Published January 20, 2012
Sara Zimmer, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, has received a highly competitive three-year fellowship from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The award provides Zimmer with a stipend to research single-celled protozoa called kinetoplastids, which are endemic to poor, rural areas of the world and cause potentially fatal diseases such as African Sleeping Sickness.
Current treatments for the diseases are difficult to administer and often cause serious side effects. Discovering newer, safer drugs eludes scientists, however, because they know so little about the organism’s basic biology.
In her research project, Zimmer is exploring this biology. She is trying to learn how RNA, an intermediate form of the DNA-encoded message, is stabilized or degraded to produce the proper ratio of RNA templates required for the generation of mitochondrial proteins essential to the organism’s viability.
“The way kinetoplastids regulate expression of messages encoded in their genomes is very different from how other, better studied organisms—including humans—perform this function,” Zimmer explains.
Zimmer’s fellowship is administered through the NIH’s Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA) for Individual Postdoctoral Fellowships Program. The program “supports promising postdoctorals who have the potential to become productive, independent investigators within the broad scope of biomedical, behavioral or clinical research.”
Zimmer earned her doctorate at Cornell University. She came to UB in 2008 as a postdoc in the lab of Laurie K. Read, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology and biochemistry, who serves as Zimmer’s NIH fellowship sponsor.
The collaborative environment of Read’s lab broadened Zimmer’s research experience and publication record, which made her more competitive for such a prestigious fellowship, she says.
“Dr. Read has been invaluable in guiding me in the development of research plans and writing proposals.”
Zimmer says she also has been assisted by UB’s Office of Postdoctoral Scholars, which trained her in the responsible conduct of research as required by fellowships such as the NRSA.
She also participated in the office’s teaching and learning workshops for postdocs interested in careers in academia, and its Postdoc Research Day, which gives scientists-in-training an opportunity to present their work to a broad audience.