Published October 25, 2018
Chelsey Reed, a student in the MD-PhD Program, has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
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.
Reed is an MD-PhD student in the neuroscience program and is working at the Hunter James Kelly Research Institute (HJKRI) in the laboratory of Lawrence Wrabetz, MD, professor of neurology and biochemistry, and inaugural director of the HJKRI.
The researchers are studying a peripheral neuropathy called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), in which a protein that normally makes up myelin misfolds and causes dysregulation of the Schwann cell that produces myelin.
Wrabetz has spent years studying how this misfolding of a protein can cause cellular stress in Schwann cells and how manipulating this stress pathway can ameliorate some aspects of the disease.
“My project aims to look at how this cell stress pathway may be affecting other pathways in the cell, particularly those that produce myelin,” Reed says.
“Recent literature has provided connections between cell stress and other proteins like calcineurin, a promyelinating signal,” she adds. “Therefore, we hypothesize that in this CMT model, cell stress can disrupt myelinating signals, leading to further demyelination and Schwann cell dysregulation.”
CMT is the most common inherited neuromuscular disorder and presents as slowly progressive weakness beginning in the distal limbs, usually in the first two decades of life. There is no treatment other than supportive care, and those with severe disease may need wheelchairs for mobility.
Reed’s study is titled “Understanding the Role of Calcineurin in Normal Myelination and Demyelinating Neuropathy.”
The goal of the research is to improve understanding of the mechanisms in CMT in order to provide potential targets for therapeutic interventions.
“This work is significant because it is the first study to look at how cell stress may be acting directly on myelinating pathways,” Reed says.
“Not only is CMT a common inherited neuropathy, but other peripheral neuropathies are also characterized by cell stress, providing a possible shared pathomechanism for their demyelination,” she adds.
Reed earned an undergraduate degree in biological sciences from UB and said she developed a passion for research while spending three years studying cancer immunology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Care Center.
“When it came time to decide where to conduct my doctoral work, I switched to neuroscience due to my clinical interest in the field of neurology,” she says.
Reed says she chose Wrabetz as her thesis adviser because of his “intense passion for research.”
“Dr. Wrabetz is a trained neurologist, so he is able to provide true mentorship as a physician-scientist, which is what I hope to be,” she says. “He gives me enough space to let me try things and make mistakes without going totally off course.”
Reed sees a logical conclusion to her course of studies.
“When I first became interested in neuroscience, I assumed, like most, that I’d be studying the brain,” she says. “However, after my time in the Wrabetz lab, I can see myself continuing work after residency in the peripheral nervous system.”
“Hopefully, I will be combining my previous passion of immunology with my new passion of neuroscience and studying how our immune system interacts with our peripheral nervous system in disease.”
Reed’s F30 NIH fellowship was awarded within the study section of neurodevelopment, synaptic plasticity and neurodegeneration and is being funded through the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.