Category: Faculty Spotlight

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 aPeter 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.

Junior Faculty Win Career Development Professorships

March 24th, 2014 in Faculty Spotlight

Hui-e1344014884721

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 NatureCell BiologyCancer 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.

Original article was authored by Leslie Friday and posted on BU Today 13 September 2013.

Junior Faculty Win Career Development Professorships

September 16th, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight

Hui-e1344014884721Hui 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 NatureCell BiologyCancer 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.

Original article was authored by Leslie Friday and posted on BU Today 13 September 2013.

BUSM Researchers Discover Possible Mechanism for Anxiety and Depression

May 16th, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight

10-3009-PHARMAHEAD-086“Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have discovered what they believe to be a major brain mechanism responsible for a heightened state of anxiety and possibly depression. The study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, involves a protein called pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating peptide (PACAP), a hormone and molecule in the brain, and its relationship with anxiety and depression.

Anxiety disorders are a serious public health problem because they represent the most common mental disturbances in the United States and are responsible for almost one third of the total health care costs. In addition, depression often occurs together with anxiety disorder in patients.

In their study, the researchers were found to be able to induce feelings of anxiousness and depression in a preclinical model after administering PACAP. According to the researchers it was both surprising and very interesting to find that the same molecule could induce both anxious and depressive feelings.

Importantly, the scientists also found that the mechanism of the anxiety and depression-inducing effects of PACAP involves another important and well known molecule and hormone, called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). Indeed, when the authors provided PACAP to the model, they observed an increase in the production of CRF in two important regions of the brain, the hypothalamus and the amygdala. More importantly, when the authors introduced a substance that blocked the receptors of CRF, PACAP could no longer induce anxiety and depression.

“In humans, a dysfunction of the amygdala PACAP system may therefore be responsible for the development of conditions involving atypical responses to stressors, including generalized anxiety, PTSD and depression,” said senior study author Valentina Sabino, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and psychiatry in the Department of Pharmacology at BUSM as well as co-director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders

Also contributing to this study were Riccardo Dore, PhD; Attilio Lemolo, PhD, Karen L. Smith, PhD, Xiaofan Wang PhD and Pietro Cottone, PhD. The Laboratory of Addictive Disorders at Boston University School of Medicine is continuing this line of research to better understand the neurobiology of the PACAP system, with the hope of ultimately developing new therapeutic agents for the treatment of these debilitating psychiatric diseases.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In addition, funding was made available by the Peter Paul Career Development Professorship and by Boston University’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.”

Originally published by Boston University School of Medicine

Shelley J. Russek, Ph.D. Participates in Transcriptomics: Assessing Genomic Networks in Normal and Diseased Brains Short Course at 2012 SfN Annual Meeting

November 20th, 2012 in Faculty Spotlight, Spotlight

10-3009-PHARMAHEAD-062Congratulations to Dr. Shelley J. Russek on her participation in “Transcriptomics: Assessing Genomic Networks in Normal and Diseased Brains” Short Course #1 at the 2012 Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting on October 12, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Russek co-chaired the Group 2 Breakout Session on “RNA-seq Insights into Complex Diseases.”

Dr. Russek is a Professor of Pharmacology, Director of the Laboratory for Translational Epilepsy and Director of the Graduate Program for Neuroscience at Boston University. She received her Ph.D. from Boston University School of Medicine.

For more information on Dr. Russek and research, please see her faculty profile .

Anurag Singh: Identifying an “Achille’s Heel” In Cancer in February 17 Cell Issue

February 17th, 2012 in Faculty Spotlight, Recent News, Spotlight

Congratulations

Benjamin Wolozin, M.D., Ph.D. Professor of Pharmacology and Neurology

May 23rd, 2011 in Faculty Spotlight

Wolozin

Benjamin Wolozin completed his undergraduate education at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. He earned his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, as part of the Medical Scientist Training Program. His postdoctoral fellowships were spent at Mt. Sinai Medical Center (1988-9) and the National Institute of Mental Health (1989–96). He joined Loyola University Medical Center in 1996 as an Associate Professor and rose to the rank of tenured full professor. He joined the Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics at Boston University School of Medicine in 2004 as a Professor and also holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Neurology.

Dr. Wolozin is member of the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Boston University Parkinson’s disease and Movement Disorders Center. His interests focus on the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. His work on Alzheimer’s disease examines the role of cholesterol in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease, and stems from his discovery in 2000 that subjects taking the cholesterol-lowering medicines, termed statins, have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. His work on Parkinson’s disease examines the interaction between genes implicated in the disease, such as LRRK2 and alpha-synuclein, and environmental factors implicated in the disease.  His work on ALS focuses on the response of RNA metabolism and protein translation to stress. He uses multiple approaches to study neurodegenerative disease, ranging from molecular approaches to epidemiology. These approaches include molecular biology, cellular biology, transgenic mice, transgenic C. elegans, study of human brain samples and epidemiological database analyses.

At present, Dr. Wolozin serves as the primary investigator for several funded studies including, LRRK2 and Neurodegeneration, Interaction between genes and mitochondria in Parkinson’s disease, Stress granules and the biology of TDP-43, Development of Opticogenetic switches for mitochondrial function, and LRRK2 interactions with pathways linked to protein folding and degradation.

Dr. Wolozin has received numerous awards for his research including the Donald B. Lindsley Prize, Society for Neuroscience, the A. E. Bennett Award and a Merit Award from Alzforum. He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Proteotech Pharmaceuticals and CMD Bioscience LLC, and is on the executive board for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.  He also serves on numerous editorial boards, including the Journal of Biological Chemistry and Neurodegenerative Diseases, and is a standing member of the NIH CMND study section.

Another Faculty/Alumn Sample

September 15th, 2010 in Faculty Spotlight

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