Research Education News
Toxicology Celebrates 50 Years of Training
Thursday, September 21, 2023
The latest cohort of Toxicology Ph.D. students
Matt Rand, Ph.D., co-director of the Toxicology program (left), with 3rd-year trainee Ryan Owens.
Martha Susiarjo, Ph.D., associate professor of Environmental Medicine, hosted Toxicology trainees at her home in October 2022 to celebrate the start of fall with a pumpkin carving party.
In August, our Toxicology Ph.D. program’s T32 training grant was renewed for another five years, bringing them to 50 consecutive years teaching the next generation of trainees. Alums of the program have gone on to make important contributions in toxicology, environmental health, and public policy, dating all the way back to the Manhattan Project. Co-program director Alison Elder, Ph.D., says, “If this program was picked up and moved to another university, I’m not so sure it would have the same success.”
Toxicology Ph.D. program leaders credit the emphasis on interdisciplinary training and a strong sense of community for the program’s success. Students are exposed to a wide range of disciplines, including biochemistry, pharmacology, neuroscience, and epidemiology, which prepares them to address the complex challenges of the field. This, and the close-knit trainee cohorts, have been the program's backbone for five decades now.
“There's a willingness of our faculty and trainees to cross silos to get good science done, which benefits everyone," says Elder, associate professor of Environmental Medicine. “Toxicology is an applied science because trainees borrow from different fields to understand the impact of various stressors on living systems. The interdisciplinary training we give them is crucial.”
Faculty who support the program aren’t ‘jack of all trades’ scientists, as Elder likes to say. They lean on the expertise of colleagues, as well as their own, to bring everyone up to a higher level of rigor and discovery, including the trainees.
This also contributes to another key piece to the program's success, which is the camaraderie that’s felt from the moment you set foot on campus.
"We're fortunate to have small but tight cohorts of students," says Matt Rand, Ph.D., co-director of the program and an associate professor of Environmental Medicine since 2012. "I could feel it right away when I got here."
Even before prospective trainees accept, they’re invited to dinners at faculty homes during the interview process, creating a congenial and relaxed atmosphere for incoming students to get a sense of the type of people who conduct research and mentor trainees at SMD.
And when trainees eventually leave campus, they stay connected. For instance, the program recently developed a new course in risk assessment with input from alumni, several of whom serve as lecturers in the course.
"We send them out into the world, then they come back and help us," says Elder.
The field of toxicology has evolved significantly over the years, from evaluating very fundamental endpoints of toxic exposures, like birth defects or mortality, to more sensitive and widely applicable endpoints of, for example, behavioral deficits associated with neurological and/or developmental toxic insults.
Widening the lens even more is the move away from mortality and organ-specific toxicological endpoints towards a more holistic and mechanisms-driven approach that better enables translation to humans, always keeping in mind the central tenet of the field—it is the dose that makes something relatively more or less dangerous than something else.
Alumni regularly return to campus to give career and other lectures, serve as outside mentors for trainees, and are a great bridge for the program in staying on top of research trends, ultimately creating a better experience for the trainees.
Other longstanding training programs within the School of Medicine and Dentistry include:
Post-bacc Research Program Builds Community and Boosts Confidence for Students Attending Graduate School
Friday, July 14, 2023
2002 group from left to right: Jose Reynoso, Jacob Cody Naccarato, Hunter Houseman-Eddings, Aaron Huynh, Lourdes Marianna Caro-Rivera, Jackie Agyemang
Aaron Huynh with mentors Annalynn Williams Ph.D. (left) and Michelle Janelsins, Ph.D. (right).
Jackie Agyemang presents her research project during the end-of-year PREP symposium
Congratulations to our 2023 graduating URMC-PREP Cohort! On June 13, they presented their research at the annual end-of-year symposium.
The Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) offers a one-year biomedical research training opportunity to students from historically excluded and underrepresented groups who want to pursue a research doctorate.
Our goal is to prepare students for successful entry into competitive PhD programs, as well as for careers as outstanding research scientists and leaders in the biomedical community.
We're proud to say that many of our students will be pursuing various research opportunities here at the University of Rochester.
"What I think I'll remember most about my time in PREP is the compassion, patience, and support that I received from everyone," says Aaron Huynh, who will soon be pursuing a Ph.D. in our Neuroscience Graduate Program. "The goals I set for myself and with my mentors and the program directors were surpassed, and I am ecstatic to be able to stay at such a community that the University of Rochester has provided me these past five years."
In addition to community, Jackie Agyemang, who is sticking around to pursue a Ph.D. in Toxicology, says PREP boosted her confidence in attending graduate school.
"My PREP experience gave me a preview of graduate school. I had the opportunity to work on an intensive research project of interest while balancing my academics, and establishing myself as a budding scientist all in a year," she says. "Overall, I have reassured confidence that I am capable and qualified to be a successful graduate student."
As one group completes the program, we're excited to bring in our next cohort, who officially started on July 5.
From left to right: Jacob Morales mentored by Dr. John Lueck, Alesandra Martin mentored by Dr. Farran Briggs, Evelyn Pineda mentored by Dr. Benjamin Suarez-Jimenz,
Pavel Rjabtsenkov mentored by Dr. Wendi Cross, Lily Mussallem mentored by Dr. Minsoo Kim, Hunter James Houseman-Eddings mentored by Dr. Brian Ward, and Maeve Noel Sheehy mentored by Dr. Lauren Hablitz.
July 11, 2023: Research Update from Steve Dewhurst
Tuesday, July 11, 2023
This past week, I’ve been thinking about two federal holidays—July 4th, which we just celebrated, and the prior Juneteenth holiday, which we celebrated on June 19. In fact, the two holidays have much in common since Juneteenth “marks our nation’s second independence day,” and is also known as “Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, and Black Independence Day”.
Juneteenth is especially on mind because of a recent Commentary in Cell that was co-authored by 52 Black scientists—including our own Nathan A. Smith and School of Medicine and Dentistry Ph.D. alumnus, Blanton Tolbert. Their article notes that “the date stands not for the ideals of where diversity in science should be but rather where they are. Work is required to get science to where it should be—a truly equitable space. It is not a matter of knowing what to do, as this has been clearly elucidated by countless individuals. Rather, it is one of deciding whether we will take the steps needed to achieve the ideals Juneteenth sets out.”
The article is important both as a roadmap of where we need to go and as a call for action at both the institutional and individual levels. I encourage everyone to read it if you haven’t done so already.
Major Advances in Muscular Dystrophy
One of the long-standing interdisciplinary research strengths at URMC is our program in neuromuscular disease, which brings together faculty from Neurology, Pediatrics, Pharmacology and Physiology, Biostatistics, and Computational Biology, the Center for Health and Technology (CHeT), and several other departments and centers.
What’s new, and remarkable, is that we now find ourselves with “a historically unique opportunity to establish targeted treatments for genetic neuromuscular diseases” (in the words of a group of pioneering URMC faculty members, led by David Herrmann). What they are referring to is a wave of ongoing or planned clinical trials that will determine the effectiveness of multiple new therapies for neuromuscular diseases that have previously proved very difficult to treat. If successful, these treatments will represent a “bona fide revolution of neuromedicine care….the ripples (of which) will reach far into the future.”
For many of our neuromuscular disease researchers, including Emma Ciafaloni and Charles Thornton, that revolution represents the fruit of literally decades of painstaking scientific and clinical work. Work that, for example, led to URMC’s participation as one of the first three sites in the nation to start dosing patients in a recent phase 3 clinical trial for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD)—and ultimately led to the June 22 approval of the first gene therapy for the treatment of this disease.
IT Security – Protecting our House
At this point, most of us are familiar with the requirement to protect sensitive data and information used in research. However, cybersecurity isn’t just about HIPAA. It’s about the security of our entire information technology network and our entire community.
Any cyber or ransomware attack affects all of us—and threatens not only clinical data, but also financial data, research data, and even the very ability to conduct research in the first place.
This consideration is driving changes in IT security at universities and academic health centers across the nation, including URMC. Widely implemented measures include steps to decrease or eliminate the use of insecure portable devices such as unencrypted USB devices, as well as evolving IT security guidelines for international travel (which also serve to mitigate the risk of loss, seizure, or tampering with laptops, phones or other mobile devices during travel).
Importantly, the Office of Research IT is a key partner in the development of policies that may affect the research community, and a key source of guidance/assistance as they are implemented. If you have questions, comments or concerns, I encourage you to share them with Research IT and to help us develop policies that keep our community safe, but that have the least possible impact on our ability to do research.
Steve Dewhurst, PhD
Vice Dean for Research, SMD
Vice President for Research, UR
Childhood Hearing Loss Associate with Adverse Childhood Experiences
Friday, June 30, 2023
A new retrospective study led by Wyatte Hall, PhD, assistant professor of Public Health Sciences, and Shazia Siddiqi, MD, MPH, staff scientist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, suggests a link between factors associated with childhood hearing loss and adverse childhood experiences. Demographic factors of less severe hearing loss (16–55 dB), having a cochlear implant, and/or never having attended a school with signing access increased the likelihood of deaf adults reporting multiple adverse childhood experiences.
Study authors believe these factors may reflect societal pressures for deaf children to “pass for hearing” in ways that impact their language development and ongoing education.
Hall, Siddiqi, and co-author Timothy Dye, PhD, call for early interventions to support healthy home environments for deaf children. Hall and Siddiqi are former Rochester Postdoc Partnership fellows who completed their three year fellowships under the Dye’s mentorship.
Read More: Childhood Hearing Loss Associate with Adverse Childhood Experiences
Summer Scholars Cohort Arrives at SMD: A Bright Future Ahead
Monday, June 5, 2023
The School of Medicine and Dentistry is thrilled to welcome our 2023 Summer Scholars. Working under the direct supervision of faculty mentors, these 30 undergraduate students are joining us from all over the country for the next 10 weeks to gain research experience and professional development opportunities. The Summer Scholars Program is a diversity pathway building program designed to provide research and professional development opportunities to students from groups historically underrepresented in biomedical fields.
"Our program has been an excellent model for providing young aspiring scientists a hands-on research experience," says Elaine Smolock, Ph.D., co-director of the Summer Scholars Program and director of writing services and training grant development at SMD.
Through partnerships with the Rochester Institute of Technology and the City College of New York through our NeURoCity program, as well as our Medical Science Training Program, Aab Cardiovascular Research Institute, and NanoBuddies, which provides a training experience in the field of pharmacology, the program is able to offer a rich plethora of research experiences. Previous scholars have gone on to participate in various post-baccalaureate PREP programs here at the University and around the country, research fellowships and internships.
The program culminates in a poster session on August 3, 2023, which is open to the entire University of Rochester community.
Welcome to the 2023 Summer Scholars participants!
View list of 2023 Summer Scholars
Celebrating SMD Faculty Awards
Friday, May 26, 2023
Congratulations to all of our faculty members who received mentoring awards, named professorships, and teaching fellow awards. They were honored in a celebration in Flaum Atrium on May 17, 2023. The full list of awardees is below.
SMD Faculty Mentoring Awards
Thomas Caprio, MD – Faculty Academic Mentoring Award
Carla Casulo, MD – Trainee Academic Mentoring Award in Clinical Programs
Yeates Conwell, MD – Lifetime Mentoring Award
Toru Takimoto, DVM, PhD – Trainee Academic Mentoring Award in Basic Science
John Foxe, Ph.D., (left) director of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, congratulates Kuan Hong Wang, PhD on being appointed Dean’s Professor.
Named Professorship Recognition
Anna Majewska, PhD - Dean’s Professor
Dennis Z. Kuo, MD, MHS – Purcell Family Distinguished Professor
Matthew D. McGraw, MD – George Washington Goler Chair in Pediatrics
Karen M. Mustian, PhD, MPH – Dean’s Professor
Joseph A. Nicholas, MD, MPH – William and Sheila Konar Professor in Geriatrics, Palliative Medicine and Person-Centered Care
James Palis, MD – Northumberland Trust Professorship in Pediatrics
Douglas S. Portman, PhD – Donald M. Foster, M.D. Professorship in Biomedical Genetics
M. Patricia Rivera, MD – C. Jane Davis & C. Robert Davis Distinguished Professor in Pulmonary Medicine
Lainie Friedman Ross, MD, PhD – Dean’s Professor of Health Humanities and Bioethics
Michael A. Scharf, MD – Mark and Maureen Davitt Distinguished Professor in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
David M. Siegel, MD, MPH – Northumberland Trust Professorship in Pediatrics
Laurie Ann Steiner, MD – Lindsey Distinguished Professorship for Pediatric Research
Kuan Hong Wang, PhD - Dean’s Professor
Edith M. Williams, MD, PhD – Dean’s Associate Professor in Health Equity Research
Recognition of Dean’s Teaching Fellow Awards
Anne Nofziger, MD
Rita Dadiz, MD
Szilvia Arany, DMD, PhD- EIOH
Grace Black, MD – Pediatrics
Francis Coyne, MD – Internal Medicine and Pediatrics
Chris Tarolli, MD - Neurology
Raven Osborn, Ph.D. Delivers Graduate Student Address at Commencement
Tuesday, May 16, 2023
Raven Osborn, a Translational Biomedical Science Ph.D. graduate, gave the graduate student address at this year's commencement.
Her research focuses on developing network and statistical models to understand how the virus that causes COVID-19 evades the innate immune system. She co-founded and eventually presided over the University of Rochester's chapter of the Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering.
During her time here, she won two awards recognizing her research and five awards recognizing her commitment to inclusion in STEM fields.
In her speech, she talked about overcoming self-doubt, as well as the importance of community.
“You will go further if you lock arms with the people around you, and you teach others to do the same through actions first. And finally, if you don't remember anything else from this speech, please remember to pick up the phone for the people you love.”
Check out the full speech on YouTube.
Nicole Wilson, M.D., Ph.D. Looks at Long-term Psychological Effects of Childhood Trauma
Friday, April 14, 2023
Nicole Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the departments of Surgery, Pediatrics, and Biomedical Engineering led a study of young adults who were victims of violent injuries as children and found significantly higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in this group than the general population.
The study surveyed 24 respondents who were victims of gunshot, stab, or assault wounds as children between the years of 2011 and 2020. Of the participants, 15 suffered a gunshot wound, eight suffered a stab wound, and one was assaulted. Respondents were primarily teenagers at the time of injury, with a median age of 16.6 years. An average of six years had passed from the initial injury to the time respondents were contacted for the study.
Read the full article in the URMC Newsroom.
The Misunderstood Reason Deaf Children Fall Behind: Rhode Island PBS Weekly
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
Many students arrive at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, which serves students from preschool through high school, with little to no language. Wyatte Hall, Ph.D., an expert of language deprivation and assistant professor of Public Health Sciences at the URMC, knows that delayed language acquisition causes other problems, and is preventable. "We already know how to prevent these problems: You give deaf children sign language... Options are framed as 'or' -- that you have to pick ASL or English spoken language… It does not have to be that way. It can be 'and.' You can have ASL and English."
Hall was also the first graduate of the Rochester Postdoc Partnership, a one-of-a-kind postdoctoral training program for deaf or hard-of-hearing scientists run jointly by URMC and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at RIT.
Watch the full story from Rhode Island PBS Weekly.
April 11, 2023: Research Update from Steve Dewhurst
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
Last week (April 2- April 8) was graduate student appreciation week, a national celebration of graduate students and the many essential contributions they make to academic and research communities across the country – including this medical center.
A highlight was the finals of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, at which students from across the University summarized their doctoral research in a three minute presentation. I was blown away, not only by the quality of the speakers and their research, but also by the sheer breadth of their scholarship. The overall winner, Fatma (Betul) Zeyrek, spoke about her work on early childhood moral development and the complex reasons that kids agree to do what their parents ask them to (most of the time…). Two SMD students also received awards – Gabrielle Kosoy, who won 2nd place overall, and Sara Blick-Nitko, who was the joint winner of the People’s Choice Award.
Graduate Education and the 2030 UR Strategic Plan
Graduate students are also at the core of the UR’s 2030 Strategic Plan. While the plan is still being refined based on feedback from the University community, its five overarching goals are clear. One of these is to re-imagine undergraduate and graduate education and to ensure that all students “feel a sense of belonging” and have “access to high-impact learning experiences” that prepare them for their future careers.
One step towards this is a new partnership between the office of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA) and Archer Career, which will assist learners with preparing for networking opportunities, internships, job shadowing, job searches, and more. Eric Vaughn in GEPA made this happen with the help of a Burroughs-Wellcome grant he secured (thank you, Eric!) and a first cohort started last month. A second cohort will start in May; if you’re interested, please contact Eric.
More About the 2030 UR Strategic Plan and How it Relates to the Medical Center
The cornerstone of the 2030 UR Strategic Plan is to enhance our research enterprise and our global reputation by investing in areas of distinction that provide opportunities for innovation, discovery, and transdisciplinary collaboration. Medical Center researchers will play key roles in the following areas:
A Last Thought: Commencement
Finally, the University’s 173rd Commencement Ceremony for undergraduate and graduate students from all schools will be held on Friday, May 12 and kicks off a weekend of graduation ceremonies and celebrations that continue through Sunday, May 14.
For the students who’ll be walking across a stage next month, in front of family and friends, I offer my congratulations and my appreciation: For the countless hours you put into your research; for the difficult times when things weren’t going well, but you stuck it out and made it work; for the support you both gave and received along the way.
Take a moment to savor what you’ve achieved.
Steve Dewhurst, PhD
Vice Dean for Research
Nathan Smith, Ph.D. says stars in the brain my be information regulators
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
Long thought of as “brain glue,” the star-shaped cells called astrocytes—are members of a family of cells found in the central nervous system called glial that help regulate blood flow, synaptic activity, keep neurons healthy, and play an important role in breathing. Despite this growing appreciation for astrocytes, much remains unknown about the role these cells play in helping neurons and the brain process information.
“We believe astrocytes can add a new dimension to our understanding of how external and internal information is merged in the brain,” said Nathan Smith, MS, PhD, associate professor of Neuroscience at the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester.
He and fellow authors from the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Copenhagen highlight this in an opinion article in Trends in Neuroscience.
Read the full article in the URMC Newsroom.
Wyatte Hall Joins Congressional Briefing on Language Access for Deaf Children
Friday, February 24, 2023
Wyatte Hall, Ph.D., assistant professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), took part in a congressional briefing at the U.S. Capitol on February 22 to advocate for earlier and better language access for deaf children. The briefing was part of the eighth annual Education and Advocacy Summit hosted by the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf.
Hall, who is also an assistant professor in Neurology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, and the Center for Community Health & Prevention at URMC, has studied the prevalence and impact of language deprivation on deaf children and adults for almost 10 years. While most children share a common language with their parents and have access to that language from infancy, the majority of deaf children are born into hearing families that use spoken language and many have delayed access to language.
Read the full article.
Paula Vertino Named Senior Associate Dean for Basic Research
Thursday, January 19, 2023
Paula Vertino, Ph.D., an accomplished cancer research scientist and leader at the Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has been appointed senior associate dean for Basic Research effective February 1, 2023.
Vertino was recruited to Wilmot in 2018 to transform its research endeavors by breaking down silos and promoting collaboration and team science. She enjoys identifying commonalities and bringing people together in a “grass roots” approach.
She sees her new role as an opportunity to interact more broadly across the Medical Center to enhance cross-programmatic communication; to work with institutional leadership to create an environment that fosters faculty and trainee success; and to further integrate the basic and clinical research enterprise – something that’s been top-of-mind since she joined the University.
Read the full article in the URMC Newsroom.
January 27, 2023: Research Update from Steve Dewhurst
Tuesday, January 17, 2023
Traditionally, as a new year starts, we take a moment to reflect on the year that just ended – and on the year to come. As we come to the end of this first month of 2023, it seems timely to do so now.
Jeff Koslofsky in Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs created this terrific infographic which presents some of the key facts and figures around our research mission in 2022. What isn’t captured in this image is the tremendous amount of creativity, innovation, hard work and passion that faculty, staff, and learners pour into their science.
For many of us, research is also deeply personal. If you have a few minutes, this inspiring December news piece on Arielle Sheftall’s research is exemplary of that.
Sheftall, a 2022 recruit in the department of Psychiatry, recently received one of only four NIH Director’s Transformative Research Awards; the $4M grant will fund her research on using digitally enabled peer-to-peer support, as well as at-home nerve stimulation, as early intervention approaches for teenagers at high risk for suicide.
Another theme that emerges from the year-in-review is that of mentoring, and its critical importance to the success of all members of our SMD research community. In October, Nikesha Gilmore, a faculty member in the Wilmot Cancer Institute (Wilmot) and the department of Surgery coauthored a guest editorial for The Hematologist, together with two colleagues at Duke University and the University of North Carolina. The article addresses the unique challenges faced by Black faculty in academia, and the negative impact of systemic racism and bias. It also identifies mentorship as an important part of the solution. As Gilmore notes, mentorship “can keep people from saying – ‘I’m done. I’m not doing this anymore.’” In a November news feature on this article, Gilmore adds that:
“You need a mentor to say, ‘I have faith in you. You can do this.'”
I couldn’t agree more.
Importantly, Gilmore also credits her own mentors at the U of R for the positive effect they have had on her career success, including Jacques Robert (her PhD mentor), as well as Michelle Janelsins-Benton and Supriya Mohile, scientific leaders within Wilmot, and key contributors to her subsequent growth as an early stage faculty member. That’s making a positive difference, and something we can all aspire to.
Looking to the year ahead, we’ll be continuing with hybrid work in many venues, but in others, we’ll be moving to increasing levels of in-person participation. As many of us know first-hand, in-person professional scientific meetings are back, as are in-person social gatherings, as exemplified by the December SMD Philosophy meeting, which was a celebratory gathering of our research community. That community building effort needs to continue and redouble, particularly for those who have recently joined the SMD research family and who have not (yet) had opportunities to build in-person peer connections and support networks.
Over the next several months, University-wide strategic planning efforts will also continue to move forward. A central aspect of the plan will be to strengthen our reputation as a leading global research University, while also: providing outstanding educational opportunities for our learners; investing in health and healthcare; supporting the success and well-being of our people; and continuing our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, across all the University’s missions.
In the short-term, our PhD applicant interview weekends are just around the corner, on February 3-4 and March 3-4. I encourage you to participate actively in that process, and to help our interviewees understand what’s special about doing research here.
Finally, I want to thank each of you for the little things you do every day to make this place better; the small gestures or kind words that make others around you feel valued and welcome. It’s those small details that linger in the heart.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
- Maya Angelou
Steve Dewhurst, PhD
Vice Dean for Research
E’Lissa Flores, Ph.D (’18) Talks Authenticity, Moving from L.A. to Rochester, and Keys to Networking
Wednesday, January 4, 2023
"What sets you apart is who you are and how you work with others."
E'Lissa Flores, Ph.D., a 2018 graduate of our Translational Biomedical Science program, credits being her authentic self as a big reason she's in a career she loves today.
Flores recently joined us for a live LinkedIn career discussion to talk the importance of authenticity, as well as:
- Her role as scientific program manager at the Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI) and what it's like working in the non-profit sector
- How our PREP program helped launch her into her Ph.D.
- Overcoming imposter syndrome through the help of mentors
- The importance of networking and not just re-connecting with colleagues when you need something
- What she did to get better at science communications
- Moving from Los Angeles to Rochester, and more
Check out the full replay on our LinkedIn page.