Health Research Program

Dr. David Martinelli and Rohit Makol '20 (ENG).
HRP student researcher Rohit Makol ’20 (ENG), seated, works with David Martinelli, assistant professor of neuroscience at UConn Health, during summer 2017.

Program Overview
Eligibility
Application Deadline
How to Apply
Financial Support
Summer 2020 Research Opportunities
FAQ


Program Overview

The Health Research Program offers a pathway into undergraduate research for students with interests in health and the biomedical sciences. By facilitating connections between UConn Health researchers and UConn undergraduates, this program will involve more students in the cutting-edge research at the Farmington campus. The Health Research Program includes a combination of academic year and summer research opportunities, offering undergraduates and their faculty mentors a structure for sustained engagement in research projects, maximizing student learning and preparation for graduate study and/or careers in the health professions.

Eligibility

To be eligible for the Summer 2020 phase of the Health Research Program, a student applicant must:

  • Currently be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at UConn, and plan to graduate with that bachelor’s degree no earlier than May 2021. This includes students pursuing Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of General Studies, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Science in Engineering, and Bachelor of Social Work degrees.
  • Be a full-time student in good standing at a UConn campus during the Spring 2020 semester.
  • Be willing to continue their research involvement for Fall 2020 and Spring 2021.
  • Not have participated in any previous phase of the Health Research Program. Each student is eligible for a maximum of one placement and one summer stipend through the Health Research Program.

Beyond these general eligibility criteria, each individual opportunity description specifies the desired qualifications for that position.
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Application Deadline

The applications for Summer 2020 Health Research Program opportunities are now closed.

We expect that faculty will interview their leading candidates between February 7 and February 21, and offers will be made in late February 2020.
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How to Apply

Research opportunity descriptions and application links are accessible in the Summer 2020 Research Opportunities section of this page. Each opportunity has its own description and application link. If you wish to apply for more than one opportunity, you must tailor your application materials to each opportunity’s requirements and submit an application to each opportunity that interests you. Please note that if you apply to more than one opportunity, OUR will send you a follow-up form mid-February in which you will rank those opportunities in order of preference; your ranking must be submitted no later than 9am on Friday, February 21st. For guidance on how to use the application management system, please review the Quest Portal User Tips.
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Financial Support

Stipend Support to Students

  • Students participating in the summer 2020 program will receive a $4,000 stipend for a commitment of 360 hours of summer research (10 full-time weeks).
  • Students may receive a maximum of one summer stipend over the course of their participation in the Health Research Program.
  • Academic year student researchers (continuing research for fall & spring) may be eligible to apply for a $1,000 winter research stipend if they commit to completing 90 hours of winter break research.

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Summer 2020 Research Opportunities

A time commitment of 360 hours (typically 10 full-time weeks) is expected for student researchers during the summer. Summer researchers will receive a stipend of $4,000 to cover the expenses associated with participating in this program (e.g., summer rent, meals, parking, etc.).

The names of participating faculty and a brief description of the research opportunities they are sponsoring are listed in the table below. Click on the relevant link in the right column to view more detail about the opportunity and access its application.

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Corey Acker
Department of Cell Biology
The student will support testing of new voltage-sensitive dyes using cell culture assays. Custom fluorescence microscopy equipment is used along with patch clamp electrophysiology to control and monitor the voltage inside cells, including human stem cell derived heart cells, by recording voltage changes optically as well as electrically. MATLAB is used for all aspects, from hardware control to data analysis. SU20-1
Dr. Byoung-Il Bae 

Department of Neuroscience

The student will study the neurodevelopmental basis of autism spectrum disorder. She/he will characterize rare variants of the neurodevelopmental gene ASPM, which have been implicated in autism. She/he will generate the mutant constructs by site directed mutagenesis, and evaluate their effects on the protein levels of ASPM, the Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway, and neural progenitor cell proliferation. Successful completion of this project will elucidate how young patients with autism have larger than normal head circumferences (“macrocephaly”), and how abnormal neurodevelopment alters neural circuits for social behaviors. SU20-2
Dr. Jean-Denis Beaudoin
Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences
The trainee will have the opportunity to use CRISPR technologies to generate zebrafish loss of function mutant of RNA helicases. This project includes bioinformatics search of RNA helicase candidates, design of CRISPR strategies, injection of CRISPRs in zebrafish embryos, genotyping fish to find mutant alleles and look for developmental and molecular defects in loss of function mutants. Depending on the trainee’s interest, there is also a possibility of using cell lines to study translation regulation using transfection and massive parallel reporter assays (measuring the regulatory activity of thousands of sequences in a single experiment using high throughput sequencing). SU20-3
Dr. Michael Blinov
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
Mathematical modeling of biological processes is important to gain understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms and predict dynamics and outcomes of experiments and medical interventions. Mathematical models describe interactions among components of biological systems. Models are implemented and simulated in the Virtual Cell (http://vcell.org) software using GUI. We will develop a set of small models (ModelBricks, http://modelbricks.org) that serve as building blocks for larger models. SU20-4
Dr. Margaret J. Briggs-Gowan
Department of Psychiatry
The Adaptation and Resilience in Childhood Study is an NIMH-funded study investigating the effects of domestic violence on young children, ages 4-6 years. The summer intern will have the opportunity to assist with study activities which include developmental testing, computerized activities that assess children’s processing of facial stimuli, puppet interviews, and in-depth interviews with mothers about family life and the child’s development, postraumatic stress, and well-being. Psychophysiological data are acquired during visits, including heart rate, skin conductance and event-related potentials. The summer intern will be an integral part of the study team and will have ample opportunity to get hands on research experience. SU20-5
Dr. Caroline Dealy
Departments of Reconstructive Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Orthopedic Surgery and Cell Biology
The overall goal of this project is to develop a clinically-relevant approach to improve articular cartilage repair. In animal studies, we have identified a growth factor that stimulates cartilage repair potential by tissue-resident progenitor cells present in articular cartilage. This summer project will take the first translational step towards our goal by evaluating the effects of the pro-regenerative growth factor on progenitor cells in human articular cartilage. The project will identify the optimal dose and duration of growth factor treatment that maximally stimulates progenitor cell repair potential. Techniques will include tissue culture, histology, PCR, immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy and digital imaging. SU20-6
Dr. Jennifer Garza
Department of Medicine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
We are seeking students interested in a summer research opportunity to join the UConn Study on Aging, Musculoskeletal Health, and Retirement (UConn-SAM) team. For their summer projects, students will measure work and out-of-work activity patterns of UConn-SAM participants with and without eldercare responsibilities. The opportunity includes field work, recruitment and interaction with study participants, and analysis of work and out-of-work activity data. Students will test the hypothesis that individuals with eldercare responsibilities will have different work and out-of-work activity patterns compared to those without eldercare responsibilities. SU20-7
Dr. Damion Grasso 
Department of Psychiatry
Student effort would involve interacting with human research participants and participating in data collection/management on two primary projects conducted at our Family Adversity and Resilience Research Program in West Hartford. The first is a follow-up component of an NICHD funded study examining the intergenerational transmission of trauma and stress in mothers and their infants. Research activities involve a 3-hour visit in which mother and infant participate in a laboratory stress paradigm and physiological data are collected to measures infant stress reactivity. The second is an NIMH funded study examining biological and behavioral indicators of stress reactivity to explain the relationship between early violence exposure and mental health problems in 4- to 6-year-old children. Research activities involve a 4-hour visit with parent and child specific assessments and mother-child tasks. SU20-8
Dr. Carolyn Greene
Department of Psychiatry
I am seeking an undergraduate student intern to assist with the Parent and Child Emotions Study (PACES) a research study investigating emotion regulation among parents and children who have experienced trauma. The intern will assist with parent and child visits to our laboratory, where families will be completing questionnaires and engaging in dyadic tasks during which we will collect physiological and observational data. The intern will also assist with recruitment activities in the community, screening and scheduling subjects, administrative tasks, and data entry and analysis, and have the opportunity to utilize data from a prior study to develop a poster or paper on emotion regulation and children’s functioning. The intern will receive training in relevant tasks and be expected to attend research team meetings. SU20-9
Dr. Kshitiz
Department of Biomedical Engineering
We have established a fascinating connection between pregnancy and cancer metastasis, fundamentally changing our view of how and why cancer becomes malignant (see our paper in Nature Evolution: https://rdcu.be/bZk0D).
This discovery has opened up a new and important field to investigate cancer metastasis, how it starts, why it starts, and suggest methods to control cancer invasion. We are listing a series of very interesting projects for HRP students, and I am sure you will like at least one of them, and will get to work on a variety of techniques. These include:
1. Understanding the mechanics of how cancer invades into the surrounding tissue: involves microscopy, image analysis, traction force measurements etc.
2. Understanding the metabolism of cancer invasion: microscopy, metabolomics, lots of cool assays, bioinformatics, data analysis.
3. The evolutionary basis different levels of malignancy in mammals: dealing with farm animal tissues, histology, bioinformatics.
4. Looking at how fibrosis occurs in different tissues: nanoengineering, microscopy, image analysis, force generation analysis, and basic biochemistry.Students in our group have a high probability to be part of  publications if they contribute.
SU20-10
Dr. Liisa Kuhn 
Department of Biomedical Engineering
This project will involve using 3D scans of mastectomy patients and 3D printing to create a personalized breast prosthesis that can be worn externally to restore symmetry and aesthetics to breast cancer patients. The project requires learning how to use the scanning software skanect and the program meshmixer and solidworks or autocad and a 3D printer. The challenge will be to optimize the print parameters and design of the part to make the part print in a half a day or less while offering structural support and comfort to the patient. SU20-11
Dr. Sangamesh Kumbar

Orthopedic Surgery

The student will be involved in the design, development, and fabrication of polymeric micro-nano structures for tissue regeneration and drug delivery. These structures will be characterized for their physicochemical and biological properties using in vitro and in vivo test models. Specifically, the student will work on conducting drug release and accessing the in vitro cell response to the released drug. The student will be introduced to protocols to conduct experiments, data acquisition, analysis, oral presentations and report writing. SU20-12
Dr. Changchun Liu
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Nucleic acid-based molecular detection plays a critical role in rapid diagnostics and prompt treatment of infectious diseases. In this summer project, we will design, fabricate and test microfluidic diagnostic device and portable detection system for point of care diagnostics. The device and system will be fabricated by 3D printing technology. Please find more detail on our current research through the website: https://smds.engr.uconn.edu/. SU20-13
Dr. Leslie Loew
Berlin Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
The lab is using computational methods to understand cell function. The project will involve learning how to use a cell modeling software tool that was developed in my lab called SpringSaLaD (https://vcell.org/ssalad). You will use it to understand the molecular and cellular principles controlling the assembly of molecular machines composed of many individual molecules containing multiple binding sites. If you are interested in computer programming, there will also be the opportunity to work on improving SpringSaLaD. SU20-14
Dr. Kazuya Machida

Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences

The goal for the summer is to develop a new single cell protein binding assay using advanced flow cytometry technologies. The student will a) construct a panel of labeled protein domain probes, b) validate the probes in biochemical and imaging analyses, c) and optimize the assay conditions using human lymphocytes. Together, these experiences enhance the student’s abilities for future careers. SU20-15
Dr. Kevin Manning
Department of Psychiatry
This is a clinical research opportunity for students interested in geriatric psychiatry or clinical neuroscience. We (a collaborative group of psychologists, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists) have an ongoing clinical trial aimed at understanding whether cognitive fitness (computerized brain games) improves both depression symptoms and cognitive functioning in a sample of older adults with treatment resistant major depression. The student will learn about the day to day operations of clinical neuroscience research by learning to administer behavioral tests and measures / entering in data to a database / and observing MRI assessments and psychiatric interviews. SU20-16
Dr. David Martinelli
Department of Neuroscience
Two different projects are underway in the lab, and the student could potentially choose either. The first regards the biochemistry of synaptic adhesion proteins, and is described well on the lab website https://health.uconn.edu/synapse/ . The second project is not described on the lab website, but involves the same set of proteins/genes, which happen to also be expressed in oligodendrocytes, the cells that make brain myelin. The project centers on understanding how myelin gets made, with the long term goal of developing a new treatment for multiple sclerosis. SU20-17
Dr. Bruce Mayer 
Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences
We have developed computational models that describe B cell receptor signaling, which is dysregulated in human leukemias such as Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). We have also found patterns of protein phosphorylation (which we term “SH2 profiles”) in CLL patient samples that correlate with clinical outcomes such as disease progression. The goal of the proposed project is testing and validation of the computational model. This will involve both computational work, and biochemical studies using cell lines and patient tumor samples. SU20-18
Dr. Pedro Mendes 
Center for Quantitative Medicine, Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
A critical aspect in developing computational systems biology models is to estimate values for the parameters of a model based on experimental data. Our systems biology software COPASI (http://copasi.org) is one of the leading packages for parameter estimation, which is widely used in the literature (around 100 papers per year use it). However COPASI executes parameter estimation using optimization algorithms that run in serial mode and tcan be very slow. We aim to address this problem by implementing optimization algorithms, known as “island evolutionary algorithms”, that can run in parallel making use of high-performance computing resources. This project will implement such an algorithm, to be written as a script in the R programming language and which will control COPASI through an existing API (https://github.com/jpahle/CoRC). This research project includes coding, debugging and benchmarking the algorithm using established test case problems. Finally we will apply it in an ongoing research project on genetic regulation by micro-RNAs. SU20-19
Dr. Masoud Nickaeen
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
We will develop algorithms to numerically solve partial differential equations in domains with moving boundaries. We will implement these algorithms in computer programs and run simulations to evaluate their accuracy and validity. We will benchmark the utility of the new algorithms in the study of cellular processes that lead to or rely on the motion and deformation of the cells, their organelles or subcellular structures. SU20-20
Dr. Stefan Pinter 
Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences
Project DescriptionOur lab studies genetic syndromes that change the expression levels of many genes residing on a single chromosome, for example Down syndrome (DS, trisomy 21) and Turner syndrome (TS, monosomy X). We have established human stem cell (iPSC) lines of these aneuploidies, along with isogenic euploid control lines, to model cellular phenotypes associated with these conditions. To correct the dosage of genes on chromosome X or 21, we use epigenetic (XIST RNA) and RNA-targeting CRISPR tools to study their developmental impact, and map cellular phenotypes back to specific mis-expressed genes. For example, we would like to learn how trisomic genes on chromosome 21 contribute to oxidative stress in DS neurons and astrocytes, and have built a reporter iPSC line to identify which genes would have to be targeted to restore a typical redox balance SU20-21
Dr. Tannin Schmidt
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Lubricin is multi functional protein, with both lubricating and anti inflammatory properties, that is present throughout the human body. In particular, lubricin is present in synovial fluid as well as tears, and is critical for both knee joint and ocular surface health. Recombinant human lubricin has been shown to be effective in treating osteoarthritis in preclinical models, and also improving signs and symptoms of dry eye disease in humans. This project will examine the regulation of lubricin biosynthesis by various relevant cell types, as well as further explore lubricin’s recently discovered anti-inflammatory properties. SU20-22
Dr. Henry Smilowitz

Department of Cell Biology

Project DescriptionOur laboratory in collaboration with a small biotech company, Nanoprobes, Inc. pioneered the use of heavy atom nanoparticles to enhance radiation therapy (RT) of tumors, with a focus on primary and metastatic brain tumors (Hainfeld et al., 2004). Our initial work used gold nanoparticles (Hainfeld et al. 2010, 2013). Our more recent work has been with well tolerated novel iodine nanoparticles (INPs) (Hainfeld et al., 2018, 2019). Current work in the lab is focused on 1. Improving INP-enhanced RT efficacy by tumor targeting of the INPs, 2. Studying the mechanism of INP-enhanced RT by A. Microlocalization of INPs in brain tumors, B. Quantification of double strand DNA breaks (DSBs) in tumor and non-tumor cells in the brain after RT. C. Combination of INP enhanced RT with chemotherapy, immunotherapy. Our lab also has a continuing interest in tumor dormancy and projects along those lines. For specific projects please come to talk with Dr. Smilowitz. For specific references to our published papers, please refer to our Cell Biology web site. SU20-23
Dr. Ali Tamayol

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Chronic wounds are major healthcare challenges that affect a noticeable number of people by exerting a severe financial burden and being the leading cause of limb amputation. Although challenging, healing rate can be enhanced by administration of therapies at the right time. The project in Laboratory for Innovative Microtechnologies & Biomechanics (LIMB) is focused on development of smart bandages for active monitoring of the wound environment using integrated biosensors followed by on‐demand drug delivery employing active and passive methods. The project is interdisciplinary combining biology, biomaterials, biochemistry, bioelectronics and biomechanics. SU20-24
Dr. Ephraim Trakhtenberg
Department of Neuroscience
We study how the brain develops and utilize gained knowledge to reverse-engineer regeneration of the brain tissue damaged by an injury or stroke. We employ a multidisciplinary approach spanning cutting edge genetics, epigenetics, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and gene therapy, which will provide a student with an opportunity to explore different approaches and select a project that aligns best with the individual’s career goals and interests. SU20-25
Dr. Paola Vera-Licona
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The student involved in this project will apply computational systems biology and bioinformatics tools to quantitatively study Acute Myeloid Leukemia maturation state interconversion in a clinically relevant in vivo model of differentiation therapy.

Bioinformatics tools will include the use of the software package geneXplain (http://genexplain.com/) and some R packages to visualize and analyze RNA-seq data. In addition, the student will learn to use some Cytoscape apps (http://www.cytoscape.org/).

SU20-26
Dr. Yi Wu
Center for Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
The student has an opportunity to participating in several projects related to mechanobiology. These projects overall hinge upon a newly developed, genetically-encoded biosensor from the lab for detecting mechanical forces in living cells. The exact project for the student can focus on calibrating force sensing modules in vitro, engineering force sensors for a specific protein, or measuring forces in live cell microscopy. SU20-27
Dr. Ping Yan
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
There is a summer research opportunity for a chemistry student to synthesize new voltage sensitive dyes (VSDs). While mainly working on organic syntheses, the student will also measure the absorption and fluorescence spectra, test the sensitivities in artificial membranes, and possibly image action potential in real cells using newly synthesized VSDs (in collaboration with Dr. Loew). SU20-28
Dr. Riqiang Yan
Department of Neuroscience
Chemokines and cytokines play a role in a variety of degenerative diseases. This project will explore the role of a particular chemokine CXCL14 on Alzheimer’s disease. Participants will be using imaging and biochemical techniques to localize and quantify CXCL14 in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease patient tissue. The effect of CXCL14 on cell migration into the brain will also be explored using culturing and live imaging techniques. SU20-29
Dr. Ji Yu
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
Misregulation of protein phosphorylation is linked to important human diseases, particularly cancer. The goal of the project is to develop a microscopy method to analyze the phosphoproteome in a spatially resolved manner. We achieve this by combining the naturally existing phosphor-sensitive library of SH2 domains with a protease based multiplexing imaging scheme. Furthermore, the project also aims to establish and validate an imaging analysis pipeline that allows rigorous yet intuitive interpretation and visualization of the high-dimensional imaging data. SU20-30

FAQ


What time commitment is expected of a summer researcher in this program?

A time commitment of 360 hours (typically 10 full-time weeks) is expected for student researchers during the summer. The standard research dates for the program are May 28-August 2, 2019, but you may elect to extend your involvement in research in consultation with your faculty mentor. All weeks of summer research must be completed between May 11 and August 28, 2020.


What time commitment is expected of an academic year researcher in this program?

A time commitment of 3-9 hours/week is expected for student researchers during the academic year; this varies across research opportunities and is a key factor to consider as you are reviewing the different opportunities and considering which might be a good fit for you. The standard formula for academic credit is 1 credit for each 3 hours of weekly research, and you will register for the appropriate number of credits given the time commitment you are making to research. Note: In the absence of extenuating circumstances (e.g., leave of absence, study abroad), a student cannot discontinue participation in the HRP during one semester and resume participation in the HRP in the subsequent semester.


How do I earn academic credit for my participation in this program during the academic year?

You will likely earn Undergraduate Research, Independent Study, or a similar kind of course credit in the department associated with your major. The most common arrangement is for a Storrs faculty member to be the instructor of record for the course and to coordinate with the UConn Health faculty member supervising your research in order to approve a learning agreement and enter the appropriate grade at the end of the semester. OUR staff will work with you individually to provide guidance on how to proceed in your specific situation.


What transportation options are available for students?

During the 2019-20 academic year, shuttle service between Storrs and Farmington will be available at no cost to students on Thursdays and Fridays. Transportation via the shuttle during the semester allows Storrs students to conduct research at UConn Health 9am-12pm, 12pm-4pm, or 9am-4pm. Please note that those time windows do not include the time you will spend on the shuttle. With travel time included, the time commitment is 8am-1pm, 11am-5pm, or 8am-5pm, respectively. CTtransit bus service (free with UPass) is an alternative option. You may also elect to use another form of transportation.

We do not expect that shuttle service will be available during summer 2020 or in academic year 2020-21. We will develop an HRP travel subsidy process that prioritizes students with financial need; HRP participants will be able to apply for these funds beginning in fall 2020. We encourage you to take your class schedule and planned transportation method into consideration when reviewing the possible research schedule associated with each opportunity.


Do I need to be pre-med to participate in this program? Do I need to be in Honors?

You do not need to be pre-med or be a member of the Honors Program in order to participate in this program. The program is open to all undergraduate students interested in health research. However, bear in mind that this is a demanding program that requires you to coordinate weekly travel to UConn Health. We encourage you to take a realistic look at your schedule, the demands of your other courses, and your past academic achievement in order to assess whether this program is a good fit for you.

OUR advisors would be happy to discuss your specific situation and the most appropriate research opportunities with you at any time. Review our Meet with an OUR Advisor page for more information on how to make an appointment.


How do these opportunities continue into the academic year?

Sustained engagement in a research project maximizes learning, so we want to make it possible for students to stay engaged in undergraduate research at UConn Health over longer periods of time. The Health Research Program is focused on developing new research opportunities and involving more undergraduate students in research at UConn Health. The program offers a structure for the new student-faculty pairs that are formed in the summer to continue into the academic year. Students selected for summer 2020 opportunities will complete a mid-summer assessment process along with their faculty mentors, which will gauge whether adequate research progress is being made and will ask both student and faculty to indicate their interest in continuing the research placement beyond the summer. Continuing placements will be contingent upon satisfactory student research progress and continued interest by both student and faculty (in addition to the student’s full-time enrollment and good standing at the university). If a student continues his/her research in academic year 2020-21, s/he may be eligible to apply for a $1,000 winter research stipend if s/he commits to completing 90 hours of winter break research (and graduates no earlier than May 2021).

While students may continue research in this program across multiple academic years and/or summers, students are eligible for a maximum of one HRP summer stipend. In the absence of extenuating circumstances (e.g., leave of absence, study abroad), a student cannot discontinue participation in the HRP during one semester and resume participation in the HRP in the subsequent semester.


This application asks for a Science GPA. What is that? How do I figure out my Science GPA?

Unlike your cumulative GPA, your Science GPA is not automatically calculated and reported on your transcript. You will need to calculate this by entering the number of credits and your earned grade from each of your science classes into a GPA calculator (like this GPA calculator from UConn ACES). We recommend that you move through your transcript methodically, using your best judgment to decide whether a given course is a “science course,” and entering the relevant information into the calculator for each science course. Once all information is entered, click the Calculate button, and report the GPA output in your Health Research Program application.

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