Category: Faculty Spotlight
Dr. Wendy Qiu is corresponding author on BU Alzheimer’s Study Examining the Role of Inflammation in Alzheimer’s Disease
As reported in the Friday, October 19, 2018 edition of The Boston Globe, Boston University researchers published results of their study on the examining the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease in the journal JAMA Network Open. Per the abstract, the research objective was “To study the interaction between the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) genotype and chronic low-grade inflammation and its association with the incidence of AD.” Framingham Heart Study data was mined to for subjects who had the ApoE4 gene to examine C-reactive protein levels as an indicator of the amount of body inflammation.
Wendy Qiu, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology and corresponding author of the study, commented in The Globe, “Since many elders have chronic low-grade inflammation after suffering from common diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, pneumonia and urinary tract infection, or after having surgeries, rigorously treating chronic systemic inflammation in ApoE4 carriers could be effective for prevention of Alzheimer’s dementia.”
The study found that, “It is possible that chronic inflammation, rather than 1 episode of inflammation, interacts with genetic vulnerability to increase the risk for AD.” This finding provides an important new insight into the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Hui Feng has been named the 2018 Arden Quinn Bucher Memorial Fund St. Baldrick’s Foundation Scholar. This award was established in memory of Arden Quinn Bucher who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2007 at the age of 2.
An amplified gene, MYCN, is found in ~30% of neuroblastomas, and is associated with highly aggressive tumors that have extremely poor prognosis. Dr. Feng’s work on T-cell leukemia recently showed that when a specific gene is turned off it will prevent tumor growth caused by C-MYC, a close relative of MYCN. This award will support Dr. Feng’s research which aims to determine if targeting this gene will suppress neuroblastoma development associated with MYCN activity.
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s mission is to “conquer childhood cancers.” In 2014 Dr. Feng was selected by the St. Baldrick Foundation to receive a three year Scholar award totaling $330,000. Based on her research progress, she was awarded an additional $211,154 new grants in 2017 and 2018 to fund two more years of this Scholar award. These awards have enabled Dr. Feng to make great strides in her research on childhood cancers.
We congratulate to Dr. Feng on receipt of this award and take this opportunity to thank the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for their generous support of Dr. Feng’s research.
Dr. Richard Wainford spoke with Carey Goldberg on WBUR today regarding his study connecting salt sensitivity to mutations in the GNAI2 gene. He noted that 1 in 2 adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure and, according to this study, “if you have this mutation . . . you’re three times more likely to be salt sensitive than patients that don’t . . .” This is a promising new discovery for clinicians who currently have no way to identify patients who may be salt-sensitive and at risk for “the associated adverse cardiovascular outcomes.” The details of this study were published in June 15, 2018 issue of Physiological Genomics.
Dr. Wainford, Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Medicine, Section of Cardiovascular Medicine and member of the BU Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute, is the Director of the Laboratory for Cardiovascular-Renal Research. His research is supported by funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Karen Harnett, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, and Neil J. Ganem, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Medicine, Section of Hematology and Medical Oncology are among the nine recipients of 2018 BUSM Educator of the Year honors. Faculty were nominated for awards in each category by medical students and Division of Graduate Medical Sciences students.
Dr. Harnett, a BUSM Pharmacology Ph.D. program graduate, was named Educator of the Year in Pre-Clinical Medical Sciences. She joined the Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics in 2013 as Pharmacology educator and joined the Disease and Therapy (DRx) leadership team in 2015. She directs the Dental Pharmacology could for se ond-year dental students (DMDII) and first-year Advanced Standing dental students (ASI) at BU’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine.
Dr. Ganem, Principal Investigator and Director of the Laboratory of Cancer Cell Biology, is one of two recipients along with Dr. Darrell Kotton of the Educator of the Year in Graduate Medical Sciences, Dissertation Advisors award. Neil’s research investigates the causes and consequences of aneuploidy and chromosome instability in human cancer, aims to define tumor suppression mechanisms that limit proliferation of aneuploid cells, and also to identify the common genetic adaptions made by cancer cells to overcome these growth barriers. He currently mentors one Ph.D. graduate student and three M.D./Ph.D. graduate students in the NIGMS supported Program in Biomolecular Pharmacology at Boston University, a BU Cell, Molecular and Genetics program undergraduate student, two postdoctoral researchers and a laboratory technician.
Congratulations to Karen and Neil on their excellent teaching skills, their commitment to their students, and on a job well done.
Dr. Zhen Jiang’s New C2 Domain Discovery in April Molecular and Cell Biology’s “Selected as Article of Significant Interest . . . by the Editors”
Zhen Y. Jiang, M.D., Ph.D., and his research group, have discovered a new C2 domain containing phosphoprotein CDP138 that is important for membrane trafficking. Membrane Trafficking Protein CDP138 Regulates Fat Browning and Insulin Sensitivity through Controlling Catecholamine Release in the April 2018 edition of Molecular and Cellular Biology and featured in Articles of Significant Interest Selected from This Issue by the Editors. Dr. Zhen and his group generated the first CDP138 knockout mice and revealed that CDP138 deficient mice are prone to develop obesity and insulin resistance. They discovered that CDP138 is a factor involved in the regulation of fat browning, energy metabolism, and insulin sensitivity through controlling sympathetic nervous function and the transmission of adrenergic signals. Per the editors’ comment, “These findings provide the first evidence that CDP138 affects energy balance and insulin sensitivity through the transmission of adrenergic signals.”
Dr. Jiang, is Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Nutrition, at Boston University School of Medicine, and a member of the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute at Boston University. He is the Director of the Laboratory of Diabetes and Obesity Research.
Congratulations to Dr. Jiang and his group on this important discovery.
Tsuneya Ikezu, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Pharmacology and Neurology, has been named as one of the four 2018 Spivack Scholars and one of the two recipients of the 2018 Jack Spivack Excellence in Neuroscience Award at Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Ikezu, Director of the Laboratory of Molecular NeuroTherapeutics in the Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics, has been recognized for his outstanding contributions to neuroscience research into neurodegenerative diseases, most especially for his groundbreaking studies on Alzheimer’s disease.
Congratulations, Dr. Ikezu!
Dr. Pietro Cottone Speaks at The Royal Society’s “Of Mice and Mental Health: Facilitating Dialogue Between Basic and Clinical Neuroscientists”
Pietro Cottone, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry, made a presentation on the “Neurobiology of Compulsive Eating” at The Royal Society’s “Of Mice and Mental Health: Facilitating Dialogue Between Basic and Clinical Neuroscientists” in London on April 24-25, 2017. Based upon his current research, Dr. Cottone and his research group in the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders tested the hypothesis that “one of the underlying mechanisms of compulsive eating involves the negative reinforcing properties palatable food . . .” According to their studies, rats who were deprived of regular access to highly palatable food demonstrated “spontaneous emotional signs of palatable food withdrawal, including anxiety- and depressive-like behavior,” that was “accompanied by increased corticotropin-releasing factor expression (CRF),” and that “administration of a selective CRF1 receptor antagonist . . . was able to block both the overeating . . . and negative emotional state.” These results are important in ultimately discovering novel therapeutics to combat compulsive eating. The manuscript with details of this research will be published in The Royal Society’s journal, “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.”
Benjamin Wolozin, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Pharmacology and Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He was elected for his contributions to molecular and translational neuroscience, particularly discovery of the role of cholesterol in Alzheimer’s disease.
On January 26, 2017, Dr. Karen Antman, BUSM Dean and BUMC Provost announced that Dr. Wolozin is the recipient of the Jack Spivack Excellence in Neurosciences Award for 2017. His discovery of the essential role of RNA Binding proteins in the pathology of tauopathies, including Alzheimer’s disease, represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of these diseases. With this discovery comes dramatic new opportunities for therapeutic interventions for Alzheimer’s disease and other tauopathies, based on targeting important members of the translational stress response, such as TIA1.
Congratulations to Ben!
Junior 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.
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.