Skip to main content
Explore URMC
URMC / Labs / O'Banion-Olschowka Labs / Honors & News


Honors & News


Grant Will Fund M. Kerry O'Banion's Work on Space Travel & the Immune System

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

M. Kerry O'Banion, M.D., Ph.D. has been awarded $1.8 million from NASA to explore the effect space travel has on the immune system and bone marrow, and how that impacts brain function.

The grant is one of 21 research proposals recently awarded by NASA to help answer questions about astronaut health and performance during future long-duration missions, including crewed missions to the Moon and Mars.

Using simulated space radiation produced by particle accelerators at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, O'Banion and his team will examine tissue and cellular changes in genes, blood flow, and immune cell function in mice. Behavioral tests and computer-assisted imaging will also be used to quantify damage and inflammation in the brain.

O'Banion -- Professor of Neuroscience and Neurology in the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience -- and colleagues previously worked with NASA on a study that showed exposure to a particular form of space radiation called high-mass, high-charged particles caused biological and cognitive changes in mice suggesting an accelerated risk for the development of Alzheimer's disease.

This time around, O'Banion will be working with Laura Calvi, M.D., an endocrinologist and co-director of the UR Multidisciplinary Neuroendocrinology Clinic. Her preliminary data found space radiation changes in bone marrow suggestive of a skewed phenotype, in which white blood cells are changed into a more inflammatory phenotype. Similar changes are found with aging. "This helps to bind a common hypothesis about dysfunction and degeneration in multiple systems, with the bone marrow communicating to the brain through the vasculature," O'Banion said.

University Degree Conferral & Program Awards

Friday, May 15, 2020

Congratulations Rianne and Dawling on earning these awards!

The Wallace O. Fenn Award -- Dr. Rianne Stowell (Neuroscience)
Dr. Ania Majewska, Advisor

Dr. Wallace Fenn was a Professor of Physiology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry from 1924 to 1961. He served as the Chairperson of the Department of Physiology from 1924 to 1959 and thereafter until his death in 1971, he was appointed by the University to the position of Distinguished University Professor of Physiology. As well, Dr. Fenn served as the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies from 1957 to 1959. Click here for full award description.

Rianne's thesis encompassed a large body of work characterizing the dynamics of microglia, and the mechanisms regulating these dynamics in different areas of the brain. It was published in a series of three first author research manuscripts and two reviews. Rianne's work put microglia in the spotlight, as heterogeneous, complex cells that are exquisitely tuned to activity in the brain. One of the main and surprising findings was that their activities are largely carried out in the quiescent or sleeping brain. This has very broad implications for understanding how microglia fit into the larger brain network and for developing novel therapeutics based on microglial function, for many different neurological diseases where microglial function is likely altered. The ideas behind the work are novel, the experiments rigorous and thorough, the implications are wide ranging and have already had a great impact on the field. The work highlights Rianne's strong independent streak and a great work ethic. That, coupled with her innate intellectual abilities and creativity, results in a winning combination that will take her far in the future. This thesis is a great beginning to an incredibly promising scientific journey.

The Vincent du Vigneaud Award -- Dr. Dawling Dionisio-Santos (Neurobiology and Anatomy)
Dr. Kerry O'Banion, Advisor.

This award is conferred by the Office of Graduate Education at the School of Medicine and Dentistry to a graduating student from any program whose thesis is judged superior and unique in potential for stimulating and extending research in the field. The award is given in honor of Vincent du Vigneaud, (1901-1978) who received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry (formerly known as Vital Economics) in 1927 at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, studying on the sulfur component of insulin. Dr. du Vigneaud performed postdoctoral research with the famous John Jacob Abel at The Johns Hopkins University Medical School (1927-1928), at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Dresden Germany, working with Max Bergmann, and at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. He returned to the U.S. to take successive positions as Professor at the University of Illinois and then at George Washington University Medical School. In 1932 he became a Professor at the Cornell Medical School, in New York City, where he remained until retiring to emeritus status in 1967. He accepted an invitation from Dr. Harold Scheraga, head of the Chemistry Department at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, to move his laboratory to Ithaca. He continued to do research in the Cornell Chemistry Research Building until suffering a stroke in 1974. Click here for full award description.

A graduate of the University of Puerto Rico, Dr. Dawling Dionisio-Santos entered Rochester's Medical Scientist Training (MD-PhD) Program in 2013 and the Neurobiology and Anatomy PhD program in 2015. Dawling's initial work examined the effects of anti-inflammatory cytokine signaling on tau phosphorylation in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Tau phosphorylation is a critical step in the development of neurofibrillary tangles, the pathological hallmark of AD that is most directly related to progression of cognitive deficits. Dawling demonstrated a remarkable inhibition of tau phosphorylation with acute IL-4 treatment that was accompanied by a shift in microglial phenotypes as well as improvements in behavioral endpoints. Motivated by a desire to move his research in a more translational direction, Dawling proposed and then initiated a series of experiments using glatiramer acetate, a drug currently prescribed for the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis. He discovered that besides reducing amyloid-? plaque levels, glatiramer acetate also reduced tau pathology and improved behavioral performance; thus, demonstrating clear translational relevance for patients with Alzheimer's Disease. Dawling Dionisio-Santos is a talented future physician-scientist with outstanding potential based on his demonstrated ability to carry out complex experiments and analyses, develop new ideas and experiments based on thorough evaluation of the literature, and inspire others with his passion for wanting to better understand neurodegenerative diseases.

Read More: University Degree Conferral & Program Awards