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Latest Issue of Opportunities to explore - March 20-24, 2019

Monday, May 20, 2019

The new issue of opportunities to explore is out now!

Read The May 20-24, 2019 Issue

Upcoming Event

(*) CPD Sponsored Event: LinkedIn Head Shot Photography Event for SMD Trainees (Save the Date)

Tuesday, June 4 | 8:00 am -5:00 pm | Louise Slaughter Conference Room (1-9555), URMC
Take your LinkedIn profile to the next level with a professional headshot from photographer by Fon Sakulsurarat and her team. Registration for this event will open soon. This event is open to SMD graduate students and postdoctoral appointees only.

Imaging That Twinkle in Your Eye: Assessing Vascular Health by Imaging Blood Cells in the Retina

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Schallek

Jesse B. Schallek, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology, describes a new, noninvasive approach to assess vascular health in the journal eLife. Schallek’s lab, part of the Flaum Eye Institute, developed a method to visualize how single blood cells flow through vessels of the eye using adaptive optics imaging.

The transparency of the eye provides a natural window to the retina, an extension of the brain. Vascular physiology is best studied noninvasively inside the living body, but seeing the details of how microscopic blood cells interact within the vasculature has not been possible with current tools such as fMRI. Schallek’s team developed high-resolution adaptive optics combined with fast camera capture to visualize single-cell blood flow dynamics in the living mouse eye.

“We’re able to image single blood cells and measure their speed. Remarkably, this can be achieved in vessels of all sizes, from the smallest capillaries to the largest retinal vessels,” said Schallek. “This approach may eventually provide a view of patient vascular health without the need for blood draws or dyes.

Krystel Huxlin, Ph.D., Associate Chair for research in the Department of Ophthalmology adds, “This method has the potential to enable early diagnosis of cardiovascular disease and diabetic neuropathy, and will also be of interest to investigators studying blood flow in the context of stroke and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The study was conducted in large part by Optics graduate students Aby Joseph and Andres Guevara-Torres. “My research interest involves using my physics/optics background to provide insights into biological questions,” said lead-author Joseph. “This paper, at the intersection of physical sciences and neuroscience, provides a novel and noninvasive imaging approach that may advance our understanding of blood flow dynamics in brain and retinal vessels smaller than the width of a human hair.

Schallek’s team, part of the Advanced Retinal Imaging Alliance (ARIA), is now deploying the method in healthy human eyes to establish metrics that will enable researchers to better elucidate the events that initiate and propagate disease. A pre-clinical investigation, funded by the Dana Foundation, is beginning to use this powerful approach to compare what happens in normal and diabetic retinas of human subjects. Schallek holds secondary appointments in the Department of Neuroscience and the Center for Visual Science. The research was funded by the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health and by a Career Development Award from Research to Prevent Blindness.

Latest Issue of Opportunities to explore - May 13-17, 2019

Monday, May 13, 2019

The new issue of opportunities to explore is out now!

Read The May 13-17, 2019 Issue

Upcoming Deadline

SMD Graduate Student Town Hall - Submit Questions by Monday, May 20th

Join us on Monday, June 3 from 1:30 to 3:00 PM for a town hall meeting in the Lower Adolph Auditorium (1-7619, URMC) with Dean Richard Libby, Senior Associate Dean of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs, and special presentations by the CARE Network, the Faculty Professionalism Council (FPC), and the University Counseling Center (UCC).

Share your thoughts on the graduate student experience at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Please submit questions via this link by Monday, May 20 to ensure that all concerns are addressed. If you would like to request accommodations, contact GradAccessServices@urmc.rochester.edu at least three business days prior to the event.

UR CTSI Student Continues on the Road to Success

Monday, May 13, 2019

Kristen Bush Marshall received her Ph.D. in Translational Biomedical Science in January 2019 and is currently serving as a postdoctoral associate in the Rochester Center for Health Informatics under the mentorship of Martin Zand, M.D., Ph.D. She has just been matched with her top-ranked choice: a field assignment in Denver for a two-year Epidemic Intelligence Service Fellowship. This position with the local health department and the state pf Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment responds to local and state-wide outbreaks allowing Bush Marshall to use her knowledge of healthcare-associated infections.

Latest Issue of Opportunities to explore - May 6-10, 2019

Monday, May 6, 2019

The new issue of opportunities to explore is out now!

Read The May 6-10, 2019 Issue

Upcoming Deadline

Center for Professional Development (CPD) Travel Award (Deadline: May 31, 2019 by 5:00 pm)

The Center of Professional Development (CPD) is sponsoring a CPD Travel Award for PhD students and postdoctoral appointees in the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Each travel award is worth up to $1500 and can be utilized for travel to a conference or for a professional development opportunity relevant to preparation for current or future career endeavors. For more information including eligibility or to apply, please visit the CPD Travel Award website.

May 10th: 8th Annual Lecture on Biomedical and Health Science Ethics

Friday, May 3, 2019

The 8th Annual Lecture on Biomedical and Health Science Ethics will be given by Daniel E. Acuna, assistant professor in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. 

Attendance at the lecture, from 2-3 p.m. Friday, May 10 in the Class of ’62 Auditorium (G-9425), is mandatory for Medical Center graduate students and postdoctoral appointees.

Acuna’s lecture is entitled: “How to Catch a Scientific Figure Falsifier: Analysis and statistical reporting of potential figure element reuse and splicing across millions of images.” This special lecture is part of ongoing instruction in responsible conduct of research (RCR) required of grad students and postdocs by the National Institutes of Health.

As part of ongoing efforts to satisfy this requirement, the University of Rochester sponsors periodic RCR lectures and workshops. In addition to completing the Ethics and Professional Integrity in Research Course (IND501/506), all graduate students and postdoctoral appointees are expected to participate in these lectures and workshops.

Refreshments will be available in Flaum Atrium following the lecture.

Upcoming PhD dissertation defenses

Friday, May 3, 2019

Valeriia Sherina, statistics, “Statistical Methods for qPCR Data Near the Limit of Detection.”  11 a.m. May 10, 2019.  Helen Wood Hall | 1W-509. Advisor: Matthew McCall.

Nicolas Riquelme Carrasco, economics, “Essays on Mechanism Design and Multiple Privately Informed Principals.” 10 a.m. May 10, 2019. Harkness 113. Advisor: Paulo Barelli.

Emily Wu, microbiology & immunology, “Uncovering the Role of TNF-alpha in the Genesis of Inflammatory Interstitial Lung Disease in the TNF-Transgenic Mouse Model of Rheumatoid Arthritis.”  1 p.m. May 17, 2019. Ryan Case Method Room 1-9576 (Medical Center). Advisor: Edward Schwarz.

BMB Graduates Receive College Prizes

Thursday, May 2, 2019

2019 College Prize Recipients

  • Katherine Woo: Ayman Amin-Salem Memorial Prize
  • Fayth Kim: the Janet Howell Clark Prize
  • Nicholas Lim: Irene Bush Steinbock Award
  • Kavya Bana: Helen S. Jones Memorial Fund

Next-Gen Women in Science: Dalia Ghoneim

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Wide Shot of Presentation

Dalia Ghoneim presenting

GDSC student Dalia Ghoneim from the Matthews lab was awarded the prestigious Perricone MD Born Seekers fellowship. The $20,000 award recognizes the inspiring achievements of young women in science, and is the culmination of the Scientista Foundation’s video competition, in which young women tell their personal journey in STEM.  Dalia was able to tell her remarkable story in the award-winning video clip with the help of two talented fellow GDSC-students: cameraman, sound expert and producer Adam Cornwell, and speech-editor Matt Ingalls. As a single mother of four, Dalia is now approaching the successful completion of her PhD in Genetics. She was invited to give her speech and accept her award at the Scientista Symposium 2019 in Boston, MA. The Scientista Foundation’s vision is to support the next generation of female scientists – and we can’t wait to see what Dalia will do next! Congratulations!! A clip of Dalia’s story can be seen here.

Congratulations to Sijiu Wang for receiving Mathematica summer fellowship!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

This is a highly competitive program, which only accepts 1-3 fellows in healthcare unit nationally each year. The past awardees were all from top universities, including Harvard, U of Penn, and U of Chicago!  With the support of this fellowship, Sijiu will be working on her  own independent dissertation work and gaining additional experience from Mathematica researchers.  Great work, Sijiu!

AnnaLynn Williams Receives Vincent du Vigneaud Award

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

AnnaLynn Williams, recent PhD epidemiology graduate, has been selected to receive this year’s Vincent du Vigneaud Award which will be presented at the PhD Commencement Dinner on May 17th. This award "is presented annually to a graduating student whose thesis work is judged to be unique in potential for stimulating and extending research in the field.?" (See attached for more information about Dr. du Vigneaud and the award.) The selection committee has deemed her work as the best example of what this award represents. Please join me in congratulating AnnaLynn!

Jayme Olson earns (CTSI) Trainee Award

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Jayme with posterJayme a GDSC-graduate student in the Palis Lab was recently awarded a Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Trainee Award. This one-year fellowship will fund cutting edge work on the in vitro generation of human red blood cells.  Cultured human red blood cells (RBCs) have the potential to serve as a supplemental source of blood for transfusion therapy, and as a tool for clinical and research diagnostic. However, a major barrier in generating sufficient numbers of cultured RBCs cells is the limited ex vivo self-renewal capacity of adult-derived erythroblasts. Work in the Palis Lab has identified Bmi-1, a member of the polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1), as a critical regulator of erythroid self-renewal.  Bmi-1 also plays a role in normal erythroid precursor maturation. Jayme will test the hypothesis that Bmi-1 regulates erythroid self-renewal and terminal maturation using different PRC1 members. Ultimately, these proposed studies will pave the way for the generation of sufficient numbers of cultured RBCs for blood typing and transfusion therapy, as well as the establishment of in vitro models for the study of erythroid intrinsic diseases. 

31st Genetics Day at the University of Rochester

Monday, April 29, 2019

Dr. Zamore giving Keynote LectureThe University of Rochester hosted its 31st Annual Genetics Day Symposium with a poster session displaying genetics research from more than fifty post-doctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students. The meeting started with a strong lineup of faculty presentations, highlighting ongoing Genetics Research and as well as new faculty recruits. Speakers included Dr. Amanda Larracuente, Dr. Doug Anderson, Dr. Peng Yao, Dr. Xin Zhiguo Li and Dr. Paul Boutz. Keynote speaker Dr. Phillip Zamore, from the University of Massachusetts, delivered the 17th Annual Fred Sherman Lecture. This year’s poster prizes were awarded to:

  • Leigh Wexler: A male-specific neuroendocrine feedback loop couples food signals for feeding behavior in C. Elegans
  • Matthew Tanner: Identifying sequence determinants of altered RNA splicing in myotonic dystrophy.
  • Dr. Jacquelyn Lillis: Single-cell transcriptome analysis of embryonic erythro-myeloid progenitor cells reveals lineage heterogeneity.
  • Jayme L. Olsen: Bmi-1 regulates human erythroblast ex vivo self-renewal.
  • Anissa Elahi: Transglutaminase 2 as a therapeutic target to facilitate recovery after spinal cord injury.
  • Zhengfen (Jeff) Liu: DNA damage-specific regulation of cell cycle checkpoint by γ-h2ax.

We congratulate each poster winner and look forward to the 32nd Genetics Day next year!

A link to additional Genetics Day 2019 photos can be found here.

Latest Issue of Opportunities to explore - April 29-May 3, 2019

Monday, April 29, 2019

The new issue of opportunities to explore is out now!

Read The April 29-May 3, 2019 Issue

Resource of the week

University of Rochester International Travel Resources

The University of Rochester’s Office for Global Engagement (OGE) provides a wide range of resources available to students, faculty, and staff traveling abroad for activity sponsored or supported by the University of Rochester. To register your travel and access resources, please visit the Global Engagement website. If you have questions, contact Alan Ryon, Manager for International Travel and Security at (585) 857-1168 or Alan.Ryon@rochester.edu.

'Longevity Gene' That Helps Repair DNA And Extend Life Span Could One Day Prevent Age-Related Diseases In Humans

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Scientists studying longevity believe a gene could explain why some animals live longer. 

In 18 species of rodents with varying life spans, researchers looked at sirtuin 6 (SIRT6), a gene that plays a role in bodily processes such as aging, cellular stress resistance and DNA repair.

Over time, DNA inevitably suffers what are known as double-strand breaks (DSBs) that can cause genes to mutate, triggering aging and diseases like cancer.

Dirk Bohmann, a professor of biomedical genetics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, explained in a statement, “[DSBs] are always going to be there, even if you’re super healthy. One of the main causes of DSBs is oxidative damage and, since we need oxygen to breathe, the breaks are inevitable.”

While animals with relatively short life spans don’t have so many DSBs, Bohmann explained, “if you want to live for 50 years or so, there’s more of a need to put a system into place to fix these breaks. The SIRT6 protein seems to be the dominant determinant of lifespan. We show that at the cell level, the DNA repair works better, and at the organism level, there is an extended lifespan.”

To answer whether SIRT6 works harder in species that live longer, the team studied 18 rodents, from mice expected to live around three years to beavers and mole rats with life expectancies of up to 32 years. Animals with stronger SIRT6 proteins were found to live longer.

This was also apparent when they compared the molecular differences in the SIRT6 proteins of mice and beavers. And by dosing human cells and fruit flies with the SIRT6 from a mouse and a beaver, as expected, the scientists found the beaver protein was more potent than the mouse protein.

Read More: 'Longevity Gene' That Helps Repair DNA And Extend Life Span Could One Day Prevent Age-Related Diseases In Humans

2019 Three Minute Thesis Winners

Monday, April 22, 2019

2019 Three Minute Thesis Winners, Emily Hangen, Greg Madejski and Brandon Berry
2019 Three Minute Thesis Winners, Emily Hangen, Greg Madejski and Brandon Berry

On April 4th, 2019 The University of Rochester held the 4th Annual Three Minute Thesis competition finals. Eight Finalists were selected and spoke for 3 minutes on their chosen research topic.

  • Emily Warner, Neuroscience Graduate Student
    "Memories can change the way we smell"
  • Brandon Berry, Pharmacology and Physiology Graduate Student
    "Light Activated Mitochondria"
  • Emily Hangen, Arts, Sciences and Engineering
    "Expectations: Helpful or Harmful?"
  • Rainier Barrett, Chemical Engineering Graduate Student 
    "Computer-Aided Drug Discovery: Machine Learning and Computational Chemistry"
  • Nancy Cardona, Obstetrics and Gynocology Postdoctoral Fellow
    "Determinants of urinary biomarkers of pesticide exposure among pregnant women in Costa Rica"
  • Greg Madejski, Biomedical Engineering Postdoctoral Associate
    "Microplastics: In your food and water"
  • Elizabeth Anson, Human Development Graduate Student
    "Youth Violence: Everything I needed to know, I learned in preschool"?
  • Kolja Keller, Philosophy Graduate Student
    "Evidence First"

After careful deliberation by both the judging panel and the audience, the winners of the 2019 Three Minute Thesis competition were:

Judge’s Winner: Emily Hangen
Judge’s Runner-Up: Greg Madejski
People’s Choice: Brandon Berry

Congratulations to Emily, Greg and Brandon! Video and Photos of the event can be found on the Three Minute Thesis Website

31st Annual Genetics Day Symposium

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Departments of Biomedical Genetics and Biology, with the support of the University Committee for Interdisciplinary Studies, host the 31st annual Genetics Day Symposium on Thursday, April 25, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Class of ’62 Auditorium and Flaum Atrium. This year’s Fred Sherman Lecturer will be Phillip Zamore, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, giving a talk titled “piRNAs and the Struggle to Reproduce.”

Read More: 31st Annual Genetics Day Symposium

Latest Issue of Opportunities to explore - April 22-26, 2019

Monday, April 22, 2019

The new issue of opportunities to explore is out now!

Read The April 22-26, 2019 Issue

New Access Specialist

The Graduate Education & Postdoctoral Affairs Office is excited to introduce you to SMD’s new Access Specialist for graduate students and postdocs, Jen Prosceo. Jen joins us from MCC where she served as the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Specialist in MCC’s Disability Services Office. Prior to MCC, Jen worked as an ASL/English Interpreter in RIT’s Colleges of Liberal Arts and Imaging Arts and Sciences.

Students and postdocs may contact Jen directly to discuss/arrange for access services.

(585) 276-5075   |   jennifer.prosceo@rochester.edu

Handy Gelbard Honored for Pediatric HIV/AIDS Research

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Harris Gelbard

Handy Gelbard, M.D., Ph.D., professor and director of the Center for Neurotherapeutics Discovery at URMC, is the 2019-2020 recipient of the Herman and Gertrude Silver Award, which honors individuals who have made significant contributions in the field of pediatric HIV and AIDS. The award is given by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the Department of Pediatrics of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Past award winners include a Nobel laureate and HIV investigators from leading academic institutions, the National Institutes of Health (including the current directors of the Office of AIDS Research and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the past 10 years Gelbard’s lab has been developing a compound called URMC-099, which dampens inflammation and has shown promise in reversing the neurological problems associated with HIV. Children with HIV who are taking combination antiretroviral therapies are extremely vulnerable to inflammation; the developing nervous system is of particular concern, as inflammation in the brain can lead to major cognitive problems.

The possibility of a new class of therapies that reduces the burden of neuroinflammation and supports normal synaptic architecture (the basis for learning and memory) offers considerable hope for children that are saddled with the unwanted burden of HIV, despite effective control of the virus.

Gelbard believes the path forward for URMC-099 as an adjunct agent for children living with HIV and neurologic disease will likely involve combination therapy with next generation antiretroviral agents. This is a priority in resource-limited settings such as Africa, and Gelbard is working with David Bearden, M.D., assistant professor in the division of Child Neurology at URMC to help advance uses for URMC-099 in pediatric patients there. Bearden’s work is supported by a National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke grant to Gretchen Birbeck, M.D., M.P.H., professor of Neurology and Michael Potchen, M.D., professor of Imaging Sciences. The work is also supported by the University of Rochester Center for AIDS Research.

Gelbard will receive the Silver Award in November during a two-day symposium at CHOP. He will present pediatric grand rounds describing his progress in inventing the class of compounds spearheaded by URMC-099 and its role in treating pediatric and adult HIV infection and its complications. He’ll also give a seminar on current and future developments related to URMC-099 to attendees from multiple medical and scientific institutions in Philadelphia.

New Issue of Opportunities to Explore - April 15-19

Monday, April 15, 2019

The new issue of opportunities to explore is out now! Remember that next week is graduate student appreciation week

Read The April 15-19, 2019 Issue

Meet the Graduate Education & Postdoctoral Affairs Team

Benjamin Lovell

Benjamin Lovell, Admissions Coordinator and Assistant to the Dean

Ben serves as the Admissions Coordinator, managing the day-to-day admissions operations, and serving as assistant to the Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (SAD-GEPA). He also serves as Course Administrator for the “Ethics and Professional Integrity in Research” course, taught in the Fall semester.

Trainees typically contact Ben to discuss the graduate or preparatory program application process, to schedule a meeting with the SAD-GEPA, and for assistance with issues relating to the Ethics course. To request a meeting with Ben, please contact him directly at (585) 275-2933 or email Benjamin Lovell

TBS Student is Finalist in "Shark Tank"-Style Competition

Monday, April 15, 2019

Jesse WangCongratulations to Jesse Wang, a student in the UR CTSI Translational Biomedical Science Ph.D. program, who was one of four finalists in the ACP Innovation Challenge 2019. Wang presented his "digital scribe" technology at this “Shark Tank”-style competition hosted by the American College of Physicians, on Saturday, April 13. His digital scribe technology can capture statistical speech analysis and natural language conversation between a physician and patient and automatically update eRecord. The system would capture and document the appropriate information during a patient interview, alleviating physicians' workload.

URMC Trainee Travel Awards 2019

Monday, April 15, 2019

This award assists students and trainees at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry to attend important national or international meetings at which they will present their research and make professional connections. Two awards of up to $1000 will be given this funding cycle: one for clinical research and one for basic sciences research.
 
This award is best suited to advanced students for whom conference attendance can be expected to have the largest career impact. The most competitive applications will be from presenting authors (either poster or platform presentations) who are in the mid to late stages of their educational experience. Apply by Friday, May 3, 6:00 pm.
 
Read the full RFA.

A prescription for physician frustration

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Jesse Wang remembers exactly when his crusade began.

The doctor he had seen since childhood turned a computer screen towards him during an office visit, in obvious frustration.

He couldn’t get the program started to make the required entries in Wang’s electronic medical record.

“This is absurd,” his doctor said. “I just want to be able to talk to you like I used to.”

Wang, who is pursing both a medical degree and a PhD in translational biomedical science at the University of Rochester, understands the frustration. Especially when he reads studies showing it’s not unusual for physicians to be online maintaining patient e-records from 5 in the morning until 9 at night.

“It’s not what I signed up for; it’s not what any doctor signed up for,” Wang says.

Thanks to Rochester’s Medical Scientist Training Program, which allows him to combine his interest in medicine with his passion for coding, Wang is well positioned to do something about the problem.

He’ll explain how, as one of four finalists in the ACP Innovation Challenge — a “Shark Tank”-style competition hosted by the American College of Physicians on April 13 in Philadelphia.

During an eight-minute pitch in front of a panel of judges — and an audience of 100 or more physicians — Wang will describe the virtual assistant he is creating. The device will use speech recognition and natural language processing to take over the job of maintaining patient e-records, freeing up physicians to concentrate on their patients.

“It would be like Amazon Alexa,” Wang says. “There would be a little speaker in the room that would be recording while your doctor talks to you and, based on that conversation, the device would know what to enter into the e-record.”

“I think the key that will make this work is that doctors are already encouraged to use what’s called a patient-centric communication style.”

For example, physicians are encouraged at the end of a visit to sum up a patient’s concerns and their plan to address them. Physicians would use a phrase like “to make sure I understand.” The virtual assistant would recognize the phrase as a cue to transcribe everything from that point to the next cue, such as when the physician says, “Do I have that right?”

The device would be less expensive than hiring a transcriptionist, Wang says, and less obtrusive for patients who find it hard enough to divulge personal health information when there’s just a physician in the room.

He already has a prototype for transcribing the summary portion of a patient’s visit.

‘Seamlessly see what the problem is — and fix it’

Wang, who is from Westford, Massachusetts, came to Rochester after majoring in physiology and neurobiology at the University of Connecticut.

He is now in his fourth year of Rochester’s Medical Scientist Training (MD/PhD) Program, which currently enrolls 66 students. The program incorporates the MD and PhD degrees into a cohesive curriculum that endows the select group of students with the clinical and basic science skills needed to understand disease and to translate that understanding into new therapies.

Students spend the first two years on their medical degrees, then complete their PhDs in four years before returning for the last two years of medical school.

Wang is pursuing his PhD in translational biomedical science under the direction of Henry Kautz, professor and former chair of computer science and founding director of the Goergen Institute of Data Science.

Wang is now thinking about forming his own company after he graduates. He would use his medical and computing background to pursue his virtual e-record assistant and other medical-related projects full time.

“Physicians go to programmers for help with a lot of things besides e-records. It might be for applications for telemedicine,” Wang says. “But it can be hard for them to convey what they need to a programmer who doesn’t have a medical background.

“I’ll have that background. I’ll be able to very seamlessly see what the problem is — and fix it.”

Danielle Benoit ‘Embodies the Spirit’ of Teaching and Mentorship

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Benoit in the lab

Danielle Benoit, an associate professor of biomedical engineering who has provided research experiences for more than 80 undergraduates in her lab, is the second recipient of the College Award for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Mentorship. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Danielle Benoit says it’s “an outstanding opportunity for everybody involved” when undergraduates do research in her lab.

Former students Tim Felong ’14, Amanda Chen ’14, and Janet Sorrells ’17 will all vouch for that.

“I wouldn’t be in medical school right now if it weren’t for Danielle’s mentorship,” says Felong, now at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Chen, a graduate research fellow in biological engineering at MIT, says, “Danielle’s lab was one of the biggest reasons why I chose to pursue a graduate degree. She gave me the opportunity to work on an independent project, publish a first-author paper, present at conferences, and more.”

And, “the more time I spend in academia the more amazed I am with how Dr. Benoit managed to keep up with so many things,” says Sorrells, now a graduate research fellow in bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I’m very thankful for everything I learned from her.”

Benoit, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, is this year’s recipient of the College Award for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Mentorship at the University of Rochester.

The award, first presented last year, is funded by chemistry alumnus Frederick Lewis ’68 (PhD) and his wife, Susan Rice Lewis. It salutes tenured faculty members in Arts, Sciences & Engineering who teach large, introductory classes as well as advanced seminars and independent study projects, and who mentor research experiences, especially those that involve laboratory training in the sciences and engineering. (Read more about this new award recognizing faculty for their mentorship. )

The award will be presented to Benoit at the Undergraduate Research Exposition on April 19 at the Welles-Brown Room of Rush Rhees Library.

Benoit “embodies the spirit of this award through her dedication to undergraduate learning through classroom teaching, research experiences, and mentoring,” says Diane Dalecki, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “The research training and mentoring that undergraduates receive from Professor Benoit primes them for continued success as graduate students and throughout their professional careers.”

For example, several of the undergraduate students from her lab, including Chen and Sorrells, have received prestigious National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships to support their graduate studies.

Teaching at ‘multiple levels’

Benoit, who joined the University of Rochester in 2010, develops therapeutic biomaterials for tissue regeneration and targeted drug delivery. For example, she and her collaborators developed a device that selectively delivers drugs to sites of bone resorption to heal fractures and treat osteoporosis. She has also pioneered the development of hydrogel-based engineered extracellular matrices for bone and salivary gland tissue regeneration.

She has been lead, corresponding, or co-author of more than 70 papers in top journals; has received numerous grants, including an NSF CAREER award; has garnered nine approved or pending patents; and was recently elected a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering.

She has provided research experiences for more than 80 undergraduates in her lab.

“For me, part and parcel of being a faculty member here is to teach on multiple levels, not just in the classroom but also in the lab, where I can teach undergraduate and graduate students alike the best, cutting-edge research practices,” Benoit says.

Students say the benefits of working in the Benoit Lab extend beyond the research skills they learn.

“Danielle has always been my go-to mentor for all sorts of advice – moral, social, intellectual – and was a powerful advocate for me if I ever found myself in a challenging situation,” Chen says.

Felong says he especially appreciated the “culture” of the lab, which was more like a “family environment. She takes the time to really get to know her students—their interests and hobbies. She hosts biannual parties, where you get to interact with her energy-packed, fun family. I think this openness and mutual appreciation for life inside and outside of work is really motivating for many people my age. I know it was for me.“

Seeing the potential in students

In addition to mentoring students in her lab, Benoit teaches courses including Advanced Biomaterials, Controlled Release Systems, Research Methods, and, starting this spring, Cell and Tissue Engineering, which is the capstone course for biomedical engineering majors with concentrations in that subfield.

She also developed and taught for eight years a biomaterials course, required of all biomedical engineering majors, that typically enrolls about 70 students. She designed the laboratory components of the course so they would dovetail with a biomedical computation and statistics course students take at the same time.

“Students complete laboratories in biomaterials one week, and then analyze data they collected by applying statistical approaches from the other course the following week,” Dalecki says. “This is an excellent pedagogical approach for students to understand how concepts they’re learning in different classes combine to enhance their skills as an engineer.”

Sorrells served as a teaching assistant for the biomaterials course under Benoit. She says Benoit brought the same level of “engagement” to the course that she brings to her lab. “She collected student feedback often and took it very seriously, trying different things to see how to best educate students and equip them with skills like scientific writing and knowledge of biomaterials.”

Benoit also supervises a senior design team each year, meeting with teams at least weekly, guiding them in their design and engineering, and mentoring them on teamwork and project management.

Perhaps the ultimate measure of a good teacher is the ability to inspire, motivate, and serve as a role model.

“Danielle suggested that I apply for the Research Initiative Award for Undergraduates, which is much like a grant application,” Felong says. “I never would have thought that I had a shot at winning that grant, but I applied and ended up getting it.” Benoit, as well as Andrew Shubin ’16 (PHD), ’18M (MD), the graduate student with whom Benoit paired Felong in her lab “saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

Chen says she “often reflects on mentorship behaviors that I hope to build into my own management style – now as I work with undergraduate trainees (at MIT), but also in my future career. And I find myself often thinking back to my experiences in Danielle’s lab.”

Latest Issue of Opportunities to explore - April 8-12, 2019

Monday, April 8, 2019

The new issue of opportunities to explore is out now! Remember that next week is graduate student appreciation week

Read The April 8-12, 2019 Issue

Meet The Graduate Education & Postdoctoral Affairs Team

Judy Conkling

Judy Conkling, Secretary

Judy serves as Secretary for the Office for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA), acting as a secondary receptionist and helping to monitor department budgets. She also provides support to the UR Postdoctoral Association.

Trainees typically contact Judy with general inquiries, to discuss spending and reimbursement for events sponsored by GEPA and the Center for Professional Development, and to discuss Postdoctoral Association events.  To contact Judy, call her directly at 585-275-5022 or email Judy Conkling.

Research Roundup: Stephen Dewhurst Explores the Latest Bench-to-Bedside Projects

Monday, April 8, 2019

Transitions and Trials

Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., Vice Dean for Research

Almost 10 years ago, Brad Berk had the idea that the Medical Center should position itself to take a lead in the new field of cell-based therapies by constructing a manufacturing facility that could produce those cells under the highly regulated conditions that are required by the FDA. Brad’s vision was that, by doing this, we would enable UR to deliver first-in-human therapies to patients.

Fast forward, and the facility we built – the Upstate Stem Cell cGMP Facility (USCGF) – is working in coordination with Torque Therapeutics (Cambridge, MA) to produce modified T cells that are being infused into cancer patients as part of a clinical trial that started earlier this month.

As with most research partnerships, our relationship with Torque is fundamentally a relationship between people, and an expression of trust in the team led by USCGF Director Luisa Caetano-Davies. It’s worth noting that only two years ago, Luisa was a postdoctoral fellow in Chris Proschel’s lab. Her subsequent success and growth are the combined result of a lot of hard work, intelligence and – in no small measure – opportunities created by our URBEST program.

The Torque trial is a huge step for the USCGF because it represents the first time that a cell-based product produced by our facility has been administered to human subjects. But it’s also an important step for our Medical Center, when viewed in the broader context of our evolving approach to clinical trials.

Pat Ames is heading up a new Office of Clinical Research, working with Martin Zand, Steven Wormsley and many others to lead the implementation of a clinical trial management system to improve our clinical trials infrastructure. This system will streamline and automate many cumbersome clinical research processes and reduce administrative burden on our research teams, helping us conduct more clinical trials and offer more treatments to our patients and community members.

At the same time, Paul Barr in the Wilmot Cancer Institute (WCI) was just awarded a major new grant to support WCI involvement in National Cancer Institute (NCI) cooperative group clinical trials. This award establishes URMC as one of 30 lead academic sites within the NCI consortium, a designation rarely given to an institution that (currently) does not have an NCI-designated cancer center.

Perhaps most exciting of all, Mark Noble and Nimish Mohile recently received a highly encouraging score for a proposal that would (if funded, as we hope it will be!) launch a first-in-human trial of a new cancer treatment that is the result of fundamental research conducted in the Noble laboratory. Based on a new tumor-specific vulnerability, and discovery of existing drugs with the unexpected property of attacking this vulnerability, the new therapy eliminates cancer stem cells in glioblastoma (one of the most deadly human cancers).

This is exactly the kind of bench-to-bedside science that Brad envisaged ten years ago. We’ve made lots of progress, and there’s more to come. It’s an exciting time to be involved in research at the Medical Center.

Announcing Regulatory Science Student Competition Winners

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Twelve teams competed this year in the sixth annual America’s Got Regulatory Science Talent student competition. Teams proposed a wide range of novel solutions to address the nine scientific priority areas outlined in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Strategic Plan for Advancing Regulatory Science. From a farm-to-table produce-tracking app to a public alert system for product recalls and disease outbreaks, this year’s competition was full of innovation. Learn more about the top three winners on the UR CTSI Stories blog.

Latest Issue of Opportunities to explore - April 1-5, 2019

Friday, March 29, 2019

The new issue of opportunities to explore is out now! Remember that next week is graduate student appreciation week

Read The April 1-5, 2019 Issue

Meet The Graduate Education & Postdoctoral Affairs Team

Colleen Bailey

Colleen Bailey, Secretary

Colleen serves as Secretary for the office of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA), providing administrative support for the staff within GEPA, acting as the primary front desk liaison between students, faculty, staff and visitors and the GEPA Dean and staff. Colleen supports recruitment and admissions, the PREP and Summer Scholars programs, and Center for Professional Development (CPD) and Graduate Student Society (GSS) initiatives.

Trainees typically contact Colleen with general inquiries, to discuss CPD or GSS event management, and to schedule a meeting with Tracy Pezzimenti or Caroline Callahan. To contact Colleen please call 585-275-4522 or email Colleen Bailey.

John Lueck Publishes Study on New RNA Technology in Nature Communications

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Lueck

Michael Golinkoff (left), one of the founders of Emily’s Entourage; Phil Thomas (middle), cystic fibrosis researcher at UT Southwestern, John Lueck (right), assistant professor of Pharmacology and Physiology at URMC.

There are all sorts of “typos” in our DNA that can lead to disease. One kind of typo – a premature termination codon or PTC – is responsible for 10 to 15 percent all genetic diseases, including cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. PTCs lead to the production of short and often deleterious proteins.

A recent paper by John Lueck, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pharmacology and Physiology and Neurology, shows how high-throughput screening may be used to fix these typos and lessen disease severity. Published in Nature Communications, the study found that modifying tRNA (a type of RNA molecule that helps convert messenger RNA or mRNA into protein) can help the cell make a full length protein, even with a PTC in the middle of the gene. With this new technology to modify tRNA, the authors were able to use gene therapy to suppress faulty versions of a gene in skeletal muscle, and instead force the cells to produce a full-length protein.

At the moment, most investigational therapies for inherited diseases are focused on small molecules, which to this point have not been successful. “For many of these diseases, including cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, there are no therapies and patients rely on palliative care,” explains Lueck. “Our engineered tRNA platform puts another iron in the fire for development therapeutics and we’re hopeful that the technology can be translated into a viable treatment for patients in the near future.”

While these studies are still in the early stages, Lueck was recently awarded a unique pilot grant from Vertex Pharmaceuticals to continue this work. This work was funded by Emily’s Entourage and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and accomplished with the collaboration of researchers at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundations Therapeutics Lab, the Wistar Institute, University of Iowa, and Integrated DNA Technologies, Inc.

HSR PhD students will present research at 2019 ARM

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Eight students from the Health Services Research and Policy PhD Program will be presenting their research at the 2019 Annual Research Meeting (ARM) in Washington, D.C.

“AcademyHealth’s Annual Research Meeting shares important findings and showcases the latest evidence to move research into action and improve health and health care”. Participants were selected on a competitive basis.

Xi Cen

  • Medicare’s Voluntary Lower Extremity Joint Replacement Bundled Payment is Associated with Exacerbated Racial Disparities in Hospital Readmissions

Michael Chen

  • Understanding the Role of Paternal Economic Support in Early Childhood Development Among Families with Unmarried Mothers
  • Shared Decision-Making and Cancer Patients’ Experience with Physician Communication

Alina Denham

  • Did Medicaid Expansion Matter in States with Generous Medicaid?
  • The Impact of the Affordable Care Act Medicaid Expansions on Mortality
  • Analyzing Opioid-Related Hospitalization Data: The Role of Increases in the Number of Recordable Diagnosis Fields

Lianlian Lei

  • Continuity of Care and Health Care Cost among Community-dwelling Older Veterans Living with Dementia

Wei Song

  • A Social Network Analysis of Nursing Home Medical Staff Organization

Sijiu Wang

  • Does the Dementia Care “National-Partnership” Improve Outcomes for Nursing Home Residents with Dementia?

Huiwen Xu

  • Rural Nursing Homes Were Associated with Lower Risk Adjusted Rates of Emergency Department Visit but Higher Mortality
  • Application of Machine Learning Ensemble Models to Predict Hospitalizations and Emergency Department Visits of Long-Stay Nursing Home Residents

Di Yan,  Sijiu Wang, Helena Temkin-Greener, Shubing Cai

  • Influence of Market Factors and State Policies on Access to High Quality Nursing Homes for Residents with Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias

Upcoming PhD dissertation defenses

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Ninoshka Fernandes, biomedical engineering, “CD4+ Effector T cell interactions with the Extracellular Matrix at Sites of Inflammation.” 2:15 p.m. March 29, 2019, 3-6408 K-307 Auditorium (Medical Center). Advisors: Deborah Fowell and Edward Brown.

Abigail Freyer, chemistry, “Investigation of Doped Nanocrystals Utilizing Electrostatic Force Microscopy.” Noon, April 1, 2019. 209 Computer Studies Building. Advisor: Todd Krauss.

Tianran Hu, computer science, “Decoding Human Lives from Social Media Data.” Noon, April 3, 2019. Dewey 2110E. Advisor: Jiebo Luo.

Allison Li, pathology, “Assessing the Role of Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)-Induced Bone Marrow Microenvironment Remodeling in MDS Progression.” 1 p.m., April 3, 2019. 1-7619 Lower Adolph (Medical Center). Advisor: Laura Calvi.

Mohammad Kazemi, electrical engineering, “Scalable Spin Torque Driven Devices and Circuits for High Performance Memory and Computing.” 2:30 p.m. April 8, 2019. Computer Studies Building 703. Advisor: Mark Bocko.

Thomas Nevins, physics, “Fronts and Filaments: Methods for Tracking and Predicting the Dynamical Effects of Advection on Excitable Reactions.” 11 a.m., April 12, 2019. Bausch and Lomb 106. Advisor: Douglas Kelley.

Study Aims to Predict, Prevent Acute Kidney Injury

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Acute kidney injury — a sudden decline in kidney function — occurs frequently among hospitalized patients with serious, long-lasting effects and even increased risk of death. It’s often preventable, but we currently lack the ability to reliably predict when it will happen and to whom. That is why researchers at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (UR CTSI) analyzed data from over 34,000 patients to develop a risk score for acute kidney injury that could help doctors intervene and prevent it.

Part of the reason we can’t predict when a patient will develop acute kidney injury is that while some risk factors are known, we often don’t use them in a coordinated way.  For example, machine learning papers often focus on factors that increase risk of acute kidney injury, such as diabetes and medications, but not those that lower that risk. On top of that, most previous studies have looked at single hospitalizations for all patients, many of whom have not been previously hospitalized. By not looking at patients’ past data, those studies missed the opportunity to discover health factors or patterns that reliably precede acute kidney injury.

Samuel Weisenthal, an MD-PhD student, and Martin Zand, co-director of UR CTSI, took a different tack, focusing on re-hospitalized patients. The pair and their colleagues analyzed electronic health record data from patients’ prior hospitalizations to identify factors that predict acute kidney injury. From those factors, they used machine learning to developed a risk score that could be calculated for patients at the time of re-hospitalization.

“Developing an accurate risk index for acute kidney injury in re-hospitalized patients could have a major impact on hospital care, particularly if it could allow preventive intervention or better tailored treatments from the time of hospital admission,” says Zand, who is also the senior associate dean for clinical research at URMC.

For example, acute kidney injury caused by radiocontrast dye or chemotherapy can be prevented by administering fluids or altering a patient’s treatment plan. When these factors are adjusted accordingly, patients fare better and the cost and length of stay can be decreased.

And while such predictive systems require extensive validation before clinical deployment, this work is a step toward creating acute kidney injury predictions, specifically for re-hospitalized patients.

“This study will hopefully help move us in the direction of an automated, locally trained tool that leverages sometimes hidden, longitudinal electronic health record data to estimate acute kidney injury risk without manually ordering tests or collecting and entering data,” says Zand.

Read the full study in PLOS One.

Cell Biology of Disease Alumnus appears on Fox Rochester

Monday, March 25, 2019

Cell Biology of Disease Alumnus and current Postdoctoral Fellow Zach Murphy appeared on Fox Rochester to discuss how red blood cells are produced in the body and how they affect infant development. See the video on the Fox Rochester Website

Genetics Day will feature lecture by UMass researcher

Monday, March 25, 2019

Phillip D. Zamore, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Massachusetts, will lecture on piRNAs and the Struggle to Reproduce at the 31st Annual Genetics Day, to be held 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. April 25 in the Class of ’62 Auditorium and Flaum Atrium.

Register for a poster presentation by 5 p.m. Monday, April 15. Cash prizes will be awarded for graduate student and postdoc posters.

New Issue of Opportunities to Explore - March 25-29, 2019

Monday, March 25, 2019

The new issue of opportunities to explore is out now! This issue is packed with events, resources, funding opportunities and courses!

Read The March 25-29, 2019 Issue

Meet the Graduate Education & Postdoctoral Affairs Team

Caroline Callahan

Caroline Callahan, Assistant Registrar

Caroline is the Assistant Registrar for Graduate Programs. She supports the student registration process and prepares student records. Trainees typically meet with Caroline to discuss registration issues, enrollment or degree verification, and commencement. To request a meeting with Caroline, please contact her directly (585) 273-1620 or Caroline Callahan.