Fellows in Focus


NINDS TmT Competition Winner

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Price Withers

Price Withers, postbaccalaureate (postbac) fellow in the NINDS Division of Intramural Research, received a first-place score during the internal NINDS Three-minute Talk (TmT) competition on June 2, 2022. This achievement allowed Withers to compete with trainees from 11 other NIH institutes and centers in the NIH-wide TmT competition later that month on June 30, 2022. During an impressive three-minute presentation, he showed that a new method to localize the origin of seizure activity in the brain has potential to guide surgical interventions with more resolution than current methods.

Learn more about Wither’s research and career goals—and his experience at the NIH so far—in our Training Highlight article: Meet the NINDS TmT Competition Winner: Postbac Price Withers.

 


Fellow Award for Research Excellence (FARE)

The Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE), began in 1995 to recognize the outstanding scientific research performed by intramural postdoctoral fellows. The FARE award is sponsored by the NIH Fellows Committee, the Scientific Directors, and the NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education, and is funded by the Scientific Directors.

The NINDS is very pleased to announce the winners of the 2023 FARE competition. Below are the NINDS award recipients along with their respective mentors. We extend sincere congratulations to our nine winners for their successes and the honor they bring to the intramural program of our institute.


 

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Debadatta Dash

Debadatta Dash; mentored by Leonardo Cohen.

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Fabricio Do Couto Nicola

Fabricio Do Couto Nicola; mentored by Ariel Levine.

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Michael Fernandopulle

Michael Fernandopulle; mentored by Michael Ward.

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Erin Fingleton

Erin Fingleton; mentored by Katherine Roche.

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Wenyan Han

Wenyan Han; mentored by Wei Lu.

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Saadia Hassan

Saadia Hassan; mentored by Michael Ward.

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Karri Kaivola

Karri Kaivola; mentored by Sonja Scholz.

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Sarah Hill

Sarah Kargbo-Hill; mentored by Michael Ward.

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Ronald Kim

Ronald KIm; mentored by David Talmage.

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Paul Kramer

Paul Kramer; mentored by Zayd Khaliq.

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Sahba Seddighi

Sahba Seddighi; mentored by Michael Ward.

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Yicun Wang

Yicun Wang; mentored by Jeff Duyn.


Exceptional Post-Doctoral Fellows Recognized at International Lewy Body Dementia Conference

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Dr. Karri Kaivola (pictured left) and Dr. Paolo Reho (pictured right)

Two post-doctoral fellows in Dr. Sonja W. Scholz lab  –  Dr. Karri Kaivola (pictured left) and Dr. Paolo Reho (pictured right) – were recognized at this year’s International Lewy Body Dementia Conference (ILBDC), which took place on June 18, 2022 at the Newcastle-Gateshead Hilton Hotel, in Newcastle, UK. The ILBDC brings together renowned laboratory and clinical scientists, and has been pivotal in the development of diagnostic and management criteria for Lewy body dementia.

In a memorable ceremony, Dr. Karri Kaivola was the recipient of the Rising Star Award for the study “Structural Variation in Lewy Body Dementia: A New Resource”. Dr. Paolo Reho received a Poster Prize for the outstanding presentation titled “Identification of Differential Methylation Signatures in Neuropathologically Confirmed Lewy Body Dementia.”

Congratulations to these exceptional professionals!

 


Congratulations Dr. Michelle Pleet!

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Dr. Michelle Pleet

Michelle Pleet, Ph.D. – a Postdoctoral Fellow – recently won a major grant to further her research on the importance of extracellular vesicles (EVs), which are packets of information released from cells into the blood and other bodily fluids, in Multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr. Pleet and her team are investigating whether EVs obtained from blood and spinal fluid from people with MS will provide information about the cell types involved in causing MS. The aim is to:

  1. Characterize EVs isolated from MS patient cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and CSF samples from healthy volunteers and individuals with other chronic neurological diseases by concentration and surface markers which can be used to predict the EV’s cellular origin.
  2. Examine the contents of these EVs to identify unique cargo that may play a role in the activation or progression of disease.

Results from this very important study may suggest new biomarkers of MS and additional information about the cause(s) of MS, which may lead to more targeted treatments and possible prevention strategies.

About Dr. Pleet

Dr. Pleet earned her Ph.D. in biosciences from George Mason University. She has received honors and awards, including the School of Systems Biology Impact Award, the School of Systems Biology Ph.D. Student Research Fellowship, and the School of Systems Biology John N. Brady Award for Excellence in Retrovirus Research, while at George Mason University.


NINDS Competitive Fellowship Award (NCFA) Recipient

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Dr. Stephanie Sarbanes

Dr. Stephanie Sarbanes, in Dr. Antonina Roll-Mecak’s lab, received the NINDS Competitive Fellowship Award (NCFA) for her proposal “Investigation of the tubulin autoregulatory response at the mechanistic level and in the human neuron”.  Microtubules are comprised of alpha/beta-tubulin heterodimers that self-assemble from a soluble tubulin pool into dynamic polymers.  The cell carefully monitors this balance between soluble pool and polymer through a unique feedback mechanism termed “tubulin autoregulation”.  When cells detect large influxes of soluble tubulin (ex. upon MT depolymerization) they rapidly respond by identifying tubulin-translating ribosomes and destroying the associated tubulin mRNA. 

While many components in this pathway remain unknown, identification of this subset of ribosomes depends upon TTC5, a protein whose mutation has been recently associated with intellectual disability.  Nevertheless, tubulin autoregulation in neurons, whose architecture and action are highly-dependent on the microtubule cytoskeleton, is largely unexplored. Dr. Sarbanes’ project seeks to uncover additional factors required by the autoregulatory pathway and explore the role of TTC5 in MT homeostasis in the human neuron both across differentiation and upon neuronal injury.  She will carry out this work under the co-mentorship of Dr. J. Robert Hogg (NHLBI). 


NMSS Sylvia Lawry Physician Grant Recipient

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Dr. Kanika Sharma

Congratulations to Dr. Kanika Sharma, Clinical Fellow in the Translational Neuroradiology Section. As announced in the OCD newsletter, Dr. Sharma received the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) Sylvia Lawry Physician Grant. This Fellowship program provides the individual with an M.D. or equivalent medical degree with up to 3-years of formal training, under the tutelage of an established investigator, in key elements associated with conducting clinical trials in MS.

 

 


NCFA Award Recipient 

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Dr. Ilia Zhernov

Dr. Ilia Zhernov, in Dr. Antonina Roll-Mecak’s lab, received an NINDS Competitive Fellowship Award (NCFA) for his proposal entitled Combinatorial regulation of katanin-induced microtubule remodeling. Katanin, a microtubule severing enzyme is associated with microcephaly in humans and its loss has been shown to be important for normal neuronal development in many model systems. Dr. Zhernov aims to unravel how synergistic activities of katanin and the neuronal regulators of microtubule dynamics, CLASP2a, chTOG and KIF2A, control exchange of microtubule subunits called tubulin at the microtubule shaft. These proteins can sway the equilibrium between addition and removal of tubulin at sites of microtubule nanodamage introduced by katanin and thereby can determine whether the microtubule network is completely disassembled or amplified.

Dr. Zhernov will use a combination of high-resolution imaging approaches in vitro and in neurons to study how these proteins synergize with katanin to control the fate of the microtubule and the overall architecture and dynamics of microtubule arrays. The results from this study will shed light on regulation of the architecture of neuronal microtubule networks.


Veronica Ryan Accepted into PRAT Program

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Veronica Ryan

Congratulations to Veronica Ryan, of the Inherited Neurodegenerative Diseases Unit, who recently received an NIGMS Postdoctoral Research Associate Training (PRAT) award. The NIGMS PRAT Program is a competitive three-year postdoctoral fellowship program that provides high quality research training in the basic biomedical sciences in NIH intramural laboratories. The program prepares trainees for leadership positions in biomedical careers through mentored laboratory research, networking, and intensive career and leadership development activities. Dr. Ryan was accepted into the program for her proposal that investigates the mechanisms of mRNA transport granule assembly in neurons and how this assembly is altered in neurodegenerative disease, specifically amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia (ALS/FTD). These studies will provide critical understanding of mRNA granule packaging and transport in neurons.

 


Fellow Deeya Garg  was featured in the I Am Intramural Blog 

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Deeya Garg

This past summer, Deeya worked with IRP staff scientist Joe Steiner, Ph.D., who leads the Drug Development Unit at NINDS. Her project assessed the potential of using statin medications, normally used for managing blood cholesterol and staving off heart disease, to stop HIV infection from destroying brain cells. This relatively understudied effect of HIV can cause a spectrum of neurological problems collectively known as HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND). Per Deeya, “There is currently no effective treatment against HAND despite the nearly 500,000 individuals experiencing the disorder in the United States alone,” Deeya says. “Approaching HIV from a cognitive lens was particularly unique and exciting to me!” Read more.

 


Archive

Fellow Award for Research Excellence (FARE)

The NINDS is very pleased to announce the winners of the 2022 FARE competition. Below are the NINDS award recipients along with their respective mentors. We extend sincere congratulations to our nine winners for their successes and the honor they bring to the intramural program of our institute.

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Jiayi Chen

Jiayi Chen; mentored by Antonina Roll-Mecak.

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Eunice Domínguez Martín

Eunice Domínguez Martín; mentored by Richard Youle.

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Joseph Roney

Joseph Roney; mentored by Zu-Hang Sheng.

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Pankaj Pathak

Pankaj Pathak; mentored by Ami Mankodi.

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Xiaoyi Li

Xiaoyi Li; mentored by Jeff Diamond.

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Jonathan Pomeraniec

Jonathan Pomeraniec; mentored by Kareem Zaghloul.

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Risa Isonaka

Risa Isonaka; mentored by David Goldstein.

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Sahba Seddighi

Sahba Seddighi; mentored by Michael Ward.

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Kyle Kern

Kyle Kern; mentored by Richard Leigh.


Congratulations to NINDS Clinical Research Excellence Award (NCREA) Recipients

The NCREA award is aimed at promoting clinical research and recognizing clinical research achievements among NINDS Clinical Research Trainees and Clinical Nursing Staff.

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Matthew Gooden, M.S.

Matthew Gooden, M.S.

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Risa Isonaka, Ph.D.

Risa Isonaka, Ph.D. – A two-time award recipient

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Guillaume Lamotte

Guillaume Lamotte, M.D., M.Sc

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Vijay Letchuman, B.A.

Vijay Letchuman, B.A.

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Cynthia McMahan, B.S.

Cynthia McMahan, B.S.

 


NCFA Award Recipient

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Dr. Fabrico Do Couto Nicola

Dr. Fabrico Do Couto Nicola in Dr. Ariel Levine’s lab,  received an NINDS Competitive Fellowship Award (NCFA) award for his project entitled The Spinal Cord Cells and Circuits for a Defined Motor Behavior.  The spinal cord is the main link between the body and the brain. Understanding how the spinal cord circuits are organized and function are fundamental to understanding the nervous system's behavioral control. The spinal cord has a diversity of cell types underpinning the communication between the brain and the body, whose behavioral contribution remains largely unknown. Dr. Do Couto Nicola’s goal is to unravel how the spinal cord encodes a simple movement. To do so, he proposes to systematically probe the diverse spinal cord cell types involved in a single movement (jumping) and thereby understand how the spinal cord encodes and mediates this behavior.

 


NCFA Award Recipient

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Dr. Jennifer Colon Mercado

Dr. Jennifer Colon Mercado, in Dr. Michael Ward’s lab, received the NINDS Competitive Fellowship Award (NCFA) for her proposal Investigating Mechanisms of VCP-related Neurodegeneration using iPSC-derived Neurons and Muscle. Mutations in Valosin Containing Protein (VCP) can cause a combinatorial spectrum of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), frontotemporal dementia, myopathy, or multisystem proteinopathy.

Additionally, her project will investigate the consequences of mutant VCP in protein turnover, pathology, and functionality using iPSC-derived motor neurons and a novel neuromuscular junction model. Her goal is to broaden understanding of the human motor neuron pathology and the functional phenotypes related to ALS, leading to new treatment insights.

 


Pew Latin American Fellows Award

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Dr. Eunice A. Domínguez-Martín

The Pew Charitable Trusts has announced that Eunice A. Domínguez-Martín, Ph.D., an NIH post-doctoral fellow, is one of 10 recipients of an award from Pew’s Latin American Fellows Program in Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Domínguez-Martín works in the laboratory of Richard J. Youle, Ph.D., senior investigator at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, where she is currently conducting pre-clinical research on the role the innate immune system may play in damaging the brain during Parkinson’s disease. Read more.

 


Dr. Jacey Chen receives NCFA Award

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Dr. Jacey Chen

Dr. Jacey Chen, a Research Fellow in the Cell Biology and Biophysics Section, received an NINDS Competitive Postdoctoral Fellowship Award this past April. Her proposal entitled Mechanistic Studies of Microtubule Deglutamylation Enzymes Associated with Neurodegeneration focuses on understanding the mechanism of two of the main enzymes that function as erasers of the tubulin code. The Cell Biology and Biophysics Section led by Dr. Antonina Roll-Mecak provides the perfect environment for such a project given her extensive understanding of how the genetic and chemical diversity of tubulin regulates the dynamics and mechanical properties of microtubules and constitutes a code that is interpreted by microtubule-based motors and associated proteins.

Dr. Chen will express tubulin carboxypeptidases for structural and biophysical analyses, to understand how they specifically recognize the tubulin substrate and glutamate chains and how they affect microtubule dynamicsutilize. She will use a combination of structural biology approaches (X-¬ray crystallography and cryo-¬EM), enzymology and analytical mass spectrometry to understand how these enzymes recognize their substrate. She also plans to reconstitute microtubule dynamics in vitro in the presence of the two enzymes to understand the effects of the glutamylation/deglutamylation cycle on microtubule dynamics. This is an ambitious proposal, success on this project would provide the first high-resolution structure for any enzyme of the cytosolic carboxypeptidase (CCP) family. Dr. Chen’s long-term goal is to dissect protein mechanism using a multifaceted experimental approach that gives her information about proteins at different spatial and temporal scales.


Dr. Sarah Hill receives award from BrightFocus Foundation

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Dr. Sarah Hill

Sarah Hill, Ph.D., received an award from the BrightFocus Foundation for her Alzheimer grant application entitled, Investigating Coordinated Local Translation and Degradation in Axons and the Role of FTD-related Genes. BrightFocus provides research funds for U.S. domestic as well as international researchers pursuing pioneering research leading to greater understanding, prevention, and treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Hill is a Fellow mentored in the Inherited Neurodegenerative Diseases Unit under Dr. Michael Ward. Neurons must balance the removal of old proteins with the synthesis of new proteins. This is especially important at synapses, which are often located far from the cell body. Dr. Hill’s study we will test if local degradation at lysosomes fuels new protein synthesis, and how these processes are coordinated and altered during neurodegenerative disease.