By Christina Sue Cherel
Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have uncovered important clues about a biochemical pathway in the brain that may one day expand treatment options for cognitive deficits seen in schizophrenia. The study, published online in the journal Molecular Pharmacology, was led by faculty members David H. Farb, PhD, Terrell T. Gibbs, PhD, and Shelley J. Russek, PhD in thedepartment of pharmacology & experimental therapeutics at BUSM.
Patients with schizophrenia suffer from a life-long condition that can produce cognitive deficits, delusions, disordered thinking, and breaks with reality. A number of treatments are available for the treatment of schizophrenia, but many patients do not respond to these therapies or experience side effects that limit their use. There is no current treatment for the cognitive deficits experienced in schizophrenia.
The healthy brain is made up of billions of cells including the primary signaling cells called neurons, that are responsible for managing everything the body does: including movement, eating behavior, and memory formation. These neurons acts like a miniature computer and are controlled by substances called neurotransmitters that, like bits in a computer chip, may be “turned on” or “turned off” depending on the specific signals being integrated. Neurotransmitters latch onto a cell via a specific receptor, like a key fits into a lock.
In schizophrenia, it is thought that certain neurons don’t “turn on” as well when exposed to a certain neurotransmitter, the amino acid glutamate, may not be sensed by one of its key receptors (the NMDA receptor) whose diminished function may be the possible culprit for these sluggish cells. It is thought that this deficit can at least partially be responsible for symptoms seen in schizophrenics.
Currently the therapeutic means for making these cells more “sensitive” to glutamate can be toxic to the brain.
In this study, researchers discovered that another, naturally occurring steroid within the brain, known as PregS, may be able to bypass this toxic effect, and “turn on” neuron communication safely through a novel mechanism. The implication is that a deficit in the amount of this novel steroid may underlie deficits in signaling and that stimulation using therapeutics that elevate its levels in the brain may decrease or eradicate some of the debilitating symptoms seen in schizophrenia.
Although still in the early stages, further research in this area may be instrumental in the identification and development of treatments not only for schizophrenia, but also for other neurological conditions, such as age-related decreases in memory and learning ability.
Earl Gillespie, Ph.D., a Postdoctoral Researcher at Boston University School of Medicine and an alumni of the Biomolecular Pharmacology Program, will join Avalere Health in Washington, DC as an FDA Policy Fellow this summer.
According to the Avalere Health website, the highly selective FDA Policy Fellowship Program allows participants to, “spend 6 months immersed in health and life science regulatory policy and strategy issues to help support the efforts of Avalere clients that include some aspect of FDA related issues. Fellows will collaborate within [the] existing FDA team to increase Avalere’s presence and visibility as experts and thought leaders in the FDA space.”
Dr. Earl Gillespie completed his dissertation work under the mentorship of Dr. Susan E. Leeman, Professor of Pharmacology, and Dr. Arthur F. Stucchi, Research Associate Professor of Surgery, and graduated in January 2013. The title of his dissertation was “Colonic Epithelial Genes in the Transition From Chronic Inflammation to Carcinoma in Colitis-Associated Cancer: Focus on the Truncated Neurokinin-1 Receptor.”
We are so very proud of Earl and wish him the best in this new phase of his career!
Hui Feng spends a lot of time staring through zebra fish. Through because these vertebrates, which have a great deal of genetics in common with humans, are transparent. In fact, one particular breed, called Casper—after the Friendly Ghost—is so phantasmal that Feng says that “you can read newspapers through this fish.”
Feng doesn’t read the news through them, though. The School of Medicine assistant professor of pharmacology and medicine is more interested in tracking the pathways of dyed tumor cells as they metastasize through the zebra fish’s vasculature, which is tinted a contrasting color. In the less than two years since her tank-filled lab opened, she has identified genes that, when blocked with targeted treatments, could prevent the metastasis of certain types of cancer, like the most stubborn forms of leukemia.
In recognition of her groundbreaking work, Feng was awarded the Ralph Edwards Career Development Professorship, which recognizes MED researchers. The award was made possible this year by the estate of obstetrician and gynecologist Ralph Edwards (MED’52).
Feng, director of the Laboratory of Zebrafish Genetics & Cancer Therapeutics, says the honor reminds her that University officials appreciate faculty research and they want to support it. “It’s not just about the money,” she says. “The spiritual or mental support really means so much to us.”
Karen Antman, MED dean and Medical Campus provost, recalls the researcher’s discoveries early in her career, which found their way to top-tier research journals, including Nature, Cell Biology, Cancer Cell, the Journal of Experimental Medicine, and PNAS. A graduate of Beijing Medical University, Feng completed a master’s in cardiovascular pharmacology at Peking Union Medical College and a doctorate in cellular biology at the University of Georgia.
“Since joining the School of Medicine faculty,” Antman says, “Dr. Feng has demonstrated an exceptional level of scholarship, mentorship, teaching, and collegiality and quickly established herself as an independent research scientist, effectively and efficiently setting up a robust research program.”
Feng is one of three assistant professors who were given career development awards, which recognize junior faculty who have been at the University for less than two years and have held no prior professorships. Cornel Ban, a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of international relations, received the inaugural Stuart and Elizabeth Pratt Career Development Professorship, dedicated to CAS scholars. And Nachiketa Sahoo, a School of Management assistant professor of information systems, was awarded the Reidy Family Career Development Professorship, which has recognized faculty members in SMG and the College of Engineering in alternating years since 2010.
Contributions from BU trustee Stuart W. Pratt (CAS’69) and his wife, Elizabeth, and trustee Richard D. Reidy (SMG’82) and his wife, Minda G. Reidy (SMG’82, GSM’84) made the professorships possible.
Each award comes with a three-year nonrenewable stipend used to support scholarly or creative work and to cover a portion of the faculty member’s salary. Deans of the respective schools or colleges nominate faculty for these honors, and the Office of the Provost makes the final selections.
“We are extremely grateful to Stuart and Elizabeth Pratt, Richard and Minda Reidy, and posthumously, Ralph Edwards for their generosity and for the vision they’ve shown in supporting the future of these very important fields,” says Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer. These three professors were recognized for “their extraordinary accomplishments in areas of study, passion for the creation and transmission of knowledge, and their efforts to enhance the student experience.”
Ban’s research has focused on economic issues in Brazil, Spain, and Romania, and spans three principal topics: international finance, international economic organizations, and the diffusion of international economic ideas. He describes his first book, Governing Crises: The International Politics of Crisis Economics from Bretton Woods to the Great Recession, not yet published, as “a cautionary tale about how much we don’t know about how the financial markets work.” He is an expert on the failure of economic models used by governments or international banks to predict the financial crisis that swept the world within the past decade.
Ban earned a bachelor’s from Babes-Bolyai University, in Romania, a master’s degree from the University of Delaware, and a doctorate in political science from the University of Maryland. He says the award will give him the time and funding to launch his next book project, which will focus on the dynamics of international finance over the past couple of decades. “Without this kind of support,” he says, “I could not get it done.”
Andrew Bacevich, a CAS professor of history and international relations and acting chair of international relations, calls Ban an “emerging superstar” in the department. “Since his arrival a year ago, he has become a valued asset,” he says. “His performance as a teacher and scholar has demonstrated that he is precisely the sort of young faculty member for whom the Stuart and Elizabeth Pratt Career Development Professorship is designed.”
Sahoo holds a master’s degree in knowledge discovery and data mining and a doctorate in information systems and management, both from Carnegie Mellon University. His current research focus is on improving personalized information filtering techniques, such as that used by Netflix and Amazon, to help customers find products that best match their past interests. Recognizing that people are dynamic and that their preferences change over time, he has adjusted these filtering techniques so that they show more accurate recommendations across a variety of platforms.
In a separate branch of research, Sahoo is analyzing the messages exchanged between individuals on corporate social media, such as blogs, to identify expertise that exists inside a company.
“New technologies to help people connect to each other are exacerbating the problem of information overload at a personal level,” says Sahoo. “There is too much information to sift through and there is limited time. It’s important to develop tools and techniques that help us find the bits of relevant information faster.”
Sahoo says he will use the award to hire a research assistant to help with data collection and analysis.
“Dr. Sahoo is a wonderful addition to our faculty: a productive researcher, a great colleague, and a committed teacher,” says Kenneth Freeman, SMG’s Allen Questrom Professor and Dean.
At the Student Award Ceremony on Match Day, March 21, 2014, Rebecca Burke was awarded the Joseph Cochin Award in Pharmacology and Medical Ethics. This award honors the memory of Joseph Cochin, MD, PhD, who served as Professor of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at BUSM for many years. Dr. Cochin was an internationally recognized expert on opioid analgesia, pain control and medical ethics. Becky, a student in the Biomolecular Pharmacology Training Program from 2008-2012, received this award in recognition of her high achievement in pharmacology and accomplishments in research under the mentorship of Jan K. Blusztajn, PhD. Becky will receive her MD and PhD degrees at the BUSM May Graduation Ceremony and will continue her professional training with a residency at the University of Virginia in Neurological Surgery. Congratulations to Becky!
Maya Woodbury was recently awarded the Predoctoral Fellowship in Pharmacology/Toxicology through the PhRMA Foundation. The title of her approved proposal is “miR-155/STAT3 signaling: a novel pharmacological target for Down syndrome.” For this project, she will receive financial support for her research in the amount of $20,000 per year for two years. The Foundation only awards about 10 such grants nationally each year.
According to the PhRMA Foundation’s 2012 Annual Report, “the mission of the PhRMA Foundation is to support young scientists in disciplines important to the pharmaceutical industry by awarding them competitive research fellowships and grants at a critical point at the outset of their careers. The aim is to encourage young scientists who will be the leaders of tomorrow to pursue careers in research and education related to drug discovery.”
Maya is currently a student in the Graduate Program for Neuroscience and the Biomolecular Pharmacology Program through the Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics at Boston University School of Medicine. She works in the Laboratory of Molecular NeuroTherapeutics under the mentorship of Dr. Tsuneya Ikezu.
The Peter F. McManus Charitable Trust Foundation recently honored Dr. Valentina Sabino for the second time with a grant to research the causes of alcohol addiction. The title of her approved project is “Neurobiological Bases of Alcohol Addiction.”
According to Dr. Sabino, “alcoholism constitutes one of the most serious public health problems worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that about 2 billion people worldwide consume alcoholic beverages, of which 76.3 million have alcohol use disorders. Alcohol is estimated to cause 20%–30% of esophageal cancer, liver cancer and cirrhosis, homicide, seizures, and motor vehicle accidents, causing 3.2% of the total deaths.
This project will systematically explore the role of an understudied receptor system, the Sigma receptors, in genetic and chronic ethanol-induced animal models of alcoholism. The focus will be the Nucleus Accumbens, an important brain region for alcohol and drug addiction, proposed as being the specific region where Sigma receptors mediated neuroplasticity in addicted brains.
These experiments will provide insights into this novel receptor system as a key mechanism involved in excessive drinking and alcohol-seeking behavior and propose a novel therapeutic target for alcohol addiction.”
Dr. Sabino received her Ph.D. in Pharmacology in 2006. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics and Department of Psychiatry, and Co-Director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders at Boston University School of Medicine.
Congratulations, Dr. Sabino!
Dr. Camron Bryant has been selected as the recipient of the 2014 IBANGS Young Scientist Award. The Young Scientist Award honors a scientist who is 7 or fewer years post first faculty or faculty-equivalent appointment, and whose area of research is in behavioural and neural genetics. Key considerations are the scientific importance of research discoveries, record of achievement and future scientific plans and projected impact on the field.
Congratulations, Dr. Bryant!
I am pleased to share that Benjamin Wolozin, MD, PhD, Professor, Pharmacology and Neurology, was awarded the Alzheimer’s Association Zenith Fellows Award. Initiated in 1991, the award provides support for cutting edge basic science or biomedical research that addresses fundamental problems related to early detection, etiology pathogenesis, treatment and/or prevention of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The award is valued at $450,000, which will be dispersed over three years.
The Wolozin Lab won the award with its proposal “It Takes TIA to Tangle: The Role of RNA Binding Proteins in AD.” The laboratory already has discovered a RNA binding protein that induces tau misfolding, one of the essential steps that leads to cognitive loss in AD. This award will allow the Wolozin Lab to experimentally induce the misfolding, investigate the factors that regulate the misfolding and in the future, potentially design therapeutics to prevent the misfolding.
Please join me in congratulating Dr. Wolozin on this award.Karen Antman, MD Provost, Boston University Medical Campus Dean, School of Medicine Professor of Medicine
Kenneth J. Rhodes, Ph.D., Vice President of Neurology Discovery at Biogen Idec and an alumni of the Boston University Pharmacology Training Program, led the team of researchers that developed Tecfidera, an oral medication that defends against relapsing Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
The Food and Drug Administration recently approved Tecfidera, also known as dimethyl fumarate, for treating relapsing multiple sclerosis. This new drug delays progression of physical disability and slows the development of brain lesions associated with MS. It also reduces the inflammation caused when the immune system attacks myelin, which ultimately results in less damage to myelin in the body. In a Biogen Idec press release, Dr. Kenneth Rhodes stated that, “these exciting results support further research, as the data suggest that neublastin may have the potential to promote sensory neuronal regeneration and functional recovery following injury. The neublastin program is part of Biogen Idec’s commitment to innovative neurological science and discovery.”
According to the Boston Business Journal, Tecfidera “tops the list of the biggest potential revenue-generating drugs launched so far this year in the U.S., with expected sales of $2.9 billion by 2018.”
Dr. Kenneth Rhodes joined Biogen Idec in May 2007 after spending ten years in the Neuroscience Department at Wyeth, where he also led neurodegeneration drug discovery teams researching MS among epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. He served as a postdoctoral trainee under the mentorship of Dr. David H. Farb, Professor and Chair of Pharmacology at Boston University School of Medicine, from 1992-1993. Dr. Rhodes has published over 50 research papers in peer-reviewed journals such as Nature, Neuron, and the Journal of Neuroscience and most recently was the Keynote Speaker for the 2013 BU-Pfizer Symposium on “Therapeutic Innovation: Oxidative Stress and the Next Generation of Discovery” held November 5, 2013.
2013 Pfizer Symposium – “Therapeutic Innovation: Oxidative Stress and the Next Generation of Discovery
Please click here for the 2013 BU-Pfizer Symposium program book PDF file.
Boston University Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics – Pfizer Symposium
Tuesday, November 5, 2013 8am to 7pm
Boston University Trustee Ballroom, 1 Silber Way, 9th Floor, Boston, MA
For more information, please contact Ms. Sara Johnson at email@example.com or 617-638-4302.