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Meet the 2017 Award Winners

Caitlyn Bowman

Paul Talatay Award

Project Details

The laboratory of Michael Wolfgang uses genetics and biochemistry to define how cells and organisms get energy from the foods we eat and how sensing and responding to nutritional cues is often dysregulated in metabolic disease.

The textbook view is that a developing fetus requires lots of glucose (sugars) to fuel growth and development and that much of this glucose eventually gets broken down within mitochondria. Using a mouse model with impaired mitochondrial metabolism of a breakdown product of glucose, we’ve found that embryonic metabolism is surprisingly flexible and that other nutrients, such as amino acids and fats, can compensate when glucose can’t be used efficiently. We’re interested in how this metabolic adaptation is regulated, and a better understanding of maternal-fetal metabolic communication may help us understand and treat complications like gestational diabetes.

Learn more about the Michael Wolfgang lab.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

I chose Hopkins for my graduate training because of the high quality of the biomedical graduate training programs and the collaborative research environment. I was drawn to how researchers asking the “how” and “why” questions of biology drive important discoveries with significant implications for human health.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

It is a great honor to receive the award named for Dr. Paul Talalay, who founded this tradition of recognizing the discoveries of trainees 40 years ago. I greatly appreciate his passion for mentoring and encouraging junior scientists. 

What contributed to your project's success?

I am incredibly grateful for the guidance and support of my adviser, Michael Wolfgang, who supports my curiosity and encourages me to ask the tough questions and think independently. As often happens in science, this project did not go as planned, but we stumbled upon a completely new line of investigation in the lab. The skills I’ve acquired in the Wolfgang lab can help address important unanswered questions in the field of maternal-fetal metabolic communication.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

To quote Dr. Talalay in his reflections essay published to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Journal of Biological Chemistry in 2005, “encouragement…is the tool for identifying and developing scientific talent and potential in the young.” I am grateful to train in an environment that values the role of students and fellows working on the frontlines of biomedical research and that encourages trainees to follow their scientific interests.

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Hopkins?

It is such a privilege to observe firsthand the history of great researchers who have worked and trained here at Johns Hopkins. I will never forget how honored and humbled I felt when Dr. Dan Lane, a professor emeritus at the time, came to my journal club presentation. Dr. Lane was the postdoctoral adviser of my PI, Dr. Wolfgang, and something as simple as his participation at journal club was a great reminder of the lineage of talented Hopkins researchers who care deeply about training the next generation of scientists. (I should mention here that Dr. Wolfgang was awarded the Daniel Nathans Research Award as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Lane’s lab in 2008.) 

What are your plans over the next year or so?

After graduation, I plan to continue my work in the field of metabolic biochemistry as a postdoctoral researcher.

What are your hobbies or interests?

Outside of the lab, I enjoy competing in sports such as field hockey with my team, the Bawlmer Hons, and volleyball with fellow graduate students.


Katherine Bruner

Michael A. Shanoff Award

Project Details

My work consisted of a comprehensive genetic profiling of latent HIV-1 present in individuals who were on antiretroviral therapy for different lengths of time. We discovered that the vast majority of all viruses in these individuals are defective and therefore do not pose a barrier to HIV-1 cure. We also discovered that current methods used to measure the amount of latent virus in individuals on HIV antiretroviral therapy do not accurately measure the amount of intact, replication-competent virus in a patient, revealing a need to develop better methods for measuring HIV-1.

Learn more about the Siliciano lab.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

Johns Hopkins is extremely well known for excellence in biomedical research, making it a clear favorite during my graduate school decision process. From its reputation and my own research, I knew that Johns Hopkins would provide me with the knowledge and resources to pursue great science that was both interesting and impactful. 

What does receiving this award mean to you?

I am very honored and humbled to receive this award. This work was a truly collaborative effort, and it could not have been done without the many colleagues and collaborators who contributed. 

What contributed to your project's success?

I believe a project is only as good as the people working on it, and I am very thankful to have had a wonderful team of scientists work with me on this project. The Siliciano lab is a tight-knit group, and the guidance, advice and support from all of the lab members was critical to the success of this work.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

Students and fellows play a critical role in all academic research, and the Young Investigators’ Day is a unique opportunity to specifically highlight this fact.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I look forward to continuing my work in the Siliciano lab as a postdoctoral fellow.

What are your hobbies or interests?

I enjoy tap and ballet dancing and sometimes dance around the lab when no one is around. 


Lindsay Clegg

Michael A. Shanoff Award

Project Details

During my Ph.D., I worked with Dr. Feilim Mac Gabhann in the Institute for Computational Medicine to build cutting-edge, molecularly detailed, multiscale computational models of growth factor signaling in blood vessels. These models allow us to bridge from observations in cell culture systems, where we can make detailed measurements, into the context of human disease, to better understand what it is about the signaling that is ‘wrong’ or ‘broken’ in disease. We can use these computational models to evaluate potential therapies, identifying promising strategies and potential roadblocks to drug translation. This sort of integration across scales provides novel insight that could not be gained via experiment alone.

For my thesis, I studied how immobilization of VEGF, a key driver of blood vessel growth, leads to different signaling in cell culture experiments and different blood vessel architecture in mice and tumors, compared to VEGF found only in solution. The relative levels of VEGF isoforms that can be immobilized changes in disease. My models were able to explain how it is that these and other changes lead to altered signaling in ischemic disease (specifically, peripheral artery disease) and provide new information that will aid with design of biomaterials and antibodies to promote blood vessel growth and improved tissue perfusion in humans.

Learn more about Dr. MacGabhann's research.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

In building computational models, one of the challenges we face is to make sure our models get the biology right and are clinically relevant (and useful!), as well as make sure that we do a good job of effectively communicating our quantitative results to biologists and clinicians. This award is a testament to the progress we’re making!

What contributed to your project's success?

Far and away, the biggest contributor to my project’s success is the people behind it. First and foremost, my adviser, Feilim Mac Gabhann, is a phenomenal scientist who excels at providing critical yet encouraging feedback and direction, as well as motivation and mentorship. He has been incredibly supportive of all my crazy schemes during grad school, and none of this would have come to fruition without him. Through the years, many other collaborators and peers have also contributed to my development as a scientist and to making my research as high quality and useful as possible.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

I chose Johns Hopkins for a couple of reasons: (1) there were several different labs whose research I was excited about, so I was confident of finding a good match, (2) the opportunity to take courses with medical students and engage with the large research and clinical communities here, and (3) most importantly, at the end of the day it felt like a good fit for me, a place I could be happy and thrive.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

It's important that we share our research accomplishments and challenges within the Hopkins community. It’s such a talented group, but yet so large that often we don’t even know all of the people here working on related topics. I think Young Investigators’ Day, in addition to celebrating the accomplishments of this community, provides a great forum to spark wider engagement within the Hopkins community. After all, it takes a village to raise a grad student, right?

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Hopkins?

Within research, there’s no beating those ‘aha’ moments when you start to see something new and exciting come out of the results you’ve been puzzling over, and then check and double check those results, and start talking to everyone you can find to see if you might really have something. Here’s hoping those moments are far from over! 

What are your plans over the next year or so?

After finishing my Ph.D. next month, I will be starting an industry postdoc with AstraZeneca in Gaithersburg, Md.

What are your hobbies or interests?

Outside the lab, I work with a local high school robotics team: FRC 1719, building a 150-pound robot in six weeks every year. It’s a fun way to keep my engineering skills honed, promote STEM education and inspiration in the community, and have a lot of fun with a great group of kids.


Graham Diering

Daniel Nathans Award

Project Details

Sleep is an essential process that is known to support cognitive functions such as learning and memory. In this work we examined how synapses, the structures used by neurons to communicate, are modified by sleep. Using biochemistry, proteomics and imaging in mice, we find that synapses undergo widespread remodeling during sleep. Our data suggest that a particular type of synaptic plasticity called homeostatic scaling-down is engaged during sleep to weaken synapses across the brain. This may be an important part of memory consolidation and part of the restorative function of sleep.

Learn more about the Richard Huganir lab.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

Being at Johns Hopkins these last years has been a real neuroscience immersion that has prepared me for a career in this field.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

This award means a great deal to me professionally because it gives me the confidence to continue to strive toward challenging and rewarding science problems. 

What contributed to your project's success?

The success of this work was very much based on the foundation of excellent work established in our lab and by my mentor, Dr. Huganir. With this foundation, I was able to ask new questions about sleep that turned into something very interesting and exciting.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

The success of research clearly come from two directions, the top down, from the professors that build their research programs and support the training of their students and postdocs, and from the bottom up, from the young scientists trying new things that have not been done before.

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Hopkins?

I have really enjoyed our departmental retreats. The Department of Neuroscience is a very friendly and collaborative environment with a real sense of community.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I plan to start my own lab during the fall. I am still negotiating positions at a few institutions but things are looking very promising.

What are your hobbies or interests?

I have been brewing my own beer since the year 2000, when I was 17 years old.


Jonathan Grima

Paul Ehrlich Award

Project Details

Generally speaking, we have discovered that traffic jams occur in the brain cells of people with Huntington’s disease, which is the most common inherited neurodegenerative disorder. These traffic jams disrupt the flow of critical information between the brain cell’s control center (the nucleus)  and the surrounding area (the cytoplasm), which appears to be a direct cause of brain cell death in Huntington’s disease and potentially other neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and dementia. Moreover, we show that drugs designed to clear up these traffic jams can restore normal transport in and out of the nucleus and prevent these brain cells from dying. This is the first study to implicate defects in this particular pathway in Huntington’s disease and provides future novel therapy targets. 

Learn more about Dr. Rothstein's Brain Science Institute.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

I am a huge history buff and was always well aware of the fact that a plethora of significant findings, which greatly impact the world today, have come right out of Hopkins. For instance, the only FDA-approved drug for ALS was developed from work done by my mentor, Dr. Jeffrey D. Rothstein. Additionally, the identification of receptors for neurotransmitters and drugs and elucidation of the actions of psychotropic agents has produced many advances in molecular neuroscience and this was work performed by another adviser of mine, Dr. Solomon H. Snyder. These are extraordinary scientists who are making our world better each and every day and improving the lives of many individuals. I wanted to be a part of this and follow in the footsteps of my science heroes.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

Upon entering the program a little less than four years ago, I knew that I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my many scientific heroes here at Hopkins such as Drs. Jeffrey Rothstein, Solomon Snyder and Ted Dawson. I hope to make them proud! 

What contributed to your project's success?

Dr. Jeffrey D. Rothstein is a phenomenal mentor who truly cares about my success and the success of others in his team. Dr. Rothstein is enthusiastic, optimistic, focused and extremely knowledgeable. His dedication to his roles as a professor, clinician and primary investigator are exceptional, as he always finds time to answer my questions and help guide me in the right direction to meet my desired goals. Taken together, he is the scientific and personal role model that I aspire to be. His mentorship, along with the guidance of my exceptional thesis committee members Drs. Solomon Snyder, Christopher Ross, Seth Blackshaw, Michael Matunis, and Philip Wong, and the collaborative environment at Hopkins, have all helped to stimulate my intellectual curiosity and provide me with excellent training to help me become the principal investigator I aspire to be.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

In the future, I would love to pursue faculty positions and continue my work studying basic molecular mechanisms involved in neurodegeneration with the hopes of developing disease-altering treatments. I hope to make a difference and make my parents and many mentors, advisers and friends at Hopkins proud. It takes a village to raise a child and I am a product of all of these wonderful individuals who have helped me so much along the way. 

What are your hobbies or interests?

My parents migrated from the tiny island country of Malta to New York City with many dreams and ambitions but little money or education. More than anything, they wanted their children to have the best schooling possible, to give us the opportunities they never had. Their lessons not only formed the foundation of my effectiveness at the bench and in the classroom; they ignited my desire to make the world a better place, a desire I ultimately came to see as linked with my love of neuroscience.


Jungwoo Wren Kim

David I. Macht Award

Project Details

We implemented a powerful molecular tool, mainly used in basic science, to understand pathological changes in the brain with Parkinson’s disease. Our results revealed disrupted cellular pathways relevant to the selective neuronal demise in Parkinson’s disease, thereby providing a major advance toward understanding the molecular mechanisms of the disease. 

Learn more about the Dawson Lab.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

My primary interest was to apply new findings from cellular and molecular biology to understand the pathobiology of human disease. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine was my dream school as we have a number of great scientists pioneering translational and interdisciplinary research here.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

Young scientists in training are generally living under strong pressure to prove themselves. This award is indeed a great encouragement and is giving me strong motivation to pursue an academic career. 

What contributed to your project's success?

I have benefited hugely from the independent research environment provided by Drs. Ted and Valina Dawson and I really appreciate their support. I was extremely lucky to have a chance to work with the actual inventor of the technique that became the main methodology for the study. 

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

To young scientists in training, timely achievement and recognition can be very essential for their morale. The Young Investigators’ Day award had been a great motivation to me, and has now become one of the major accomplishments I have made at Hopkins.

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Hopkins?

The best moments are the occasions when I find myself as a capable independent scientist, getting recognition from respectable senior scientists whom I admire. 

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I am staying as an interim postdoctoral fellow in order to complete the publication process. I’m looking for the next destination for my postdoctoral training.

What are your hobbies or interests?

I play music with my girlfriend, who is a graduate student in the cellular and molecular medicine program and is also studying neuroscience.


Pankaj Kumar

Helen B. Taussig Award

Project Details

My research focuses on the development of new antibiotics against M. tuberculosis through Structure-Based Drug Designing approach. We targeted an important enzyme, L,D-transpeptidase, from M. tuberculosis which is  important for bacterial growth and virulence. In this target-based drug discovery, we designed and developed several new antibiotics that are very potent against M. tuberculosis. This drug discovery gives new hope towards the treatment of drug-resistant TB worldwide. Our research has been published in Nature Chemical Biology.

Learn more about the Lamichhane lab.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

Johns Hopkins is one of the most reputed institutes in the area of medical research and more, and  attracts the world’s most intelligent scientists, scholars and students. Johns Hopkins has given me a wonderful opportunity to get training in different laboratories with very intelligent professors to achieve my goals of performing research on tuberculosis and developing new antibiotics.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

I’m originally from rural India, where I regularly saw poor people infected with tuberculosis dying. I always dreamed of discovering new TB medicines and that motivated me to become a scientist.

What contributed to your project's success?

I joined Dr. Gyanu Lamichhane’s group at the Centre for Tuberculosis and got involved in TB drug-development supported by the New Innovator Award, a highly selective program funded directly by the Director of NIH on the basis of promise for Innovations in Drug development, awarded to Dr. Lamichhane. Under the umbrella of TREAT at Johns Hopkins University, we have successfully developed several new antibiotics that have been filed for US Patent. Guidance and help from Prof. Cynthia Wolberger and Prof. Craig Townsend in the area of structural biology and biophysical studies on drug molecules is highly acknowledged, as is the Center for Tuberculosis.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

I am highly thankful to Johns Hopkins for organizing Young Investigator’s Day. This brings a great motivation to research scholars at Johns Hopkins and gives them confidence that they are in right direction towards achieving their goals.

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

Hopkins has been like home to me and my small family for the last 6 years. We have celebrated several cultural festivals and summer festivals every year. My little daughter has participated in several education programs for kids organized by Hopkins. Hopkins has become an important of our life and we will always cherish this time.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I have plans to establish a laboratory and work towards development of new diagnostics and therapeutics to treat drug resistant tuberculosis. I am currently looking for faculty positions in India.

What are your hobbies or interests?

I’ve enjoyed writing poetry since childhood. The poetry is in my native language. I have a blog of these poetries.

I have interest in working for poor people in India. My village does not have any basic facilities for education and health. There is only one government school up to 5th standard, and the condition of the school is very bad. There is no transportation facility for poor students to go for higher education in distant cities. Due to lack of education, the majority of poor youth is unemployed. I want to work to improve education system in my village. 


Samuel Kwon

Albert Lehninger Award

Project Details

The cerebral cortex plays a vital role in how we process and perceive sensory information. Using rodent somatosensory systems as a model, I found that neurons in sensory cortical areas contain perceptual information, and characterized how sensory information becomes progressively more perception-related across successive cortical areas. 

Learn more about the O'Connor lab.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

Johns Hopkins has a long tradition of excellence in the field of cortical sensory processing, going back to the pioneering work of Vernon Mountcastle. Faculty members with scientific excellence, collaborative environment and state-of-the-art infrastructure were some of the reasons why I chose to come here. 

What does receiving this award mean to you?

It is a great honor to receive this award. It is exciting to see my work getting recognition in an elite scientific community like Johns Hopkins.

What contributed to your project's success?

Self-motivation is the key. Some of the experiments performed as part of the project required quite a bit of troubleshooting and optimization. It would have been impossible to go through all of that without keeping myself motivated. Another key to success was excellent support from the O'Connor lab. My colleagues in the O'Connor lab are second to none when it comes to scientific rigor and team spirit.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

I think it‘s an exciting opportunity to share one's research and network with other students and fellows.

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

I still remember the day I succeeded in performing the first in vivo imaging experiment in an awake-behaving mouse. It was one of the most exciting moments.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I am starting my own lab next year.

What is one unique fact about you?

I have lived in many different parts of the world — South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and several different cities in the U.S. Because of this, my accent reflects a bit of all of these different places. 


Michelle Levine

Hans J. Prochaska Award

Project Details

In the Holland lab, we exploited our knowledge of the master regulator of centrosome biogenesis, PLK4, to create a mouse model in which levels of this protein can be modestly overexpressed to drive centrosome amplification. With this model, we can drive robust centrosome amplification and aneuploidy in diverse tissue types. Using a mouse model of intestinal neoplasia, we observe that centrosome amplification causes an increase in tumor initiation. Most importantly, we find for the first time that centrosome amplification is sufficient to promote spontaneous tumorigenesis in an animal model. This work provides an answer to a longstanding question in the field of centrosome biology and supports the targeting of cells with extra centrosomes in cancer therapy.

Learn more about the Holland Lab.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

Hopkins is a world-renowned research institute, but what really struck me about Hopkins from my interview here was although the research was unparalleled, the environment felt very supportive and collaborative and the faculty were very approachable and down to earth.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

This award means that professors have recognized my research and that all the hard work that I’ve put in over my time here has not gone unnoticed. In addition, I think it exemplifies the support and value that the school and faculty place in their trainees.

What contributed to your project's success?

My thesis advisor, Andrew Holland, was paramount in ensuring my project’s success. He is very understanding and patient (which is necessary when conducting an over two-yearlong mouse survival study). He supplied me with the guidance, troubleshooting help and tools I needed to see this project through to publication.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

I think YID exemplifies the Johns Hopkins environment as putting its trainees first. There is definitely the sense that everyone — from the administrators to the professors — cares about the students and fellows and supports us to allow for us to become as skilled and successful as possible.

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

I have really enjoyed attending the annual retreat put on by BCMB, my Ph.D. program, which has allowed us to go off campus for a weekend with students and faculty. I think these retreats have allowed us to get to know faculty outside of our departments and to bond as a program, in addition to hearing about the wonderful research being conducting by our peers.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

Within this next year I hope to make progress on a few more projects I have and see some of them to publication, while for others I hope to be able to train future graduate students to be able to take on those projects.

What are your hobbies or interests?

I am the unofficial lab baker (I bake cakes for everyone’s birthdays). I also run a science outreach project stemming from Project Bridge that does science demos at the Waverly Farmer’s Market once a month.


Xiaobo Mao

Paul Ehrlich Award

Project Details

The pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease may be due to cell-to-cell transmission of misfolded preformed fibrils (PFF) of alpha-synuclein. The mechanism by which pathologic alpha-synuclein spreads from neuron to neuron is not known. Through my research, I identified a pathologic alpha-synuclein receptor, LAG3, which can mediate alpha-synuclein transmission. 

Learn more about the Dawson Lab.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

Johns Hopkins University is a top medical research institution. Drs. Ted and Valina Dawson’s lab has extensive background in Parkinson’s disease. I am interested in amyloid science and I would like to change my research interest from biophysics/nanoscience to neurology.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

This award represents my last six years of research and is a good start and encouragement for my career as a faculty member.

What contributed to your project's success?

Guidance is the most important factor for success. Drs. Ted and Valina Dawson’s guidance on neurology, cell biology, molecular biology and biochemistry helped facilitate the project immensely. 

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

I hope this award encourages students and postdocs and stimulates young investigators in their research career.

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

Research can’t be finished by an individual, and I appreciate the help provided by my friends, colleagues and mentors. Without their help, I can’t image that I would receive this award.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I’m going to build my own lab as a faculty member and continue to work on neurodegeneration and nanoscience.

What are your hobbies or interests?

I love music, singing, playing guitar, badminton, basketball and mobile games. These hobbies allow me to relax.


Maeva Nyandjo

Paul Ehrlich Award

Project Details

Our laboratory, led by Dr. Dolores Njoku, investigates why and how some drugs drive the immune system to injure its own liver tissues in certain susceptible populations.In prior studies, we demonstrated that IL-33-/- mice had lower regulatory T cell (Treg) numbers at two weeks post-immunization and showed poorer long-term survival. My project aimed to investigate if these findings were a result of the reduced ability for Tregs to control the inflammation after the acute phase due to the absence of IL-33, and what roles IL-33 had in tolerizing Tregs to drug haptens. We found that IL-33 was required for proper T-regulatory function and maturation in our model, which furthers our understanding of the interplay of different inflammatory cytokines involved in the immune reactions that result in drug-induced hepatitis. 

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

As medical students, we have protected time in the summer to pursue our research interests with a Hopkins researcher. During this time, I was able to contact Dr. Njoku, whose work combined my research interest in immunology and a clinical interest in anesthesiology. 

What contributed to your project's success?

Especially for someone at my stage of training, I believe quality mentorship is extremely important. It is far too easy to unintentionally (or intentionally) discourage a student’s creativity or stifle their intellectual growth. Our laboratory is a creative, high-energy, high-output environment that provides a lot of room for exploring and trying new things.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

I feel tremendously honored to have received this award. I am encouraged to see that people see value and importance in our work and are informed by our findings. I hope that people will continue to learn from the research passions of others and use the new knowledge for the ultimate goal of using science and technology to ameliorate society’s ills. 

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

I chose Johns Hopkins for a couple of reasons: (1) there were several different labs whose research I was excited about, so I was confident of finding a good match, (2) the opportunity to take courses with medical students and engage with the large research and clinical communities here, and (3) most importantly, at the end of the day it felt like a good fit for me, a place I could be happy and thrive.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

I greatly appreciate the effort to recognize the talents and hard work of burgeoning researchers that are excited about their field and imbued with a fire to pursue their passions but have less experience, minimal resources and fewer opportunities than those more established in their field.

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

I loved the Medical Student Research Symposium! It is a beautiful thing to learn from others and see how someone completely lights up as they tell you what they have discovered over a period of hard work, as well as discuss your own research from angles you have never considered before.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I have begun my clerkship years and am looking forward to what the rest of my medical education has in store for me.

What are your hobbies or interests?

I like learning languages! I’m currently fluent in French and proficient in Spanish. I also completed an unofficial certificate study of Korean language but unfortunately have not had a lot of time to practice in the past couple of years. I hope to learn to speak Mandarin or Russian in the near future.


Xuyu Qian

Bae Gyo Jung Award

Project Details

I work in Dr. Hongjun Song's lab at the Institute for Cell Engineering. I developed a system to generate 3-D brain-like tissues, called organoids, from human induced pluripotent cells. I used these organoids to model infection of Zika virus in fetal brains and identified cellular mechanisms for how Zika causes microcephaly.

Learn more about the Dr. Song's lab.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

I came here for a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, and JHU BME has always been ranked as No.1 in the country, so it was an easy choice.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

I’ve attended every Young Investigators’ Day since coming to Johns Hopkins. I’ve always admired the awardees, who represent the best works that come from this prestigious school. I've always wanted to catch their steps and even surpass them.

What contributed to your project's success?

The most important factor contributing to the project's success is the great mentorship and guidance I received from Hongjun.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

I think it recognizes the accomplishments of the awardees and serves as a great inspiration to the audience.

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

Playing the real-time strategy game “StarCraft” with labmates in the lab, and when Hongjun came to me and told me my paper was accepted.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

Since I'm only in my 4th year of my Ph.D. studies, I'll continue my research on brain organoids for one to two more years. Afterward, I'll look for postdoc positions and eventually faculty positions.

What are your hobbies or interests?

I'm a big anime fan. My determination to do research in biology and bioengineering was inspired by a sci-fi anime called “Evangelion.”


Kapil Ramachandran

Martin and Carol Macht Award

Project Details

My initial inquiry was into how proteasomes rapidly regulate neuronal signaling. In studying this question, I found a proteasome that was embedded in the neuronal plasma membrane, an observation that had never been made since its Nobel Prize-winning discovery. I found that this proteasome degraded intracellular proteins into small fragments, or peptides, into the extracellular space. These proteasome-derived extracellular peptides were capable of enacting rapid signaling in the nervous system, acting as a new class of neuromodulators.

First, we believe that this system is a whole new mechanism by which neurons communicate with each other, and potentially with other cells in the brain. Second, we have observed profound dysregulation of this system in neurodegenerative disease. Because this proteasome is exposed to the outside of the cell, it serves as a very ideal and new drug target. Also, this system of signaling is just downright fascinating!

Learn more about the Margolis Lab.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

When I interviewed at Hopkins, I got a sense of what a vibrant academic atmosphere looked like — students and postdocs and faculty all interacting as peers, with little sense of the typical academic hierarchy. I also had this strong sense that researchers at Hopkins attacked the heart of the question they found interesting, doing genuinely curiosity-driven research rather than having a predicated hypothesis that they set out to test. 

What does receiving this award mean to you?

Since my first year when I got the Young Investigators’ Day booklet in my mail, I have been wanting to join the ranks of the top-notch scientists that have received this award. Many of the previous investigators have gone on to their own successful independent positions, an aspiration that I share.

What contributed to your project's success?

I have been incredibly fortunate to have an adviser and friend in Dr. Margolis that has given me the intellectual freedom to pursue the questions and ideas that I find most salient and interesting but also to provide me clear guidance when I needed it. I am also thoroughly lucky to be in an environment at Hopkins where I can feel free to ask for reagents, use equipment or get advice from any lab. I have gotten reagents or advice from someone on every floor of our 10-floor building! 

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigator's Day itself?

When I was recruited to Hopkins, I was repeatedly told that students were the lifeblood of this institution, really driving science at Hopkins forward. Young Investigators’ Day embodies that concept at the highest level, and it is a true honor to be a part of it.

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Hopkins?

Outside of the general fun and hilarity between our lab and the Goley lab on the fifth floor, I would say that the most memorable experiences were when I led student recruitment for the BCMB graduate program. It was so gratifying to see so many students come here and do insightful and careful science.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I’m looking to graduate within the year and am currently looking to find a position where I will continue working on characterizing the neuronal membrane proteasome and its physiological functions.

What are your hobbies or interests?

I worked at a coffee shop for a number of years in undergrad and it has stayed with me. I roast, grind and brew. Many aspects of the scientific process lend themselves to coffee roasting and brewing. I’m now trying to incorporate that with my love of seeing new places by visiting different growers and roasters around the world.


Shuohao Sun

Alice Showalter Reynolds Award

Project Details

My graduate work provides novel insights about how pain and itch can crosstalk with each other in the central nervous systems, which challenges the dogma in the field that these two sensations are coded as labeled lines. Accordingly, I proposed a “leaky gate” model to explain how a small subset of neurons filters strong pain signals while passing through weak pain signals and itch signals, which can better explain observations from human psychophysical studies.

Learn more about the Dong Lab.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

Johns Hopkins is a top-notch research institution with cutting edge neuroscience labs and a very collegial environment.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

It is a great honor for me to receive this award. I've been attending the YID event since my first year in graduate school. It really means a lot to me both personally and professionally.

What contributed to your project's success?

Guidance from my mentor, Dr. Xinzhong Dong and, of course, perseverance.

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

My whole graduate school experience here at Johns Hopkins has been really enjoyable and memorable.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I'm starting a postdoc training here at Johns Hopkins and hope to be an independent investigator in the next few years.

What is one unique fact about you?

I've met the love of my life in graduate school and we got married shortly after I graduated.


Xingxing Yang

Paul Ehrlich Award

Project Details

I have been working under the mentorship of Dr. Jie Xiao. Our work discovered the treadmilling dynamics of the essential FtsZ ring in bacterial cell division machinery. The treadmilling FtsZ ring utilizes the energy from GTP hydrolysis and distributes cell-wall synthesis enzymes to generate a smooth, symmetric polar morphology.

Learn more about the Xiao Group.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

The first reason is that Johns Hopkins has the top biophysics department in the world. The second is my adviser, Dr. Jie Xiao, who is one of the pioneers in single molecule studies in living cells. 

What does receiving this award mean to you?

This award means a lot to me both personally and professionally as it is the first one I have received in the United States.

What contributed to your project's success?

The discussion with colleagues and adviser played the most important role in my project. I believe it is critical for scientists to share ideas and inspire each other. 

What has been your best or most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

My best memory about Hopkins was the first day when I came. My labmate, Rene, picked me up at BWI. He was kind enough to drive me to find my apartment and share many tips for living in Baltimore. Later, the admins in the school and department, Sharon Eddinger and Kathleen Kolish, helped me with all the paperwork and gave me a tour of campus. They made me feel at home in a country I had never been.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

Next year I’ll continue to work on my current project. I hope to discover more secrets of bacteria cell division and start searching for a faculty position in two years.

What are your hobbies or interests?

In my spare time, I like playing and watching soccer games. Because soccer is a team sport but also needs creativity from individual players, it is highly similar to scientific research.


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