Category: Spotlight

Dr. David Farb, Speaker for the Tuesday, April 26, 7:00 pm Presentation of “Embrace of the Serpent” at the Coolidge Corner Theatre

April 22nd, 2016 in Faculty Spotlight

Dr. David Farb will be the featured speaker for the Science on Screen presentation of “Embrace of the Serpent” on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. This stunning film is based on the real-life journals of Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes and their quest through the Columbian Amazon for the sacred and rare Yakruna plant. The film focuses on their encounter with Karamakate, a shaman and the last survivor of his people, with whom they forge a profound friendship over 40 years and learn ancient lessons in the sacred and medicinal powers of plants.
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As a neuropharmacologist, Dr. Farb’s presentation will focus on the use of plants, particularly hallucinogens, by shaman throughout history and how these “entheogens” were subsequently studied and at times even exploited following their discovery by western scientists in the 20th century.

Science on Screen is supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation with additional support from Gesmer Updegrove LLP, Rubin Anders Scientific, and Ken Loveday and Ellen Hoffman, Brookline, and co-presented by the Museum of Science.

Please join Dr. Farb for a fascinating voyage.

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Andrew Ferree is Recipient of the Joseph Cochin Award in Pharmacology and Medical Ethics

March 18th, 2016 in Student Spotlight

Andrew Ferree has been named as the 2016 recipient of the Joseph Cochin Award in Pharmacology and Medical Ethics at the Student Awards Ceremony held on Friday, March 18, 2016 at Boston University School of Medicine. He completed his Ph.D. dissertation research on “Mitochondria and Autophagy in the Context of Parkinson’s disease” under the mentorship of Benjamin Wolozin, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Pharmacology and Neurology and Director of the Laboratory of Neurodegeneration. Andrew will earn his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees at the May 2016 graduation ceremony. Upon graduation from BUSM, he will be starting his internship in internal medicine at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, Connecticut and will return to Boston Medical Center for his residency in neurology. Andrew’s long term goal is to pursue a career as a physician scientist.

The award is given in memory of Joseph Cochin, M.D., Ph.D, who served for many years on the faculty at BUSM. He was an internationally recognized expert on analgesic drugs, substance abuse, and pain control and held a leadership position for many years on the BMC IRB. The award is given to a student distinguished by high achievement in pharmacology and medical ethics and excellence in research accomplishments.

Congratulations to Andrew on the Joseph Cochin Award in Pharmacology and Medical Ethics and on earning his M.D., Ph.D. degrees!

Catherine Moore and Mariel Seiglie Receive Graduate Student Travel Awards from ASPET for the 2016 Experimental Biology Meeting

March 4th, 2016 in Student Spotlight

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Catherine “Cassie” Moore and Mariel Seiglie, both Ph.D. graduate students in the Graduate Program for Neuroscience/Program in Biomolecular Pharmacology, have been selected to receive Graduate Student Travel Awards from the American Society of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET). In addition to covering registration fees for the Experimental Biology 2016 meeting, Cassie and Mariel will each receive $1,000 to cover their travel expenses to San Diego. The awards will be presented at the EB 2016 meeting. This important annual meeting hosts over 14,000 scientists and exhibitors representing six sponsoring societies and several guest societies. As this meeting is an important showcase for Ph.D. graduate students’ research, the ASPET Travel Award is highly prized.

Both Cassie and Mariel conduct their graduate research in the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders (LAD). Cassie, who is mentored by LAD Co-Director, Pietro Cottone, Ph.D., is investigating how overeating sugar-rich foods may affect mesolimbic dopaminergic reward. Her poster will show how a history of overconsumption of palatable food alters sensitivity to the rewarding and stimulatory effects of amphetamine-like drugs in a phase dependent manner (i.e. during palatable food access and withdrawal).

Mariel is mentored by LAD Co-Director Valentina Sabino, Ph.D. Her graduate research focuses on neuropeptide systems, specifically PACAP-PAC1R, which are involved in medicating the stress response towards acute chronic stressors. Her poster will demonstrate how intra-CeA and intra-BNST PACAP microinfusions can effect stress-like behavior and how the PACAP receptor, PAC1R, is responsible for mediating these effects.

Drs. Cottone and Sabino are internationally renowned for their research on addictive behaviors. The research conducted in the LAD provides important new insights in addictive behavior, especially in overeating and drug addiction. Their work holds great promise in developing novel therapeutics for the treatment of addictive behaviors. Please visit the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders website for more information.

Congratulations, Cassie and Mariel!

Rebecca Benham Vautour Selected for ASPET Washington Fellows Program

March 4th, 2016 in Alumni Spotlight

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Congratulations to Rebecca Benham Vautour, Ph.D., on being selected for the ASPET Washington Fellows Program [HPA]. Dr. Benham Vautour, a post-doctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Genetic Neuropharmacology at McLean Hospital, is one of 10 selected from across the U.S. to participate in this program. She graduated from with a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Neuroscience from the Program in Biomolecular Pharmacology at Boston University School of Medicine in 2012. As a graduate student in the Laboratory of Translational Epilepsy under the mentorship of Dr. Shelley J. Russek, Dr. Benham Vautour’s graduate research thesis was on bdnfAND jak/stat: Partners in Seizure-Induced GABA-A Receptor Down Regulation.” Her research at McLean’s focuses on the role of GABA-A in depression.

Neema Yazdani Selected for Platform Presentation at GSI Symposium on Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November 9th, 2015 in Student Spotlight

Neema Yazdani, a Program in Biomolecular Pharmacology Ph.D. graduate student, has be selected to present a platform presentation at the Tuesday, November 10, 2015 Genome Science Institute’s (GSI) Annual Research Symposium. Neema’s presentation is entitled, ‘HnRNP H1 regulates the stimulant and addictive properties of methamphetamine: Transcriptomic and spliceomic analyses uncover novel neurodevelopmental mechanisms” and is based upon the research he is carrying out in the Laboratory of Addiction Genetics in the Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics under the mentorship of Dr. Camron Bryant.

The GSI symposium will be held in Hiebert Lounge, L-14th Floor in the School of Medicine from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. and will include both poster sessions from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. and platform presentations from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. The awards ceremony will immediate follow the platform presentations.

Sanghee Lim received 2015 Medical Student Research Grant from the Melanoma Research Foundation

April 13th, 2015 in Student Spotlight

Congratulations to Sanghee Lim on being awarded a 2015 Medical Student Research Grant from the Melanoma Research Foundation for his proposal, “Defining Novel Mechanisms of Genome Instability in Melanoma.” The Medical Student Research Grant is awarded for a one-year period in order “to provide opportunities and funding for medical students to engage in short clinical or laboratory-based research projects focused on better understanding the biology and treatment of melanoma.” Sanghee is one of six medical students who received the nationally competitive award this year.

An MD/PhD student Program in Biomolecular Pharmacology, Sanghee is working under the guidance of Dr. Neil Ganem, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics and Medicine, in the Laboratory of Cancer Cell Biology at the Shamim and Ashraf Dahod Breast Cancer Research Laboratories. His work is aimed at defining the mechanisms that give rise to chromosome instability in human melanoma. In particular, Sanghee is testing whether activating mutations in the oncogene BRAF, which occur in ~80% of all melanomas, directly promote mitotic defects.

Great job, Sanghee! Keep up the great work.

Neema Yazdani Receives IBANGS 2015 Outstanding Graduate Student Travel Award

March 11th, 2015 in Student Spotlight

Neema Yazdani is one of two graduate students selected for the 2015 “Outstanding Graduate Student Travel Award” for the 17th Annual International Behavioral and Neural Genetics Society (IBANGS) Meeting in Uppsala, Sweden. Neema is a third year PhD candidate and Program in Biomolecular Pharmacology student in the Laboratory of Addiction Genetics under the mentorship of Camron D. Bryant, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry. As a recipient of this award, Neema is invited to present his research as an oral presentation titled, “Hnrnph1 is a quantitative trait gene for methamphetamine sensitivity”. Neema’s efforts in generating and phenotyping TALENs-targeted Hnrnph1 knockout mice combined with striatal transcriptome analysis via RNA-seq led to the identification of Hnrnph1 as a novel quantitative trait gene involved in the stimulant response to methamphetamine. His transcriptome results suggest that Hnrnph1 could regulate the neural development of the mesocorticolimbic circuitry which would have widespread implications for understanding the etiology of a variety of neurobiological disorders involving a dysregulation of dopamine transmission.

Rachel L. Flynn, Ph.D. Awarded Peter Paul Professorship

September 19th, 2014 in Faculty Spotlight

t_PeterPaulAwardsJunior faculty arrive at Boston University full of ambition and with a head full of ideas, but they often have relatively little money for research. So being awarded a Peter Paul Career Development Professorship can feel like winning the lottery; winners receive an annual stipend of $40,000 for three years to pursue their research interests.

For some, it can even seem too good to be true.

“Once I received the email, I asked if they had the right Professor Gonzales,” says Ernest Gonzales, a School of Social Work assistant professor of human behavior. Gonzales, who had no idea that he had been nominated for the award, says the reply from the provost’s office was immediate: “Yes, Ernest, it’s you!”

Peter Paul Professorships were also awarded to Rachel Flynn, a School of Medicine assistant professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics, and to Jacob Bor, a School of Public Health assistant professor of global health at the Center for Global Health & Development. University trustee Peter Paul (GSM’71) created the professorships named for him in 2006 with a $1.5 million gift, later increased to $2.5 million. Jean Morrison, BU provost, and President Robert A. Brown select recipients from faculty who are holding their first professorship, have arrived within the last two years, and have been recommended by deans and department chairs.

“It is a privilege to witness the development of talented young scholars into outstanding teachers and researchers,” says Morrison. “From the discovery of novel new cancer treatments and effective approaches to the HIV epidemic to improving conditions for an aging workforce, Professors Bor, Flynn, and Gonzales are fulfilling—and in many ways exceeding—the promise we saw in them when they joined the BU community. We are enormously proud of the important work they’re performing and excited to help advance their research careers.”

Gonzales, who earned a doctorate from Washington University in St. Louis, arrived at the University in July 2013. He is still thinking about how to use the award. He currently juggles several interdisciplinary research projects that focus on productive aging, structural discrimination in and outside of the workforce, and “unretirement”—the practice of retirees returning to work.

His initial findings suggest that the groups most vulnerable to ageism are workers under 30 and those 55 and older. Employees who fall within these ranges face social exclusion and questions about their professionalism or competence. Gonzales is also examining how early life experiences can predict difficult work trajectories later in life. Someone who enters the workforce at 17 with a high school diploma will likely work more physically demanding jobs—such as construction and manufacturing—that wear on their bodies and make it difficult to remain in the workforce long-term.

Gonzales also compares US practices to those in European countries, like Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government recently enacted a policy that allows people who have worked 45 years to retire with full benefits. He believes these individuals will relax, recuperate, and eventually return to the workforce—a theory he’s calling “Triple R.”

“I think we have a lot to learn from other nations,” says Gonzales, who would like to conduct cross-national research to see how this and other productive aging policies affect workers’ health and economic standing, with the eventual goal of proposing policy and legislation in the United States.

Flynn, who earned a doctoral degree in cancer biology from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has been at BU since June 2013. She studies the role telomeres, repetitive DNA sequences that cap the ends of chromosomes, play in cancer development. Each time a cell divides, Flynn says, it loses a chunk of telomere instead of more essential genes further upstream. When telomeres get too short, cells either stop growing or die.

“That is the aging process,” she says. But cancer cells have a way to “highjack this mechanism. When a telomere starts to get shorter, cancer outsmarts it” by reactivating the mechanism that keeps it growing forever.

Telomeres maintain their length using two pathways. Flynn’s lab studies the pathway used by osteosarcoma and glioblastoma—rare and lethal cancers of the bone and brain—and hopes to identify novel treatments that would target this highjacked pathway to better manage the cancers.

So far, Flynn has seen promising results. One compound she’s testing in vitro doesn’t just stop cancer cells from growing, but completely obliterates them—and with minimal effects to surrounding healthy cells. The next step is to test the compound in mouse models.

“If it works as well as it does in a dish, it’ll be amazing,” she says.

Flynn will use the award to hire lab personnel and to buy reagents. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to represent Peter Paul and have money to build my lab,” she says, “but the real goal is to raise the bar, to elevate cancer research at BU.”

Bor, who earned a doctorate at the Harvard University School of Public Health, came to BU in September 2013. He applies the tools of microeconomic models and natural experiments to the field of public health.

“Economics puts an emphasis on the individual; each person is making the best decision for themselves,” Bor says. “At least, that’s the theory.” He looks at decision-making and behavior in a larger economic context to determine what effects they have on health.

Across southern Africa, there’s an elevated HIV infection rate for young women. There are also “high levels of transactional sex,” Bor says. “Maybe if we can expand the choice set of young women so that they can make the best decisions for themselves, we can give them economic opportunities to avoid these relationships.”

In Botswana, he says, the government changed the structure of secondary school so that young women were encouraged to attend. The move resulted in a decrease in HIV infections within that population, he says.

With the award, Bor plans to recruit more doctoral students and research assistants to tackle the papers he’s been dreaming of writing, especially on questions related to South Africa’s HIV treatment program.

“The goal is to rigorously turn these out,” Bor says, “and the faster we do so, the better monies are allocated and the more lives can be saved.”

Original article posted on BU Today.

Joon Y. Boon receives the Malaysian Department of Education Perdana Scholar Award

September 17th, 2014 in Student Spotlight

JBoonPhoto on 5-22-14 at 3.24 PMoon Y. Boon, a graduate student in the Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics in the joint Biomolecular Pharmacology and Biomedical Neuroscience Prorgam, has won the Perdana Scholar Award from the Malaysian Department of Education.

This prestigious honor, awarded to Malaysian national students studying in the United States, “aims to identify, document, promote, and award Malaysian students who have excelled in areas such as academic, leadership, sports, entrepreneurship, inventions, and research.” The Perdana Award specifically honors a student who has attained the highest overall level of achievement.

Joon will fly to New York City later this month to receive the award in person from Malaysian Prime Minister Najib. Hat’s off to Joon Y. and her mentor for this amazing achievement! Congratulations!

Joon’s work involves researching the role of LRRK2 in neurodegeneration under the mentorship or Dr. Benjamin Wolozin, Professor of Pharmacology and Neurology, in the Laboratory of Neurodegeneration.

Dr. Sophie Desbiens accepts position as Assistant Director for Adaptive Licensing at MIT

May 21st, 2014 in Alumni Spotlight

Desbiens-144x150Dr. Sophie Desbiens, formerly Principal Associate at Decision Resources, has accepted a position as Assistant Director for Adaptive Licensing at MIT’s Center for Biomedical Innovation in the New Drug Development Paradigms (NEWDIGS) program.

According to the NEWDIGS website, the program “is a unique collaborative ‘think and do’ tank focused on enhancing the capacity of the global biomedical innovation system to more reliable and sustainably deliver new, better, affordable therapeutics to the right patients faster.

By bringing together diverse collaborators within a safe haven setting, and leveraging MIT expertise in systems engineering, this group is well positioned to inform and enable meaningful high-impact change involving the coordinated evolution of technologies, processes, policies, and people required to achieve its mission.”

Dr. Sophie Desbiens completed her dissertation work under the mentorship of Dr. David H. Farb, Professor and Chair of Pharmacology, in the Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology and graduated in 2009. The title of her dissertation was “Therapeutic Agents for Cocaine Addiction: A Systems Pharmacology Approach.”

Congrats on the new position, Sophie!