted to focus on high-glucose consumption, which is one of the hallmarks of metastatic cancer.

"The more aggressive a cancer is, the greedier it is," she says. "Once inside the cell, glucose is broken down to acid, which has to be quickly and efficiently exported out or the cell will die. Hence, targeting the acid exporter channels and blocking them may become a new solution to cancer treatment."

The strategy worked. Not only was Pivovarova able to win over the judges, placing first in the competition's Master's Category and landing a $250 prize, but she was also able to garner enough votes to earn the Master's People's Choice Award, complete with a $50 prize. "I did not expect to win," she says with a laugh, "but I wanted to win so my mom could brag about me to all of her friends in Kazakhstan."

With UAH's 3MT victory behind her, Pivovarova must now focus on the regional 3MT competition, which will be held this March in New Orleans. "After David Gray's victory last year , I do feel a bit of a pressure, but only in a positive way," she says. "New Orleans sounds like a fun place to be. I am very excited about representing UAH - and exploring Bourbon Street!"

UAH 3MT 2014 Winners

  • Master's Category Winner ($250 Prize)
    Aleksandra Pivovarova, Targeting Cancer's Sweet Tooth
  • Master's Category Runner-Up Winner ($100 Prize)
    Kara Million, A Tale of Two Organisms: Coevolution Between Darters and Gill Parasites
  • Masters People's Choice Winner ($50 Prize)
    Aleksandra Pivovarova, Targeting Cancer's Sweet Tooth
  • Ph.D. Category Winner ($250 Prize)
    Satyajeet Padhi, Dynamics of Shrub Fires Under the Influence of Wind Using Physics-Based Modeling
  • Ph.D. Category Runner-Up Winner ($100 Prize)
    Jerry Sweafford, Walking Blind: Design of a Stable Walking Controller for a Humanoid Robot
  • Ph.D. People's Choice Winner ($50 Prize)
    Brandilynn Wilson, The Leaky Gut: Not a Hogwarts Hangout


School of Graduate Studies