Published November 19, 2015
Caressa Chen and Warren Tai — who have spent the past several months conducting intensive research in prestigious biomedical laboratories — were two of only 14 students nationwide selected as 2015-16 Sarnoff fellows.
The UB medical students were chosen for their intellectual and academic achievements, as well as leadership.
Each student received a $30,000 stipend for a one-year personalized research experience with preeminent cardiovascular scientists.
Chen is conducting research at Stanford University under the mentorship of Joseph Wu, MD, PhD, and Oscar Abilez, MD, PhD.
The Wu laboratory focuses on the translation of novel cellular and genetic therapy. Chen is working with researchers who use a combination of next generation sequencing, tissue engineering, physiological testing and molecular imaging technologies to better understand stem cell biology in vitro and in vivo.
“The lab I’m working in specializes in differentiating induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) into cardiomyocytes — heart muscle cells — to serve as relevant models for common heart diseases and for drug screening and development purposes,” she explains.
“I chose this lab because I wanted to work with iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes in the context of tissue engineering.”
Tai is conducting research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, under the mentorship of Christine E. Seidman, MD, and Jonathan G. Seidman, PhD.
The Seidman lab explores novel treatments for genetic heart disease and translates basic research discoveries into better diagnostics and improved management strategies.
Tai chose the Seidman lab because of his interests in human heart development and his desire to learn from world-class scientists at the forefront of their field, he says.
“The lab focuses on researching the genetic basis of congenital heart disease and adult-onset heart disease. By producing iPSCs that carry human mutations, I will be able to investigate how these mutations alter heart development and lead to congenital heart disease,” he explains.
Chen and Tai began conducting research at UB during the summer between their first and second years of medical school.
Chen was a fellow in UB’s T35 research program. Working in the lab of Thomas A. Russo, MD, professor and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, she studied a potential virulence factor in a hypervirulent strain of Klebsiella pneumoniae.
The fellowship enabled her to conduct mentored research, and it provided laboratory practical sessions and training in research methods and ethics. It also gave her an opportunity to present her work.
“I reached out to Dr. Fernandez because I was interested in a cardiovascular research project for the summer. He was very enthusiastic about mentoring me and having me join the lab,” says Tai.
“I investigated the impact of cardiosphere-derived stem cell treatment on nerve regeneration and remodeling patterns in myocardium that had undergone an acute myocardial infarction.”
Tai notes that Fernandez and Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, strongly encouraged him to apply for the Sarnoff fellowship.
Tai and Chen will present their research at the Sarnoff Foundation’s Annual Scientific Meeting and at national meetings.
They will also prepare original manuscripts for submission to peer-reviewed journals.
In addition to receiving financial support to attend the Sarnoff Annual Scientific Meeting, Chen and Tai received support to attend the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.
After completing their year of research, fellows have opportunities to remain involved in the Sarnoff community.
They are encouraged to participate in annual scientific meetings and other Sarnoff-sponsored gatherings, where they can receive career development advice from Sarnoff alumni and reconnect with colleagues.