Published November 14, 2016
The Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Fellowship (F30) is intended to enhance research and clinical training of promising predoctoral students who are matriculated in a combined MD/PhD training program and plan to pursue careers as physician-scientists.
“The three F30 fellowships represent a significant achievement for the students as well as for our MD/PhD training,” says Suzanne G. Laychock, PhD, director of the Medical Scientist Training Program and senior associate dean for faculty affairs and facilities.
Title: “Cell Specific Ablation of Galc and the Pathogenesis of Krabbe Disease”
Principal investigator: Nadav Weinstock
Length of project: Four years
Total funding: $153,772
Through his work at the Hunter James Kelly Research Institute (HJKRI), Weinstock developed a shared project on Krabbe Leukodystrophy (KL) with Lawrence Wrabetz, MD, HJKRI director and professor of neurology and biochemistry; and Daesung Shin, PhD, research assistant professor at HJKRI.
Weinstock aspires to become a physician-scientist in the field of pediatric neurology. His goal is to care for patients as a clinician while also conducting basic science research.
Krabbe Leukodystrophy is a rare neurologic disorder that typically affects infants within the first few months of life and relentlessly progresses to cognitive decline and death within a matter of months. It causes problems in the brain, spinal cord and nerves of patients, which eventually leads to rapid demyelination. Unfortunately, many of the specific mechanisms of the disease, and in particular the specific cells involved, are poorly understood.
“By using a novel genetic tool recently developed by Dr. Shin, this project will focus on understanding the mechanisms of disease progression in the peripheral nervous system (nerves) of Krabbe Leukodystrophy,” Weinstock says.
“The goal of this research is to advance our understanding of the basic mechanisms of the disease so that better treatment can become available,” he says. “Our findings may also be of benefit to other diseases, including other leukodystrophies, lysosomal storage diseases and neurological diseases.”
In collaboration with his mentors, Weinstock recently published a first-author paper related to Krabbe Leukodystrophy. The article was part of a special edition volume in the Journal of Neuroscience Research, which focused on the 100th anniversary of the first description of the disease by the neurologist Knud Krabbe.
“Receiving the F30 grant is truly an honor, but it was by no means something I accomplished on my own. The F30 is different from other NIH grants in that it is a training grant and focuses heavily on mentorship, in addition to research strategy,” Weinstock says.
“I hope to use this training opportunity to discover findings that can help patients and families with Krabbe Leukodystrophy and to develop a background in scientific research, which I can carry with me as I continue my career in medicine.”
Laychock notes Weinstock is a graduate of the UB Honors College who entered the MD/PhD program with a passion for neuroscience research.
“He was quite aggressive in identifying a research project and adviser early in his training, which helped him get preliminary data to support his project,” she says.
Weinstock has prior undergraduate research experience on the neurochemical organization of the brainstem and cerebellum in humans and other mammals and with the Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center in the Department of Neurology on a project related to disability in multiple sclerosis.
Title: “Mechanisms of Macrophage-Mediated Tumor Metastasis”
Principal investigator: Lauren Burkard-Mandel
Length of project: Four years
Total funding: $138,448
Burkard-Mandel is a sixth-year student working in the lab of Scott Abrams, PhD, at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Additional mentors include her thesis committee members, who have helped guide and troubleshoot her project: Chi-Chen Hong, PhD; Brahm H. Segal, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases; and Kelvin P. Lee, MD, research professor of medicine at UB and professor and chair of the Department of Immunology at Roswell Park.
“I have strong interests both in science and in medicine,” she says. “My work in Dr. Abrams’ lab allows me to conduct basic research while still focusing on patient outcomes and treatment as part of the bigger picture.”
The Abrams laboratory investigates how cancer, particularly breast cancer, manipulates the immune response to support, rather than block its growth. Work has focused on a population of immune cells, known as macrophages, which adopt pro-metastatic functions.
“This specific award will explore a novel role of a cancer-derived substance known as thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) in the mechanisms that underlie such aberrant macrophage behavior,” Burkard-Mandel says.
“Identification of this ‘cancer-TSLP-macrophage axis’ may offer new opportunities to treat patients with breast cancer.”
The impact of obtaining an F30 fellowship at this stage of her career cannot be overstated, Burkard-Mandel says.
“As these are highly competitive awards, receiving one is a great honor. It is often a topic of conversation when I am presenting at conferences around the country and has fueled excitement both for myself and those I interact with in regards to pursuing my research questions,” she says.
“Additionally, receiving this award will give me a competitive advantage when interviewing for residencies and even applying for jobs in the future.”
Burkard-Mandel is a graduate of the UB Honors College who has undergraduate research experience in immunology working with Streptococcus pneumonia.
“Lauren’s passion for immunology continues to be fulfilled in her research at Roswell Park in the Immunology Division,” Laychock says.
Title: “Epidemiologic Evaluation of Risk Factors for Hypertension in Postmenopausal Women: Periodontal Disease, the Oral Microbiome and Systemic Inflammation”
Principal investigator: Joshua Gordon
Length of project: Four years
Total funding: $141,900
Gordon is a fifth-year student who works in the research group of Jean Wactawski-Wende, PhD, dean of the School of Public Health and Health Professions and SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health.
Wactawski-Wende is his primary adviser and other advisers are Robert J. Genco, PhD, DDS, from the School of Dental Medicine and Michael J. LaMonte, PhD, MPH; and Jiwei Zhao, PhD, both from the School of Public Health and Health Professions.
“This research will be studying risk factors of hypertension in postmenopausal women to contribute to better understanding of this disease,” Gordon says.
“Our projects will address the questions of whether oral health, the composition of the oral microbiome and systemic inflammation are associated with risk of incident hypertension in postmenopausal women,” he says. “Results from this investigation have the potential to lay the groundwork for the development of novel predictive screening, prevention and treatment strategies for hypertension.”
Gordon says the F30 fellowship is an invaluable resource as he progresses in his training.
“This is a great opportunity to gain knowledge and skills that will serve as a foundation for me to contribute to scientific progress in medicine and epidemiology,” he says. “From this fellowship I hope to gain experiences in epidemiology that will help me become an independent investigator in population-based research.”
Gordon graduated from Tufts University with a major in international relations and a strong interest in public and world health, Laychock says.
He has previous research experience in genetics of disease and ecology.
“At UB, Josh quickly identified epidemiology and environmental health as a ‘good fit’ for nurturing his long-term interest,” Laychock says.
F30 applications are rigorously reviewed and critiqued by an NIH review panel of about 20 members.
“I have been a member of one of these review panels for more than six years and can attest to the scrutiny that applications receive, including assessment of the qualities of the applicant, the adviser, the training program and the research proposal, as well as the research environment,” Laychock says.
The training potential of the applicant considering each of the aforementioned criteria is what will ultimately decide if a student receives one of these awards, she adds.
In the usual scenario, applicants receive a critique and numerical score for their first proposal and then must revise and resubmit their application for re-review — often with disappointing outcomes since the process is highly competitive.
“Among our current F30 awardees, two were scored high enough on the first round of review that they did not have to resubmit. This is truly an exceptional achievement knowing that even second-round awardees are outstanding,” Laychock says.
“It is also a testament to the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences that we have such high quality PhD advisers and opportunities for training,” she says.
Laychock notes UB’s MD/PhD program is unique nationally in its broad-based collaborative training that includes partners such as Roswell Park's SUNY Graduate Division and other UB schools, including Engineering and Applied Sciences, Dental Medicine and Public Health and Health Professions.