Research on corneal proteins led by Bianca Natalia Quade, a trainee in the physiology doctoral program, has been honored by a top medical journal.

Physiology Doctoral Student Wins Journal’s ‘Paper of Year’

Published March 12, 2021

Research led by Bianca Natalia Quade, a trainee in the physiology doctoral program, has been cited as the “Paper of the Year” for 2020 by the American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology.

“In basic research, it can be easy to lose focus on how your seemingly small discovery fits into the big picture, but Dr. Parker is always thinking about how one discovery could turn into a big picture grant proposal. It is incredibly motivating. ”
Bianca Natalia Quade
Trainee in physiology doctoral program
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Quade, a fourth-year doctoral candidate, works in the lab of Mark D. Parker, PhD, associate professor of physiology and biophysics.

“This manuscript is the basis for my thesis,” she says. “We are looking at a protein called Slc4a11 that is expressed in the eye, specifically in the cornea.”

When this protein is mutated, it can cause a disease known as Fuchs’ corneal dystrophy, which can result in cloudiness of the cornea.

“It’s almost like cataracts of the lens, but patients with Fuchs often require corneal transplants to regain their vision as the disease progresses,” Quade says.

“My work looks at Slc4a11 function, because no one really knows what it does in the cornea and why it is so important,” she says. “We have shown before that the protein transports protons and its activity is affected by changes in pH,” she adds.

Eyeing Proteins in Cornea, How They Affect pH Balance

“In the latest paper, we take a closer look at how Slc4a11 activity depends on pH, and we show that several mutations, including some that are known to cause Fuchs, affect the way the protein responds to changes in pH,” Quade says.

Quade says the research team thinks the protein is important for maintaining pH of the cornea and disruption of its function leads to a chain of events that results in corneal cloudiness.

“My future work will look at the other proteins in the cornea that respond to changes in pH and how they all work together to maintain pH balance,” she says. “This work will allow us to propose therapeutic options that are less invasive and more accessible than corneal transplant.”

Career Path Highlights Value of PPBS Training

Parker says Quade is an exceptional student who has been gathering awards since she started at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Among her previous honors are:

“Bianca’s career path also highlights the value of the PhD Program in Biomedical Sciences (PPBS), through which undifferentiated students are exposed to numerous disciplines prior to committing to a PhD thesis project,” Parker says. “Thus it is that despite no preconceived notion of specializing in physiology she has found a niche at which she excels.”

Parker notes that Quade has just been promoted to serve as the senior trainee representative for the Cell and Molecular Physiology section at the American Physiological Society.

“With a year or more left before her graduation date, I’m excited to find out what else Bianca will achieve in her career,” he says.

Mentor’s Style is ‘Incredibly Motivating’

Quade says momentum in Parker’s lab is constantly maintained because he is always thinking of and is excited for the next step in the research process.

“He is very attentive and adaptable to each student’s needs in the lab. In addition, the Parker lab environment is never tense or stressful,” she says. “In basic research, it can be easy to lose focus on how your seemingly small discovery fits into the big picture, but Dr. Parker is always thinking about how one discovery could turn into a big picture grant proposal. It is incredibly motivating.”

Quade adds that she always tells graduate students that picking the right mentor is more important than picking an exciting project.

“Your project tends to change, but your mentor will remain constant throughout your training,” she notes.

Plans Academic Career in Own Research Lab

Quade plans on pursuing an academic career.

“I’ve gotten so much fulfillment from mentoring undergraduate and early graduate students during my time at UB,” she says. “It is exciting to think about potentially mentoring students in my own research lab.”

In addition to Quade and Parker, Aniko Marshall, a research technician in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, is a co-author on the study.