People

Visitor of the Week: Koen Schipper

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Meet Koen Schipper of the Netherlands Cancer Institute. A PhD student in a group led by Jos Jonkers. He is at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for his first CSHL meeting – Mechanisms & Models of Cancer – where he presented a poster titled “Actomyosin relaxation enables tumor formation upon loss of E-cadherin expression in the mammary gland”.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My current research focuses on the process of tumor initiation in lobular breast cancer. We primarily use mouse models and cell culture approaches to determine the driving forces behind tumor development. 

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I have always found the transformation of a normal cell into a tumor cell very interesting; especially since a small alteration in a single cell can have such tremendous impact on an entire organism. Mouse models are particularly suitable to study tumor development since you have the optimal environment to study the early phases of tumor initiation. 

How did your scientific journey begin? 
I did a bachelor study in bio-pharmaceutical sciences during which I discovered an interest for courses about signal transduction and how it is altered in disease. As a result, for my masters I decided to delve deeper into the signaling routes frequently deregulated in tumorigenesis and, during my research internships, I truly understood how much we still don’t know in this field and how much there is left to discover.   

Was there something specific about Mechanisms & Models of Cancer meeting that drew you to attend?
Several former lab members have been to this meeting and all of them highly recommended it as one of the best meetings they have attended; and so I had to experience it as well. The meeting also has a nice format with a number of short talks giving young scientists ample opportunities to present their work. 

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
Discussing your research with those outside of your own field is very useful. You are able to see how they interpret your results and think about potential future directions. It can really open up new avenues for your own project. 

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?  
The main thing I plan to apply to my research is to broaden how I look at the effects I see in our mouse model in human patients with germline CDH1 mutations. This way, I am able to validate our findings and identify possibilities to prevent cancer development in these families.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
Just like the people who recommended I attend, I would encourage them to come and experience this great meeting and venue for themselves. 

How many CSHL meetings have you attended?
This was my first CSH meeting but, if I get the opportunity, I will definitely attend future meeting(s) or a course. 

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I really liked the atmosphere of the CSH campus. Compared to most institutes located in big cities, it is calm and helps you to relax and think about your research from a different perspective.

Thank you to X 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.

Photo: Koen Schipper

Visitor of the Week: Salma Ferdous

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Meet Salma Ferdous of Emory University. A PhD candidate and member of John Nickerson’s lab in the Emory Eye Center, Salma made her CSHL debut via the Chromatin, Epigenetics and Gene Expression course. 

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research is focused on the visual system, specifically the retina which is a neurosensory tissue in the back of the eye responsible for vision. I study an epigenetic protein called Lsd1 and its role in proper retinal development because it could be a therapeutic target for a pediatric ocular cancer called retinoblastoma.  

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research? 
During college, I did a summer internship at The Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas, TX where I tested patients with blinding disorders for visual problems. That internship made me realize how few treatment options are available for different forms of blindness and visual disorders. Emory University has an outstanding ophthalmology department and Dr. Nickerson was looking for a graduate student to explore a new project in the lab so it was a perfect fit!  

How did your scientific journey begin? 
My 8th grade science teacher Ms. Roden was a huge inspiration. She always encouraged me to ask questions outside of the scope of the assignment or project and really fostered my scientific curiosity. Afterwards, that curiosity was enhanced by my high school IB science teacher, Ms. Katavic, who taught me for 2 years and ultimately encouraged me to pursue a neurobiology degree in college.  

Was there something specific about the Chromatin, Epigenetics and Gene Expression course that drew you to apply?
The course covers specific techniques that I wanted to learn and apply towards my own project: Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) combined with DNA sequencing (ChIP-seq) and Electrophoretic Mobility Shift Assays (EMSAs). These are techniques not currently used in my laboratory but would be very valuable for my project. Also, the invited lecturers for this course are game-changers in the fields of genetics and epigenetics so learning about their research firsthand was a fantastic opportunity.  

What and/or how will you apply what you've learned from the course to your work? 
The two techniques I mentioned above will allow me to determine exactly where the Lsd1 protein binds to DNA and how tightly this binding occurs. Ultimately, I will be able to determine which genes are being controlled by Lsd1 and in the case for retinoblastoma, how the inhibition of Lsd1 may decrease gene expression to prevent the spread of the tumor.  

What is your key takeaway from the course?
The key takeaway from this course for me were the new techniques that I learned. In theory, you can learn a technique by reading a protocol or the method section of a paper, but having someone show you step-by-step how to complete the experiment makes the entire learning process so much easier. The instructors and TAs of the course were very friendly and helpful, and always willing to answer questions. Now I feel confident in my ability to perform experiments solo when I’m back at Emory.  

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
Whether they are looking to learn specific techniques for their project or general information about genetics and epigenetics, I would highly encourage anyone to attend this course. It is very intense with long hours, but you have the very rare opportunity to engage with people who are trailblazers in their respective fields. The quality of seminar speakers and instructors is unparalleled, and having the chance to listen to their presentations--and afterwards have dinner with them--is truly unique to this course. 

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
CSHL is located on a beautiful campus and, during the course, the instructors scheduled a boat trip where we spent an entire Saturday afternoon soaking up the sun and swimming! We also participate in a friendly “Plate Race” against the Yeast Genetics & Genomics course where we ran a relay race carrying 40 yeast agar plates. Though we lost the race, it was so much fun cheering for each other and chanting “GeneX, GeneX!”

Salma received a scholarship from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Salma, thank you to NCI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network. 

Thank you to Salma 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.

Photo: Salma Ferdous

Visitor of the Week: Nick Weilinger

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Meet Nick Weilinger of the University of British Columbia (Canada). The postdoctoral fellow is a member of Brian MacVicar’s lab in the Centre for Brain Health and is on campus training at his first CSHL course: Imaging Structure & Function in the Nervous System

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My work focuses on understanding how the brain swells (called cerebral edema) during stroke and traumatic brain injury. I approach this by imaging movement of chloride ions, which are crucial in controlling the volume of nerve cells by regulating their solute content. 

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research? 
Despite cerebral swelling being a hallmark consequence of brain trauma and a major cause of death in patients with large infarctions, we have no direct way to treat the underlying changes in cell volume. In the MacVicar lab, we are highly motivated to identify novel targets for therapeutic intervention. We have developed new ways of measuring the chloride changes that trigger cell swelling under these conditions, and hope to pinpoint the key routes of chloride entry as potential drug targets. 

How did your scientific journey begin? 
I kind of fell into it. I didn’t know what to do after undergrad, so I looked back on which courses interested me most; and my neurobiology courses stood out. I was lucky to start as a MSc student in a terrific lab without any prior experience and that led to a PhD in Neuroscience! 

Was there something specific about the Imaging Structure & Function in the Nervous System course that drew you to apply?
The neuroimaging course provides students with a unique opportunity to build custom microscopes: advanced microscopy theory can be taught anywhere, but getting hands-on experience with all the equipment needed to build a microscope from scratch is a rare thing. 

What and/or how will you apply what you've learned from the course to your work? 
My classmates and I will be leaving this course with the practical know-how to build, repair, and modify microscopes to answer niche scientific questions that would otherwise be difficult to address. I am confident that I will be well-positioned to teach my labmates what I’ve learned here so that we can improve upon our data acquisition methods. 

What is your key takeaway from the course?
CSHL brings in a world-class lineup of lecturers and teaching assistants who are on the leading edge of their respective fields. Not only did the course offer tremendous learning opportunities, but the one-on-one interactions over the past weeks have fostered a new network with both instructors and students. I leave campus with new colleagues whom I look forward to collaborating with throughout my career. 

How many CSHL courses have you attended? Will you be attending another CSHL course or meeting in the near future?
This is my first time at CSHL and I don’t have anything else scheduled, but after visiting the campus firsthand I can say that I will certainly return for a future meeting! 

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
The neuroimaging course was personally recommended to me by colleagues who have attended in the past. It is a fully immersive, challenging and, most importantly, fun experience. I would not hesitate to recommend the neuroimaging course to a colleague.  

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
What stood out to me the most was developing new friendships with trainees from across the globe - and enjoying a frisbee/football break at lunch!

Thank you to Nick 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: Dawoon "Sheri" Choi

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Meet Dawoon “Sheri” Choi of the University of British Columbia (Canada). The graduate student is a member of Janet Werker’s Infant Studies Centre. She is on campus wrapping up her training at the Genetics & Neurobiology of Language workshop.  

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
Broadly speaking, I am interested in how human infants acquire speech. The focus of my research is on early speech perception; specifically, on the perceptual biases and neuro-cognitive mechanisms that may allow infants to be successful language learners. 
 
How did you decide to make this the focus of your research? 
Language and speech are uniquely human processes. Despite the complexities inherent in languages, infants are able to learn their native speech without explicit tutelage or guidance. I wanted to focus on infants because of this unique capacity. We know that there are cascading processes that occur early on that sets the stage for language usage for the rest of the lifespan, and by better understanding the perceptual biases that contribute to the scaffolding of language learning, I hope to understand the important element of human speech. 
 
How did your scientific journey begin? 
After finishing my undergraduate degree in Psychology at McMaster University. I moved to Trento, Italy to pursue a Masters in Cognitive Neuroscience at CiMeC, where I became better equipped at understanding neuroimaging techniques. Due to the great facilities and world-class research, I was inspired by the research on the brain dynamics underlying perception. I wanted to apply the skillsets acquired during my training to understand speech perception during development.  
 
Was there something specific about the Genetics & Neurobiology of Language course that drew you to apply?
I wanted to apply to the course because it brought together researchers from diverse fields with different research programs who converge on the goal of understanding the human faculty for language. Since the study of language requires you to think and understand it from multiple perspectives, I felt that the interdisciplinary aspect of the workshop would allow me the unique opportunity to learn -- in depth -- the specific research questions addressed by world-renowned researchers.
 
What and/or how will you apply what you've learned from the course to your work? 
The course helped to broaden my perspective on both the theoretical issues and research programs currently making new grounds in speech and language sciences across the spectrum. I also learned to read and think more critically about the studies from different fields that I haven’t had training in, such as genetics or patient studies, as the researchers placed emphasis on conveying the basic methodological principles used in their fields. I’m thinking about how these processes may be informed from a developmental perspective, and conversely, what questions can be asked in the developmental population to contribute to the debates. 
 
What is your key takeaway from the course?
My main takeaway from the course is that language is complex, and an approach whereby we examine the core problem from multiple perspectives is necessary to tackle the broader goal of understanding the human faculty for language.  

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I very highly recommend attending this workshop for any researchers interested in language and speech. The scope of topics in the course is wide but one starts to see the links and how they may inform one another. It’s a great example of why an interdisplinary approach to language research is so important. 
 
What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The campus and the Banbury Conference Center provides a relaxing and idyllic atmosphere that helps to facilitate the formation of dialogue very naturally. Working with and getting to know all of the participants of the course was an invaluable experience.  

Sheri received financial support from the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Sheri, thank you to the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Sheri 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.

Photo: Sheri Choi

Visitor of the Week: Sophia Heyde

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Meet Sophia Heyde of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centrer for Biosustainability at the Technical University of Denmark. The PhD student is a member of Morten Nørholm’s lab in the Microbial Evolution and Synthetic Biology group. Sophia has been on campus for the last two weeks training at the annual course on Synthetic Biology

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am a young scientist driven by the potential of producing biochemicals through engineering of cell factories in order to advance towards a greener, more sustainable future. My PhD project, therefore, addresses host intolerance of microbes used for production -- a major bottleneck in metabolic engineering -- and involves the investigation of a novel experimental evolution approach called retromutagenesis. 

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research? 
The possibility to perform research for a future beneficial to human kind. We can no longer deny challenges like climate change, the decreasing supply of petroleum, or the vast amount of plastics floating in our oceans. It is time to develop solutions for a greener and more sustainable future and it is (and always has been) my goal to contribute to this important task. 

How did your scientific journey begin? 
Thanks to my very ambitious high school biology teacher, who organized multiple excursions to universities and research centers to show us “real” science, I became interested in science and inspired to become a researcher myself. I started studying biology and during my bachelors, my focus on biotechnology and metabolic engineering intensified after a very inspiring talk by Jay Keasling I heard at an EMBL Heidelberg conference. 

Was there something specific about the Synthetic Biology course that drew you to apply?
I was especially interested in gaining experience in new synthetic biology approaches such as cell-free transcription and translation systems (TxTl) and RNA circuit design, and connecting classical wet lab synthetic biology tools with modelling approaches. 

What and/or how will you apply what you've learned from the course to your work? 
Personally, I found the course to be extremely inspiring and will apply this fresh excitement into my project at my home institution. I learned to approach problems in different ways. The modelling and circuit design module, for example, showed me that looking into a biological problem in a more modular way can spark new ideas and point out experimental design bottlenecks that weren’t before taken into consideration. 

Also, when working on the topic of evolution in my home institution, I will also remember a key statement from Francis Arnold’s talk: whenever performing evolution experiments, have a strong bias towards what you are screening for.  

What is your key takeaway from the course?
Approaching a problem or question with a diverse set of perspectives -- especially when working alongside researchers with totally different backgrounds -- can lead to extremely fruitful discussions and high-quality solutions. 

How many CSHL courses have you attended? Have you participated in a CSHL meeting?
This is my first one, and I would love to attend a meeting at CSHL in the future!If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
This course offers a unique chance to learn and practice cutting-edge synthetic biology methods in a world-class environment. Hearing from the first-hand experience of well-chosen researchers and speakers opens an extremely inspiring and captivating learning environment. Participating in the CSHL Synbio course is a great experience and does not just enlarge your scientific skill set but also your social skills because you interact with a diverse group of interesting people from all over the world.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The very open and non-competitive atmosphere of the course led to a lot of creativity, inspiration, and all of us becoming really good friends in a very short amount of time. We had a lot of fun together inside and outside the lab: spontaneous canoe rides during incubation times, midnight swims, daytrips to NYC, and table football tournaments. 

Sohia received financial support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Sophia, thank you to HHMI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Sophia 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.

Photo: Constance Brukin