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Meet Alexander Milliken: A School of Medicine and Dentistry Ambassador

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Third year PhD student thrives on pushing boundaries

Alexander Milliken

Alexander Milliken

Alexander Milliken thrives on being challenged, pushing boundaries, and building community. He’s a third year graduate student at the School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD), where he is pursuing a PhD in pharmacology.

Milliken is also part of SMD’s Ambassador Program, which connects current medical students, trainees, and PhD candidates with alumni through events, programs, tours, and other activities. Milliken and the other 27 SMD Ambassadors provide alumni a glimpse into the experience of current students and, in turn, alumni provide insights into their medical careers. “Being an ambassador gives me valuable volunteer experience,” Milliken says. “It helps me sharpen my leadership skills and make personal and professional contacts.” Milliken has met like-minded peers through the program, too—people he wouldn’t have met otherwise. And, he’s taken the concept of a multidisciplinary approach to a new level. For instance, he rock climbs with colleagues from immunology, microbiology, and virology. He works out at the River Campus fitness center with friends from neuroscience, pharmacology and toxicology. He plays in a softball league with biomedical engineering students, and he’s on a volleyball team with peers from biochemistry and biophysics.

When did you know you wanted a career in medicine? I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine but after losing both my grandfather and one of my best friends to cardiac-related deaths, the decision was clear to start my career in research, pushing the boundaries of what we think we know.

Why cellular and molecular pharmacology? I was drawn to cellular and molecular pharmacology physiology because of the strong mitochondria research group. I can study the underlying molecular mechanisms of a pathology such as heart attack and then can begin to develop/screen novel therapeutics that could one day potentially make their way into the clinic. Mitochondria are the source of energy production in the cell and are starting to gain a significant amount of attention for their implications in many other diseases, pathologies, and syndromes.

Why did you want to go to the School of Medicine and Dentistry? I grew up in Rochester. I love it here and although I left the area for my undergraduate studies, SMD was my number one choice throughout the graduate school application process. The school is focused on answering rigorous scientific questions and sets the standard for how research should be done. The hospital, medical school, and graduate school are all under one roof, which allows for extensive collaboration among a vast array of research fields.

Why did you want to be an SMD Ambassador? Being an ambassador means that I am part of the group that helps connect generations of people associated with the University. We are all so lucky to be a part of the community here.

What do you enjoy most about being an Ambassador? A lot of the alumni I’ve met are MDs, not PhDs like me. What’s clear to me is that although our paths have been very different, there are a lot of similarities, including the rigorous training and the tremendous rewards of such hard work. We all share one thing in common: the University of Rochester experience. I particular enjoy how much the MDs are genuinely interested in PhD research when I have had the opportunity to talk with them at various networking events.

What’s a typical day like for you? Each day usually starts with responding to emails, checking for any new publications on PubMed, and finishing up calculations. Then, I will start an experiment, for instance, something related to surgery or mitochondria or cardiac cell isolation. After that, I analyze data from the experiment to see which direction the day has pushed me toward and where I need to focus my work tomorrow.

Suzanne Haber Honored by Society of Biological Psychiatry for Research on Mental Disorders

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Suzanne N. Haber, Ph.D., Dean’s Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, will receive the Society of Biological Psychiatry’s 2020 Gold Medal Award at the Society’s 75th Annual Scientific Convention & Meeting in the spring. The award honors members of the Society whose significant and sustained work has advanced and extended knowledge on the neurobiology of mental illness.

Haber’s lab investigates the cortico-cortical and cortico-basal ganglia systems in the brain. Her work demonstrates the specific hard-wired connections that are associated with normal decision making, emotional and cognitive control, and the connectional abnormalities in those circuits that are linked to a wide range of mental health disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), drug abuse and addiction, schizophrenia, and motor control disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.  This work has played a key role in targeting and interpreting the effects of noninvasive and invasive therapeutic approaches for OCD and depression.

For the past ten years, Haber has led the Silvio O. Conte Center for Basic and Translational Mental Health Research at the University of Rochester. Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Center uses translational approaches to probe the neurocircuitry that underlies neuromodulation for OCD, pinpointing specific abnormalities within the brain circuits that are associated with the disease. This information is being used to guide new treatment options for the three million-plus Americans who live with the disorder.

“Suzanne’s seminal contributions to elucidating specific neural networks that control learning, decision-making, reward and motivation, and how pathologies associated with these neural communication hubs underlie multiple neurological, movement, and mental health disorders make her uniquely qualified to receive this prestigious career award,” said Robert T. Dirksen, Ph.D., Lewis Pratt Ross Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology. “Her work is making a difference in the lives of individuals and families suffering from neurological and mental health disorders. We are extremely proud that she represents the University of Rochester as a Society of Biological Psychiatry Gold Medal Award winner.”

The Society of Biological Psychiatry was founded in 1945 to emphasize the medical and scientific study and treatment of mental disorders. It’s the oldest neuropsychiatry research society in America, currently made up of more than 1,500 members from across the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. Members conduct research in areas spanning from basic cellular studies to clinical trials and prevention research.

Haber, who is also a professor of Neuroscience, Brain and Cognitive Science, and Psychiatry, will split the 2020 Gold Medal Award with Carol Tamminga, M.D. of UT Southwestern Medical Center.