23rd WCI Scientific Symposium
Thursday, November 15, 2018
Keynote Lecture in Progress
Supriya Mohile, M.D., M.S.
Judith Campisi, Ph.D.
“This week GDSC assisted the Wilmot Cancer Institute (WCI) in hosting their Twenty Third Scientific Symposium for Cancer Research and Treatment. Graduate Students working in basic, translational and clinical cancer research displayed posters of their respective cancer studies in the Flaum Atrium. GDSC and other faculty gave lectures; including Brian Altman, Stephano Mello, Dirk Bohmann, Vera Gorbunova, Joe Chakkalakal, Laurie Steiner, and Ben Frisch. Additionally, WCI professor Supriya Mohile, gave the Davey Award Lecture titled Improving Care Delivery for Older Patients with Cancer. Finally, Judith Campisi, Ph.D. of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology presented the symposium's keynote lecture titled “Cancer and aging: Rival Demons?”
Monday, November 12, 2018
We celebrated the successful PhD defense by Eugene Kim last Friday. Working with Jianwen Que, Eugene has identified a significant progenitor cell population in the early foregut. She used a combination of xenopus and mouse models to demonstrate that the transcription factor Isl1 enriched in the unique progenitor population regulates the separation of the esophagus from the trachea. These findings provide important insights into the pathobiology of a relatively common birth defect esophageal atresia with/without trachea-esophageal fistula (EA/TEF). Eugene has a passion for studying developmental biology and stem cells in regeneration, and she plans for a future career in these areas!
Thursday, November 8, 2018
On Thursday, Fanju Meng successfully defended his PhD thesis. Under mentorship of Dr. Benoit Biteau, Fanju’s studies focus on the regulatory network that coordinates stem cell proliferation and differentiation in the Drosophila intestinal epithelium. Using advanced fly genetics and cell biology methods, Fanju characterized the expression and role of several transcription factors in adult intestinal progenitors. His work significantly improves our understanding of the programs controlling stem cell function and establishes the fruit fly as a model to study these conserved, critical stem cell factors. His findings have been published in Cell Reports and Stem Cell Investigation. And there are additional papers in the pipeline! Fanju was a recipient of a NYSTEM training grant hosted by the Department of Biomedical Genetics, and the Goodman Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship from the University of Rochester. Fanju is now planning on continuing in his work in the field of stem cell and cancer biology using genetic model organisms – and we wish him the best of luck! You will be missed.
For further reading, please see:
Fanju Meng Successfully Defending His Ph.D. Thesis
GDSC Halloween Costume Contest!
Thursday, November 8, 2018
Last week GDSC held our Halloween Costume Contest. Our three GDSC student contestants can be seen below.
Derek Crowe as Bart Simpson
Anne Roskowski as Sailor Moon
Neal Shah as a Medical Garbed Squidward
Derek Crowe earned a very close second place with 14 votes. While first place went to Anne Roskowski with 15 votes. Congrats Anne!”
GDSC Fall Retreat
Thursday, November 1, 2018
Our graduate program in Genetics, Development and Stem Cells (GDSC) celebrated another successful season of research and academic growth. On the afternoon of Friday October 26th 2018, the faculty, students and families of GDSC held our Fall Retreat at the Ellison Park Pavilion Lodge. Among our many reasons to celebrate was our Department’s recent faculty expansion including, Brian J. Altman, Stephano Spano Mello, and Patrick J. Murphy. Welcome! We also celebrated the faculty promotion of Benoit Biteau to Associate Professor. Finally, we celebrated the future research of faculty members Margot Mayer-Pröschel, Douglas Portman, Chris Pröschel, and Andy Samuelson each of whom obtained prominent research grants earlier this year. Our festivities included pumpkin carvings, board games and a cocktail hour. There were also three hotly contested rounds of Science Trivia. (The final scores for the first and second place teams were separated by a margin of half a point!) The winning team “Smooth ER” included members Derek Crow, Li Xie, Shen Zhou, Yungeng Pang, Mark Noble, Daxiang Na, and Andy Samuelson. Additionally, Jessie Hogestyn won our “Hidden Facts” contest testing one’s knowledge of eccentric or esoteric trivia regarding GDSC faculty and students. Photos of GDSC’s genetic festivities can be seen below.
New Research Seeks to Understand Link Between Iron and Brain Development
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Iron deficiency is the one of the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies in the world and affects mainly pregnant mothers and young children. Numerous studies have found that mothers who have low iron levels during pregnancy, have a higher risk of giving birth to a child that develops cognitive impairments like autism, attention deficit syndrome, and learning disabilities. While the link between gestational iron deficiency (GID) and cognitive impairment in offspring is well establish, the mechanisms by which this occurs remain unknown.
Margot Mayer-Proschel, Ph.D., an associate professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Biomedical Genetics, has established animal models of GID and was the first to pinpoint the critical periods of gestation during which the developing central nervous system is most vulnerable to GID. Her laboratory recently demonstrated that nerve cells in the brains of animals born to iron deficient mice behave abnormally to excitatory brain stimuli and has shown that functional impairments cannot be restored by iron supplements later in life.Read More: New Research Seeks to Understand Link Between Iron and Brain Development
Adrian Moises Molina Vargas is awarded Graduate Alumni Convocation Award
Friday, September 14, 2018
Adrian (’18 University of Alcalá, Spain), one of three new 2018 recruits to the GDSC program was awarded the Graduate Alumni Convocation Award to recognize his promise for exceptional accomplishment in graduate studies. During his year of studying abroad at Tufts during 2017-2018, Adrian worked in the Mirkin lab to study the role of cdc13 mutations in genome instability.
In addition, Sarah Spahr (’18 Ohio State University) was nominated for the Irving Spar Fellowship and Tom O’Connor (’17 University of Buffalo) was nominated for the Newell Stannard Graduate Student Scholarship Award. Congratulations to all three!
Adrian, Sarah & Tom
GDSC Team Participates in 6th annual Wilmot “Warrior Walk”
Friday, September 14, 2018
GDSC Team supports the 2017 Wilmot Cancer Warrior Walk
Students and faculty from Biomedical Genetics and the GDSC program attended the 6th Wilmot Cancer Institute Warrior Walk on Sunday. Aptly named the “NextGen Cancer Busters” to symbolize the graduate students and post-docs training to become cancer researchers, the GDSC team mingled with cancer survivors and family members, to support the fight against cancer. As one team member pointed out: “Meeting cancer survivors really helps put the work in the lab into perspective”.
In addition to the Cancer Survivor Walk, “NextGen Cancer Busters” also participated in the 10k and 5k events. Notably, Dalia Ghoneim (5k) and Adam Cornwall (10k) and placed 1st and 2nd in their group, and 2nd and 7th overall. In addition, Scott Friedland and our new faculty addition, Brian Altman, both placed 4th in their age group for the 5k. Congratulations!!
Dr. Mayer-Pröschel to Research the Role of Iron Deficiency in the Developing Brain with a $2 Million Grant
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Dr. Margot Mayer-Pröschel, Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Genetics, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Neuroscience, has received a $2 million, five-year grant to study the impact of gestational iron deficiency (GID) on the development of the brain.
Iron deficiency is still the most prevalent nutritional deficiency in the world. Optimal maternal iron stores during pregnancy are essential for providing adequate iron to the fetal brain. However, many women have insufficient iron reserves to optimally supply the fetus. This is a potentially serious problem as children born to gestational iron deficient (GID) mothers have a higher probability of developing autism, attention deficient syndrome and other cognitive impairments.
A major step towards understanding GID, and potentially preventing multiple types of impairment in children, is to conduct controlled mechanistic and cellular studies in animal models where variable factors can be controlled. Using this approach, the Mayer-Pröschel lab found that low iron supply during pregnancy can cause defects in fetal brain development resulting in a disability to generate appropriate reservoirs of cells that are needed later in life to establish balanced brain activity. This defect persists even if iron supplements are started at birth. This work using a mouse model of GID will provide a detailed understanding of the detrimental effects on child development and may point towards new strategies by which the defects can be normalized or prevented.
The grant, titled Gestational Iron Deficiency disrupts neural patterning in the embryo is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD), part of National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Hsu to Continue Stem Cell Research with $2.5 Million Grant
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Wei Hsu, Ph.D., dean’s professor of Biomedical Genetics in the Center for Oral Biology and a scientist with the Eastman Institute for Oral Health at the University of Rochester Medical Center, received a $2.5 million, five year grant to continue his groundbreaking work involving the role of stem cells in tissue regeneration and reconstructive surgical repair.
Currently, the only solution for extensive large bone defects caused by cancer surgery, congenital malformation, trauma and progressive deforming diseases, is to undergo a reconstructive operation. For the 2.2 million cases a year around the world conducted in orthopedic, plastic and oral surgeries, these operations usually involve autografts that require transferring bones from other parts of the body.
“However, bone grafts are encumbered by numerous disadvantages, including donor site morbidity, limited bone supply and complications of extended operating time,” Dr. Hsu explained. “The success of such reconstructions also remains highly challenging due to several limitations.”Read More: Dr. Hsu to Continue Stem Cell Research with $2.5 Million Grant
School of Medicine Names New Dean for Graduate Education
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Richard T. Libby, Ph.D.
Richard T. Libby Ph.D., professor of Ophthalmology and of Biomedical Genetics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and a member of the University’s Center for Visual Science, has been named Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA), pending approval of the University Board of Trustees. Beginning Sept. 1, Libby will direct the School of Medicine and Dentistry’s Ph.D., postdoctoral and master’s degree programs. He succeeds Edith M. Lord, Ph.D., who served a decade in the role and is shifting her focus to microbiology and immunology research.
An innovative researcher in the neurobiology of glaucoma, Libby arrived in Rochester in 2006 after postdoctoral and fellowship experiences that enlightened him on the power of model genetics systems in the study of eye disease. Years spent training at the Medical Research Council’s Institute for Hearing Research in Nottingham, England, and the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, formed the foundation for his current laboratory, which is focused on understanding the cell signaling pathways that lead to vision loss in glaucoma.
Libby is director of the Cell Biology of Disease Graduate Program, has served on numerous academic committees integral to research activities and graduate education, and is a respected mentor and teacher. He has published, as author or co-author, more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific articles and numerous reviews, book chapters and commentaries, and has presented internationally on a range of topics in eye and vision research.
“Rick understands that excellence in a research enterprise is essential to attracting the best and brightest talent and has articulated a vision for further improving the experience here, making it clear to the outside world that Rochester is the best place to learn and study,” said Mark Taubman, M.D., CEO of the Medical Center and Dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Rochester. “He is a passionate scientist whose experience in a clinical department will bring valuable insight to graduate programs in basic and clinical research—a true asset to his role in helping prepare future generations of scientists.”
“Complementing his expertise in leading graduate programs, and thorough understanding of their needs, Rick has developed a thoughtful approach to what it will take to continue moving them forward. It’s clear that he’s driven by a desire to develop our trainees and motivated to give them the best graduate/postdoctoral experience possible,” said Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., Vice Dean for Research at the School of Medicine and Dentistry and Associate Vice President for Health Sciences Research at the University of Rochester. “In addition, having developed his own career in a somewhat untraditional way, Rick brings an added dimension to understanding and supporting others who are exploring diverse career options.”
Libby received a doctorate degree in biology from Boston College in the field of neurodevelopment. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Medical Research Council’s Institute for Hearing Research in Nottingham England, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. He joined the School of Medicine and Dentistry faculty as an assistant professor in 2006, was named associate professor in 2012, and professor in 2018.
“Rick is a great choice to succeed Edith Lord as the Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education,” said Dirk Bohmann, Ph.D., Donald M. Foster, M.D. Professor of Biomedical Genetics and Senior Associate Dean for Basic Research, who led the search committee. “He realizes that research excellence and successful graduate and postdoctoral programs are mutually dependent. You cannot have one without the other. He will be a passionate advocate for the graduate students and postdocs.”
“Under Dr. Lord’s leadership, GEPA has greatly enhanced the support and training of URMC’s graduate students and postdoctoral fellows,” Libby said. “In fact, GEPA has helped lead the nation in providing enhanced educational opportunities to ready trainees for the numerous careers available to the modern-day scientist. I am excited to be a part of this team. I look forward to further developing GEPA’s missions of providing world-class training for our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and to helping our trainees continue their important work focused on understanding human health and disease.”
Lord’s four-decade career in Rochester is dotted with milestones and accomplishments. She joined the School of Medicine and Dentistry faculty as a senior instructor in 1976 and rose through the ranks to professor in 1994. In 10 years as Senior Associate Dean, she worked to improve the experience of graduate students and postdocs in and outside the lab, adding Postdoctoral Affairs to the Office for Graduate Education’s name, standardizing salaries and benefits, and advocating on behalf of trainees. She spearheaded a revamping of the fundamental basic science courses, incorporating more workshops and active learning components and emphasizing team-based science. She also fostered professional development initiatives and guided efforts to support students’ health and wellbeing. Her return to the research lab will include focusing on an NIH grant to study the immune response in tumors.
Hucky Land Leads Genome Sequencing Project that Expands Tissue-Banking Partnership
Thursday, August 2, 2018
URMC recently extended a previous tissue-banking agreement with Indivumed, a private company, to include a new partnership for whole genome sequencing. Hucky Land, Ph.D., director of research at the Wilmot Cancer Institute, is leading the partnership with a project to sequence 2,000 colorectal cancer samples from 1,000 patients by the end of the year, and to develop novel software tools enabling complex cancer data analysis in the future.
The latest agreement with Indivumed also enabled the URMC Genomics Research Center (GRC) to purchase a state-of-the-art Illumina NovaSeq6000 DNA sequencer. The equipment signals a new era for genomics at the University, as it will aid research advancing personalized medicine, including discovery of new therapies to improve cancer outcomes. It also allows URMC investigators to perform whole genome sequencing for a fraction of the previous cost.
Based in Germany, Indivumed helped the URMC in 2016 set up a centralized tissue bank for collecting high-quality samples from surgical patients for cancer research. Once a tissue sample is examined to make a diagnosis, the remaining tissue is stored in the “Rochester Cancer Library” and available to URMC, Wilmot, and Indivumed scientists. The samples can be correlated with patient survival data, response to treatment, and other meaningful information for researchers.
In addition to Land, faculty who have been integral to the agreements with Indivumed include Steve Dewhurst, Ph.D., Vice Dean for Research at the SMD; David Linehan, M.D., chair of Surgery, director of Clinical Operations at Wilmot, and a pancreatic cancer researcher, who serves as the supervising investigator for tissue banking; and Bruce Smoller, M.D., chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, who led efforts to operationalize the tissue bank.
Stephano Mello lab to open
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Stephano is a currently a Postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, and will join the faculty in the Department of Biomedical Genetics at the University of Rochester, in September 2018. Stephano is coming from Dr. Laura Attardi’s lab and his research seeks to understand the mechanisms behind pancreatic cancer initiation.
Please visit his lab site for more information.
Wilmot announces new Pilot Award recipients
Monday, April 30, 2018
Wilmot’s competitive seed-grant program aims to fund research projects that will generate preliminary data necessary to potentially apply for federal funding in the future. Thanks to financial support from two community organizations – Adding Candles for a Cure and the Edelman Gardner Cancer Research Foundation – four projects have received funding that started Jan. 1.
Mark Noble, Ph.D., Professor in the departments of Biomedical Genetics and Neuroscience, received a $50,000 grant for his project titled, “A biomarker for a novel glioblastoma (GBM) vulnerability.” The co-investigators for this project are Kevin Walter, M.D., Mahlon Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., Nimish Mohile, M.D., and Peggy Auinger, M.S.
Bradford Mahon, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, received a $50,000 grant for his project seeking to demonstrate feasibility and preliminary efficacy of advanced MRI mapping in improving outcome in patients with glioblastoma. Kevin Walter, M.D.
, is the co-investigator for this project.
Congratulations to all Wilmot pilot grant recipients.
Biological Sex Tweaks Nervous System Networks, Plays Role in Shaping Behavior
Thursday, March 8, 2018
By Mark Michaud
New research published today in the journal Current Biology demonstrates how biological sex can modify communication between nerve cells and generate different responses in males and females to the same stimulus. The findings could new shed light on the genetic underpinnings of sex differences in neural development, behavior, and susceptibility to diseases.
“While the nervous systems of males and females are virtually identical, we know that there is a sex bias in how many neurological diseases manifest themselves, that biological sex can influence behavior in animals, and that some of these differences are likely to be biologically driven,” said Douglas Portman, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Departments of Biomedical Genetics, Neuroscience, and the Center for Neurotherapeutics Discovery at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study. “This study demonstrates a connection between biological sex and the control and function of neural circuits and that these different sex-dependent configurations can modify behavior.”
The findings were made in experiments involving the nematode C. elegans, a microscopic roundworm that has long been used by researchers to understand fundamental mechanisms in biology. Many of the discoveries made using these worms apply throughout the animal kingdom and this research has led to a broader understanding of human biology. In fact, three Nobel Prizes in medicine and chemistry have been awarded for discoveries involving C. elegans.
The study focuses on the different behaviors of male and female worms. There are two sexes of C. elegans, males and hermaphrodites. Although the hermaphrodites are able to self-fertilize, they are also mating partners for males, and are considered to be modified females.
The behavior of C. elegans is driven by sensory cues, primarily smell and taste, which are used by the worms to navigate their environment and communicate with each other. Female worms secrete a pheromone that is known to attract males who are drawn by this signal in search of a mate. Other females, however, are repelled by the same pheromone. It is not entirely understood why, but scientists speculate that that the pheromone signals to females to avoid areas where there may be too much competition. Read More: Biological Sex Tweaks Nervous System Networks, Plays Role in Shaping Behavior
Leader in the field of epigenetic regulation and cancer biology joins the Department of Biomedical Genetics and GDSC Program
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Dr. Paula Vertino, currently the leader of the Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics Program at Emory University will be joining the University of Rochester Department in Biomedical Genetics and the Wilmot Cancer Institute this summer. Dr. Vertino's research on cancer epigenetics will greatly expand our areas of research strengths. She is an exceptionally important player in her field, and we look forward to welcoming her to the GDSC program!Read More: Leader in the field of epigenetic regulation and cancer biology joins the Department of Biomedical Genetics and GDSC Program
Congratulations to our newly minted PhD’s!
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Michelle Warren Millar
Through the course of her studies on melanoma, Michelle has found that GPR56 inhibits metastatic growth by preventing the expansion of micrometastases into macrometastases. Loss of GPR56 in highly metastatic cells promotes cell-ECM signaling in these metastatic lesions, and inhibition of this signaling results in smaller, less proliferative metastases, targeting one of the deadliest, metastasizing tumor types.
Yang’s research focuses on mechanisms that drive aging. Using Drosophila as a model, she showed that age-associated changes in chromatin structure explain why older organisms become more vulnerable to oxidative damage and decline functionally. Based on these findings she has developed strategies that can slow down epigenetic aging and improve the fitness of old organisms. This research raises intriguing implications for healthy aging in humans.
A Noble pursuit; finding the best science to help the most people
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
By Kevin McCormack
Mark Noble. Photo by Todd Dubnicoff
Mark Noble, Ph.D., is a pioneer in stem cell research and the Director of the University of Rochester Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Institute in New York. He is also a member of CIRM’s Grants Working Group (GWG), the panel of independent scientific experts we use to review research applications for funding and decide which are the most promising.
Mark has been a part of the GWG since 2011. When asked how he came to join the GWG he joked: “I saw an ad on Craigslist and thought it sounded fun.” But he is not joking when he says it is a labor of love.
“My view is that CIRM is one of the greatest experiments in how to develop a new branch of science and medicine. If you look at ventures, like the establishment of the National Institutes of Health, what you see is that when there is a concentrated effort to achieve an enormous goal, amazing things can happen. And if your goal is to create a new field of medicine you have to take a truly expansive view.”
Mark has been on many other review panels but says they don’t compare to CIRM’s.
“These are the most exciting review panels in which I take part. I don’t know of any comparable panels that bring together experts working across such a wide range of disciplines and diseases. It’s particularly interesting to be involved in reviews at this stage because we get to look at the fruits of CIRM’s long investment, and at projects that are now in, or well on the way towards, clinical trials.
It’s a wonderful scientific education because you come to these meetings and someone is submitting an application on diabetes and someone else has submitted an application on repairing the damage to the heart or spinal cord injury or they have a device that will allow you to transplant cells better. There are people in the room that are able to talk knowledgeably about each of these areas and understand how the proposed project might work in terms of actual financial development, and how it might work in the corporate sphere and how it fits in to unmet medical needs. I don’t know of any comparable review panels like this that have such a broad remit and bring together such a breadth of expertise. Every review panel you come to you are getting a scientific education on all these different areas, which is great.”
Another aspect of CIRM’s work that Mark admires is its ability to look past the financial aspects of research, to focus on the bigger goal:
“I like that CIRM recognizes the larger problem, that a therapy that is curative but costs a million dollars a patient is not going to be implemented worldwide. Well, CIRM is not here to make money. CIRM is here to find cures for unmet medical needs, which means that if someone comes in with a great application on a drug that is going to cure some awful disease and it’s not going to be worth a fortune, that is not the main concern. The main concern is that you might be able to cure this disease and yeah, we’ll put up money to help you so that you might be able to get into clinical trials, to get enough information to find out if it works. And to have the vision to go all the way from, ‘ok, you guys, we want you to enter this field, we want you to be interested in therapeutic development, we are going to help you structure the clinical trials, we are going to provide all the Alpha Stem Cell Clinics that can talk to each other to make the clinical trials happen.
The goal of CIRM is to change medicine and these are the approaches that have worked really well in doing this. The CIRM view clearly is:
‘There are 100 horses in this race and every single one that crosses the finish line is a success story.’ That’s what is necessary, because there are so many diseases and injuries for which new approaches are needed.”
Mark says working with CIRM has helped him spread the word back home in New York state:
“I have been very involved in working with the New York state legislature over the years to promote funding for stem cell biology and spinal cord injury research so having the CIRM experience has really helped me to understand what it is that another place can try and accomplish. A lot of the ideas that have been worked out at CIRM have been extremely helpful for statewide scientific enterprises in New York, where we have had people involved in different areas of the state effort talk to people at CIRM to find out what best practice is.”
Mark says he feels as if he has a front row seat to history.
Read More: A Noble pursuit; finding the best science to help the most people
“Seeing the stem cell field grow to its present stage and enhancing the opportunity to address multiple unmet medical needs, is a thrilling adventure. Working with CIRM to help create a better future is a privilege.”