People

Visitor of the Week: Thushara Madanayake

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Meet Thushara Madanayake of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center Research institute. The Sri Lankan national is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Timothy Robinson’s lab. He travelled to New York to take part in his first meeting at CSHL: Eukaryotic mRNA Processing; and Thushara was among the ~120 poster presenters at the biennial meeting. His poster presentation was on “A novel approach to inhibit Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) signaling through Splice Switching Oligonucleotides (SSOs)”.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in gene expression regulation and in this lab we are studying to identify novel therapeutics for non-small cell lung cancer. We are targeting a key oncogene—EGFR—using RNA based technology.

How did you know you wanted to study this/make it the focus of your research?
Alternative mRNA splicing is a critical and an underappreciated factor in cancer. The use of splice switching oligos (SSO) for spinal muscular atrophy to manipulate the aberrant splicing was recently approved. We are using this novel therapy in our research as a way to side step the resistance from drugs that have been approved for certain lung cancers. 

How did your scientific journey begin?
In high school, I found my zoology teacher very inspirational at teaching, especially genetics. After learning the basics of genetics from my teacher, I always had it in my mind that I wanted to become a genetic engineer. After following the traditional science pathway in my home country of Sri Lanka, I was selected to pursue my PhD in the US. Since then, I have been actively involved in the gene regulation research field.

Was there something specific about the Eukaryotic mRNA Processing Meeting that drew you to attend?
I was interested in the meeting’s title Eukaryotic mRNA processing, which is a highly-focused theme for our research.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
This is a well-organized event that is very focused on the theme. Also, we met contacts who are working in the related field. Hopefully a future collaboration with them can develop.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
If you want to form collaborations and learn some science, go for it.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
Food has been great and a nice variety.

Thank you to Thushara for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Ying Zhang

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Meet Ying Zhang of the Walter and Elizabeth Hall Institute of Medical Research (Australia). The Chinese national and postdoctoral fellow is a member of Guillaume Lessene’s lab in ACRF Chemical Biology Division. Ying is with us for our meeting on Cell Death as a poster presenter.  

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My present research is mainly focus on cell death signaling pathways, particularly, the regulation of necroptosis signaling. We primarily use live cell imaging techniques to characterize necroptosis-related biological processes.

How did you know you wanted to make this the focus of your research?
During my PhD, I was studying the mechanism of how bacterial pathogens manipulate host immune responses during infection, such as the inhibition of cell death signaling and/or inflammation signaling. From that study, I noticed how closely cell death is related with numerous diseases. Cell death signaling is incredibly complicated, and there are still many gaps in this field that remain elusive, especially the regulation of cell death during or after disease development.

How did your scientific journey begin?
During my bachelor in food science and engineering, I took a few biology courses, such as microbiology and biochemistry, and became strongly interested in them. Consequently, I started my journey in science by doing my master’s and PhD in medical biology. Scientific research work is creative and challenging. The longer I stayed in science, the more I am fascinated by it.

Was there something specific about the Cell Death meeting that drew you to attend?
CSHL conferences have a very good reputation and a lot of researchers who have been here highly recommended it for me. It is a good opportunity to meet other people in the cell death field and get to know their work. It is also a perfect platform where I can get feedback for my study.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
From this meeting, I learned a lot not only in my area but many others. A number of the speakers gave brilliant overviews of their topics which expanded my understanding about the research happening in cell death.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the meeting to your work?
I learned that besides experimental work, the regulation of signaling pathways can also be studied by constructing models via computational analysis. It could be very useful to apply this in my study.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I’ll definitely recommend this meeting to people who are doing cell death research. This is a conference that covers a good variety of different research topics.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
CSHL is a very nice place to stay. Besides the conference, there are other activities we can do like go to the gym or swim. The staff here are friendly, professional and helpful.

Thank you to Ying for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Camille Trinidad

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Meet Camille Trinidad of the University of Kansas Medical Center. A member of Dr. Andrew K. Godwin’s lab, the fourth-year PhD student is currently with us training at the Proteomics course. This is Camille’s first course at CSHL and the Filipina is interested in eventually adding the Programming for Biology course to her CSHL course repertoire.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I study the role of extracellular vesicles in ovarian cancer development and metastasis. Part of my work also involves looking for potential biomarkers in extracellular vesicles for the early detection of ovarian cancer, which is a significant unmet clinical need in this area.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I have always been interested in immunology, specifically in cancer immunotherapy. I initially wanted to work on CAR-T cells but due to unforeseen events I had to move to a different area. I do appreciate working on the early detection of ovarian cancer, since treatment has been shown to be more effective if this disease is detected earlier.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I am from the Philippines, and was initially interested in science because of my teachers back in grade school and high school. In college, I really enjoyed the experience of working in a translational lab, in spite of all the difficulties one can imagine, conducting science in a resource-limited environment. I think that having a string of good mentors and labmates was a big factor in my decision to pursue science. 

Was there something specific about the CSHL Proteomics course that drew you to apply?
Mass spectrometry has recently become a very attractive and interesting method for profiling the vesicles that I study. This course covers both the theoretical and practical aspects of MS really well, so it was an easy decision to apply.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
The course has been amazingly helpful for both experimental design and working with the current algorithms for proper and rigorous data analysis/interpretation. By taking this course, I can definitely better set up experiments for our lab’s current and future projects.

What are your takeaways from the course?

  1. Experimental design is crucial.

  2. There are many ways to interpret the humongous data sets we generate, but we must be very careful in analyzing the results and be transparent with how we arrive at any conclusions.

 If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I highly recommend taking this course if you want to delve into proteomics work, since this covers everything; it is really intense. The best part is that the instructors are all very approachable and knowledgeable. We run several programs that are instrumental in both data acquisition and analysis. Also, the instructors are very accommodating when you have several questions about your own projects

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
CSHL is absolutely beautiful. With tons of space right next to the water, I really enjoy walking around and fishing.

Camille received financial support from Regeneron to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Camille, thank you to Regeneron for supporting and enabling our young scientists to participate in training courses where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Alison for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Mary Jo Talley

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Meet Mary Jo Talley of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and University of Cincinnati. Mary Jo is a fourth-year graduate student in Ron Waclaw’s lab and a part of the 2019 Chromatin, Epigenetics and Gene Expression course cohort.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in understanding how stem cells determine which adult cell they should mature into. I study different kinds of brain cells to learn the mechanisms of stem cell differentiation.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I majored in Neuroscience during my undergraduate career and found developmental biology to be fascinating. For my PhD, I wanted to combine my interests in developmental biology and neurobiology, so I joined a lab were I could study both.

How did your scientific journey begin?
When I was in middle school, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She started medication for Alzheimer’s, but the medication made her symptoms worse. The doctors realized that she actually had a different form of dementia. It was at this time that I realized so little is known about a lot of neurological diseases. I wanted to get into science to better understand these diseases, how to better diagnose these diseases, and to develop better therapies.

Was there something specific about the Chromatin, Epigenetics & Gene Expression course that drew you to apply?
I was excited to come to this course to learn how to perform techniques such as ChIP-seq and CRISPR that could help me study differential regulation of genes, as well as how to analyze the data from these kinds of experiments.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
All the techniques taught in this course are techniques not currently used in my lab. By introducing these new techniques to our ongoing projects, we will be better able to study the genetic controls of cell fate decisions in the brain.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
This course has done a lot to improve my confidence as a scientist. This course has fostered a very supportive environment, where I was able to ask many questions and try so many new techniques.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
Courses at CSHL are an excellent way to learn new techniques, interact with other scientists interested in similar topics as yourself, and network with some of the top scientists in the field.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
CSHL has a beautiful campus that all the students stay on together. We’ve become very good friends and have had a lot of fun – including a dance party one night in the lab!

Mary Jo received financial support from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Mary Jo, thank you to NCI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to participate in training courses where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Mary Jo for being one of this week's featured trainees. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Agbonlahor Okhuarobo

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Meet Agbonlahor Okhuarobo of Scripps Research Institute. The Nigerian national trained as a pharmacist at the University of Benin (Nigeria) and he is now in Candice Contet’s lab working as an external graduate student finalizing a self-developed new mouse model to study the correlation between early life stress and alcohol dependence vulnerability. Since Tuesday, Agbonlahor has been at our Banbury campus taking part in our Neuroscience of Addiction course to even further understand the role of neuroscience in addictive behavior. 

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research interests include understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive drinking escalation in alcohol dependence.

At Scripps Research, I developed a novel mouse model on the interaction between early life stress and vulnerability to alcohol dependence which I will use as a tool to study the molecular underpinnings and psychopathological consequences of alcohol dependence vulnerability induced by early life stress.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I became interested in alcohol addiction research during my MSc studies in the University of East London (United Kingdom), where I investigated the role of opiate and dopamine systems in alcohol preference and relapse-like behavior in Drosophila Melanogaster (fruit fly). I subsequently joined Scripps Research to have access to animal models and modern neuroscience research resources not available in Nigeria and took the lead on my current project. The limited bedding and nesting model of early life stress I used in developing this novel model of alcohol dependence vulnerability mimics the adverse conditions of poverty many children in Nigeria experience, some of whom go on to develop alcohol dependence later in adulthood. This novel model has many aspects of the human condition and thus will have a higher translational potential than existing models. This may lead to the development of treatment strategies for this subset of individuals dependent on alcohol.

How did your scientific journey begin?
My scientific journey began with me taking up a job as an assistant lecturer/researcher at the University of Benin (Nigeria). This role enabled me to better appreciate the enormous contribution of science in changing the lives of people with diverse diseases, and for the better. Thus, I felt a strong desire to be part of the beautiful scientific minds making our world a better place. In my role as a lecturer, I became involved in several research activities with a focus on alcohol related behavior impacted by concomitant caffeine use.

Was there something specific about the Neuroscience of Addiction course that drew you to apply?
I wanted to take advantage of my time in the US to acquire as much as possible; skill sets relevant to addiction research which are not readily available in Nigeria.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
I will include in my project, chemogentic/optogenetic and genetic manipulation of relevant neuronal projections into the nucleus accumbens to unravel the mechanisms driving the vulnerability to drinking escalation in mice with a history of early life stress.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
New insights into experimental approaches for investigating the role of relevant neural circuits in addictive behavior.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
The course on Neuroscience of Addiction is comprehensive and very relevant and I advise you to go for it!

What do you like most about your time at our Banbury Campus?
The quiet and beautiful environment.

Agbonlahor received financial support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to cover a portion of his course tuition. On behalf of Agbonlahor, thank you to NIDA for supporting and enabling our young scientists to participate in training courses where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

 Thank you to Agbonlahor for being this course's featured participant. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.