News

Surana receives Hartwell Foundation Award. Congratulations to Neil Surana, M.D., Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and MGM’s secondary Faculty Member on receiving the Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award.

The primary mission of The Hartwell Foundation is to grant awards to individuals for innovative and cutting-edge biomedical applied research that will potentially benefit children. The individuals and children should be citizens of the United States. The general aim is to provide funds for early stage research projects that have not yet qualified for funding from traditional sources. The Primary Mission of the Foundation is led by the President.

Surana’s research innovatively integrates gnotobiotic murine models, immunology, microbiology, and characterization of the microbiota with the ultimate aim of identifying specific commensal bacteria with immunomodulatory potential and subsequent characterization of their biologic effects. We have recently developed an inventive approach for identifying with high specificity organisms within the microbiota that are causally related to the phenotype of interest. Using this approach of microbe–phenotype triangulation, we identified Clostridium immunis, a new bacterial species that protects against colitis in murine models, and two bacterial species that induce host expression of a critical antimicrobial peptide. We are now investigating the molecular mechanisms—from both the bacterial and host perspectives—that underlie these host–commensal relationships. Furthermore, we are extending our discovery platform to human samples and additional disease processes to identify more causal microbes.

Surana joins MGM faculty Lawrence DavidNick Heaton and Debby Silver on receiving this spectacular award.

For additional information see http://www.thehartwellfoundation.org/

Cece Kelly awarded NIDDK F31. Cece Kelly, a PhD candidate in the Rawls lab, has just been awarded an NIDDK Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31). The title of Cece’s proposal was “The role of HNF4a in maintaining intestinal epithelial cell homeostasis in the presence of microbes”. This award will support her research on microbiota-sensitive transcriptional programs that maintain intestinal homeostasis.

Hoy receives perfect score on F31. Michael Hoy, MGM Graduate student in the Heitman Lab received a perfect score of 10 on his most recent F31 submission to NIAID. The title of Michael’s proposal was “Structure-guided development of fungal specific calcineurin inhibitors”. Calcineurin is a novel antifungal target that is required for immune activation in humans and essential for virulence in pathogenic fungi such as Cryptococcus neoformansCandida albicans, and Aspergillus fumigatus. We proposed to design fungal-specific calcineurin inhibitors through rational, crystal structure-guided design, which then can be developed and implemented to treat fungal infections. These novel antifungal compounds will serve as a powerful addition to the currently limited armamentarium of antifungal drugs.

Michael joins Shelby PriestHannah BrownStephen Walsh and Kyle Gibbs, MGM graduate students who also received perfect scores on F31 submissions.

Gokhale selected for a Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award. Congratulations to Nandan Gokhale, graduate student in Stacy Horner’s lab, on being selected for a Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award to recognize outstanding achievement in Graduate Studies.

Nandan’s thesis work focuses on understanding RNA regulatory controls of viral infection. Specifically, he studies how the RNA modification N6-methyladenosine (m6A) on viral and host RNAs regulates infection by viruses in the Flaviviridae family. Nandan found that m6A on the hepatitis C virus RNA genome negatively regulates viral particle production by facilitating a competition between the viral capsid protein and cellular m6A “reader” proteins for viral RNA packaging into virions (Gokhale et al., 2016). This work described a new regulatory mechanism of viral infection, and reveals that m6A acts on viral RNAs to regulate distinct stages of their life cycles. Nandan has also identified infection-induced changes in the cellular m6A-epitranscriptome which indicate that m6A exerts transcript-specific effects to influence the fate of cellular mRNAs and ultimately affect viral infection (Gokhale, McIntyre et al., 2019). Together, these exciting findings are illuminating how m6A dynamically regulates the host response to RNA virus infection and why it matters.

Please click here to see Duke’s Press Release on Nandan geting the Weintaub award.

Others associated with MGM who have also received this award:
Audrey Odom John, PhD now director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and Gianna Hammer, MGM secondary faculty member

To see more about this award click here.

Walsh awarded NIH F31. Stephen Walsh, a PhD candidate in the Coers lab, has just been awarded an NIAID Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31). This award will support his research on the sexually transmitted pathogen Chlamydia trachomatis and its interactions with the human innate immune system.

 

Clare Smith HeadshotMatt ScaglioneSmith and Scaglione selected to be a Whitehead Scholars for the next five years. Clare Smith and Matt Scaglione, Assistant Professors in MGM, have been selected to be a Whitehead Scholars for the next five years. The Whitehead family established a fund at Duke to support new assistant professors and their research.

The Smith Lab will pursue the mechanisms b which genetic variation in the host alters the immune pressures experienced by pathogens, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. By understanding how these interactions drive specific arms of immunity, new host-pathogen paired vaccines and therapeutics can be rationally designed.

The Scaglione Lab research focus “Proteopathies are a class of at least 71 diseases characterized by the accumulation of protein aggregates.  Protein aggregates are caused by an imbalance in protein homeostasis resulting in the accumulation of misfolded proteins.  One major question in biomedical research is:  How do cells recognize and deal with misfolded proteins? To investigate this laboratories utilize a wide array of model organisms to interrogate cellular pathways that handle misfolded proteins.  Research in our lab focuses on utilizing the model organism Dictyostelium discoideum to investigate cellular responses to neurotoxic proteins.  We have chosen to utilize  Dictyostelium  as a model organism because we realized that Dictyostelium normally expresses proteins with long polyglutamine tracts that cause one class of proteopathy.  Our lab and others have shown that Dictyostelium have an extraordinary ability to resist aggregation of a polyglutamine expanded protein know to aggregate in other model organisms.  Our lab went on to identify a novel type of molecular chaperone that imparts Dictyostelium resistance to polyglutamine aggregation.  In the future we hope to leverage our findings in Dictyostelium to develop novel therapies to treat neurodegenerative diseases”.

Lawrence David, Assistant Professor in MGM, was presented with an unusual project by his advisor when he was a student: to study his own feces for a full year. By accepting this challenge, Lawrence went on a journey of scientific and personal discovery, see below:

Lickwar receives School of Medicine Research Staff Appreciation Award. Dr. Colin Lickwar, a Research Scientist in the laboratory of Dr. John Rawls, has received the School of Medicine Research Staff Appreciation Award. Sponsored by the Dean and Research Vice Deans, this award recognizes recognize staff members who provide exemplary support in the conduct of research. Applying his expertise in genome science and bioinformatics, Colin conducts primary research into the transcriptional mechanisms underlying host-microbe symbiosis and other aspects of intestinal physiology. His recent paper in PLoS Biology revealed a transcriptional regulatory network in intestinal epithelial cells that has been conserved over the last 420 million years of vertebrate evolution. He also contributes significantly to lab management, to mentoring of trainees, and to supporting many other research projects and collaborations in the Rawls lab.

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