Visitor of the Week: Amos Schaffer


Meet Amos Schaffer of the Bar Ilan University (Israel). A PhD student in Professor Erez Levanon’s lab, Amos is on campus for the 84th CSHL Symposium: RNA Control & Regulation. This is his first meeting at CSHL and Amos, based on feedback from his friends who have previously attended a CSHL meeting, “expected it to be a really large gathering of scientists and was pleasantly surprised at how it feels to be constantly immersed in an atmosphere of people who all have shared interests.”

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am working on A-to-I RNA editing where a protein called ADAR changes adenosines into guanosines in double stranded RNAs. My research focuses on the way this mechanism is regulated in cancer cells and on looking for ways to inhibit this process in genes that might be drivers in cancer.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
While I was close to finishing my Master’s degree I went to a conference where I heard a lecture about A-to-I RNA editing. I found it amazing that there could be so many changes or mutations that aren’t coded in the genome but that can have profound changes on the protein level.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I’ve always been interested in figuring out how things work. Growing up my parents were always involved in learning new things, specifically my father who works in plant genetics. These things made me appreciate the amazing complexity of biology and encouraged me to devote myself to studying biology and trying to make new discoveries in the field.

Was there something specific about the 84th CSHL Symposium: RNA Control & Regulation that drew you to attend?
It started with having a poster to present (entitled “RNA editing in cancer cell lines”) but what drew me to this meeting was actually the wide range of topics and speakers. Even though I am working on a specific aspect of RNA processing I enjoy learning of other aspects of RNA research and getting the bigger picture of the biology of RNA rather than just the focused aspect of my research.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
That even though there is so much knowledge about RNA there is still so much to learn and understand.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?
One lecture mentioned a technique for single molecule RNA-seq. Because we work on changes in RNA, this technique could be useful for better quantifying the edited RNAs and lower the number of sequencing errors.

The focus of the CSHL Symposium changes every year but what feedback or advice can you share with those interested in attending a future meeting at CSHL?
I would recommend they skim through the abstract book a short time before the start of the meeting. There are a lot of talks and many posters and the topics can be varied. Therefore, so as not to get lost, it helps to have some sort of idea of what the different talks are about and also to find talks and posters that seem interesting.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The campus itself is quite beautiful and the biology-themed sculptures help with getting into the right mindset for the meeting.

Thank you to Amos 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.

Repeat Visitor: Tatiana Schnieder


Among the ~9,000 scientists we hosted this year, a number of them participated in multiple meetings and/or courses. Kicking off the 2018 edition of our Repeat Visitor series is Tatiana Schnieder, an assistant professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University and an adjunct assistant professor at Hunter College. Tatiana divides her work between two research labs – the neuropathology laboratory of Dr. Andrew Dwork at Columbia University Irvin Medical Center and epigenetics laboratory of Dr. Fatemeh G. Haghighi at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. This year, Tatiana took part in the 83rd CSHL Symposium on Quantitative Biology and joined the ranks of both the CSHL Protein course (Expression, Purification, & Analysis of Proteins & Protein Complexes) and The Genome Access Course (TGAC). Previously, she presented a poster during the Glia in Health & Disease meeting in 2016 as well as attended Blood Brain Barrier that same year. We reached out to Tatiana to chat with her about her experiences in CSHL meetings and courses, and to learn more about what keeps her coming back to campus.

Tell us about your research interests.

My research is focused on the question of brain-periphery interactions in psychiatric disorders. To be more specific, I am currently investigating whether or not the reported relationship between suicide and central and peripheral inflammation is mediated by changes in blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?

During my doctoral training, I investigated prefrontal white matter microglia in individuals who died by suicide; and although I did not find any significant differences in microglial activation between suicides and non-suicides, suicide decedents had significantly higher densities of juxtavascular phagocytic cells in dorsal white matter than diagnostically-matched non-suicide decedents. Interestingly, however, studies of animal models of psychiatric symptoms have attributed maladaptive behavior in rodents to peripheral inflammation and to the influx of peripheral immune cells into the brain parenchyma. These findings and my own findings in postmortem human brains prompted me to investigate the involvement of peripheral immune cells in pathology associated with completed suicide. Further research revealed that non-parenchymal immune cells do not contribute to the increase in perivascular cell density that we observed in suicide; which suggests that resident microglial cells -- rather than non-parenchymal immune cells -- cross-communicate immune responses between the periphery and central nervous system in suicide. Moreover, those who died by suicide had a lower surface area density of microvessels in dorsal white matter -- the same brain region where I found increased densities of perivascular phagocytes. Cumulatively, these findings indicated that changes in the properties of the neurovascular unit could be contributing to pathological changes that lead to suicide. This piqued my interest in the role of BBB in psychiatric disorders. The goal of my current project is to determine if completed suicide is associated with transcriptional, epigenetic, or protein changes in the neurovascular unit.

Expression, Purification & Analysis of Protein & Protein Complexes Class of 2018

Expression, Purification & Analysis of Protein & Protein Complexes Class of 2018

What led you to apply for the Protein course and how has it contributed to your work?

I applied to the Protein course to find answers to the challenges I faced during the preparation of my samples for HPLC/mass spectrometry. To assess changes in the expression level of key proteins crucial for BBB function and identify novel differentially expressed proteins, I use HPLC/mass spectrometry proteomics to interrogate protein expression profiles in isolated microvessels. To investigate BBB changes in psychiatric disorders and suicide specifically, I wanted to optimize a microvessel isolation protocol from postmortem frozen human tissue. It was important for me to develop the best method for the extraction of cytosolic, membrane, and transmembrane proteins that seal a gap between the brain endothelial cells. The two-week course gave me a lot of hands-on practice in protein isolation and, through extensive communication with the Instructors and use of the course materials, I was able to come up with the optimal protocol for my project. My main takeaway from the course is that it is imperative to learn as much as possible about your protein/s of interest before you start your experiments. Know your target well because what may work for one protein can be detrimental to another.

How about TGAC? Why did you register for it and what is your key takeaway?

My BBB project involves data that will require knowledge of bioinformatics, and I want to understand what goes into the analyses of the data I produce at the bench. I took TGAC to start learning how to analyze high-throughput data obtained using next-generation sequencing methods and mass spectrometry. As for my key takeaway: Apply what you learn in the course without delay. To acquire a new skill, one needs to practice often – if not daily – therefore it is important to “play” with your data so as to avoid forgetting what you pick up from the course.

The two courses have very different formats: the Protein course consists of hands-on training in a laboratory setting while The Genome Access Course is purely computational. What can you share about the differences or similarities between your experiences in the two courses?

The Genome Access Course Class of 2018 (Spring)

The Genome Access Course Class of 2018 (Spring)

The two courses I took were indeed very different: TGAC was a short two-day course, whereas Protein course was two weeks long and so requires a completely different level of commitment. What is expected of you is also different: TGAC course is mostly lecture-based with some hands-on computer work, and the Protein course is mostly lab-based with lectures sprinkled throughout the day and evening. You cannot really choose to opt out, and by the end of the first week you already feel like you are a part of a team. In fact, working in a team and as a team will be the main mode of learning in a longer course. Irrespective of which course you decide to take, you will be taught by the top experts in the field within a friendly and supportive learning environment, where you will always have the ability to discuss and clarify concepts that may be confusing. It was an amazing experience: I was challenged to step out of my comfort zone, which is how personal and professional growth happens.

The focus of the CSHL Symposium changes annually. This year its topic was “Brains & Behavior: Order & Disorder in the Nervous System,” with an emphasis on neuroscience and related technologies. Besides the overall topic, what attracted you to participate in it?

Once you graduate, it is easy to focus on your specific area of research and, sometimes, you lose sight of the bigger picture. I strive to prevent this from happening to me. As a college professor, I need to stay abreast of the new discoveries in the field of brain research, and attending the Symposium was a perfect way to catch up with the latest findings. It provided a diverse range of topics and speakers from top-notch brain research labs. When this Symposium hones in on this topic again, I would recommend aspiring neuroscientists to attend. If you haven’t yet decided what you want to dedicate your research to or are looking to expand your network, this is a great conference.

Since you’ve now experienced both meeting and course life at CSHL, what differences or similarities did you notice about the two program types?

The courses had a much more focused agenda and required a few prerequisites so you are more likely to meet people who share similar professional or academic experiences as you. The meetings, on the other hand, were eclectic and brought together people from very diverse backgrounds. But in both instances, expect to be surrounded by like-minded people enthusiastic about science and the discoveries it brings.

What did you like most about your meeting and courses this year?

I am very lucky to live a short train ride away from CSHL. Since the first CSHL meeting I attended in 2016 on Glia in Health and Disease, I keep coming back because the quality of the meetings and courses have always been stellar, and the content and organization of the events always meet my expectations. In fact, I am looking forward to attending the Blood Brain Barrier meeting in 2019.

Both the Protein course and TGAC will return to the Laboratory in 2019; and applications are already being accepted. Apply to the Protein course by January 31, 2019 here.

Thank you to Tatiana for sharing with us her experience, and we look forward to having her back at the Laboratory again. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here and here.

Visitor of the Week: Mary Phillips


Meet Mary Phillips of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The fifth-year graduate student in Lucas Pozzo-Miller's lab made her first visit to CSHL to participate in the 83rd CSHL Symposium on Quantitative Biology. At Brains & Behavior: Order & Disorder in the Nervous System, Mary presented a poster entitled "Ventral hippocampal input to the mPFC regulates social memory". 

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am currently defining the involvement of the long-range excitatory projection from the ventral hippocampus to the medial prefrontal cortex in social memory, and how its altered function contributes to social deficits in a mouse model of autism. My broader research interest is on the encoding of social memory at the synaptic and circuit levels.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I’ve always been fascinated with behavior: trying to understand why animals are driven to perform different tasks. As I kid, this interest got me into training service dogs where I could use different motivational and training strategies to modify behavior. In college, I took a course called The Biological Basis of Behavior and my interest in neurobiology solidified.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I became very excited about using computer vision to classify social behaviors during my time as a technician at Janelia Research Campus. When I went to graduate school, I was fascinated by long-range connections and how different brain regions integrate and influence one another. Naturally, I combined the two interests and now use computer-vision to classify social behaviors using circuit manipulations and map synaptic changes.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
The lateral orbitofrontal cortex is a happening place! In addition, The brain and psychiatric illness is under-understood, but the field is growing and making remarkable progress to help us understand both basic mechanisms and in identifying possible therapies.

Was there something specific about the 83rd CSHL Symposium that drew you to attend?
This meeting is bringing together the top people in field – the speaker list is unparalleled for such a small conference. There were many people attending this conference I would like to potentially work with in the future, so I mainly came to this conference to network and to share my own work in a poster presentation.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?
I am coming away with more knowledge about my niche. I’ve met some great young scientists I would love to stay in contact with, set up contacts for technical help on projects, and chatted with experts in my field. I hope to continue to learn about what other labs are working on and perhaps identify a few I may want to work with in the future.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of the symposium asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I am really enjoying the meeting: it’s size and participants. I would definitely recommend coming!

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The friendliness of the staff, researchers, and students. Everyone is helpful, inclusive, and collaborative. The gorgeous environment is definitely something worth noting as well!

Thank you to Mary 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: Dadar Ahmadi-Pirshahid

Meet Dadar Ahmadi-Pirshahid of the Children's Medical Research Institute (Australia). Dadar, a PhD student under examination, is on campus for the 82nd Symposium: Chromosome Segregation & Structure. He is a member of The Cell Cycle Unit and presented a poster at the annual meeting. Read on for more on what brought the CSHL first-timer to attend the 82nd Symposium.  

What are you working on?
We know that the endomembrane system is actively involved in chromosome alignment during mitosis but we know very little about it. My work focuses specifically on the contribution of the membrane trafficking protein ‘Sorting Nexin 9’ to mitosis.

What is your key takeaway from the Meeting?
My takeaway is a challenge to understand chromosome alignment and segregation enough to reconstruct a functional model.

Was there something specific about the 82nd Symposium that drew you to attend? 
I was drawn to this meeting by its focus on the process of chromosome segregation, which is relevant to my work and generally interesting.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
Don’t hesitate. An amazing opportunity to learn from the best in a beautiful campus.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
Beautiful architecture set against the idyllic Oyster Bay. It is a pleasure to walk around the campus.

Thank you to Dadar 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.