Category: Faculty Spotlight
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.
“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
Congratulations 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 .
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.
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