Inspiration in Science Award™ Winners
Astrocytes in Autism
Astrocytes are critical for the proper formation, growth and maintenance of neurons and synaptic connections in the nervous system. In virtually all disorders of the brain, astrocytes contribute to the altered function or pathology. To date, the role of astrocytes in the genesis of neurodevelopmental disorders associated with autistic features has not been studied in detail. With astrocytes critical to normal synaptic function, Laurie’s research promises to identify new astrocyte-based factors for the treatment of neuronal dysfunction using molecular, cellular and behavioral approaches. With a focus on the interactions between astrocytes and neurons and the secreted molecules produced by astrocytes, a variety of complimentary techniques are used to study how astrocyte specific factors and signaling molecules can correct/modulate the structure and physiology of Fragile X/autistic neurons.
"Passion in Science is a desire, a want to do well in science and do something that will benefit society, benefit health in the long term. Passion is being happy and enjoying your work and doing a good job."
Inspire by Teaching
Teaching 500 undergraduates per year in a Microbiology course is no small feat, but Jason manages to do just that. Each semester, he offers opportunities for undergrads to participate in his research lab, regardless of their previous training or skill level. The undergraduate training program has never turned a student away, and accepts as many as 10 students per semester. Jason expects that the students will carry their training forward with them, and develop an understanding for how research connects with their chosen profession. At present, approximately 1 program graduate applies to and joins the Ph.D. program at the University – talk about a return on investment! They’re doing this without funding, so an integral part of the training is how to answer complex research questions on a budget. The lab’s research focus is on the pathogenesis of Crohn’s disease.
"I love letting my students know that at the end of the day, when you find something, you might be the only person in the universe that knows that fact!"
200 and Counting
MassBioEd supports science and biotechnology education in Massachusetts through educational programs, workforce development, and lifelong learning. BioTeach has provided educational programs to over 200 MA high schools. Through equipment grants, teacher professional development, college and career exploration opportunities BioTeach strives to encourage student interest in life sciences. As the BioTeach mentor, Whitney is responsible for developing the biotechnology curriculum, planning and leading the professional development workshops and going into schools to do the on site mentoring. The mentoring includes lab preparation, use of equipment, co-teaching classes and labs, and course development. Her passion is for the teaching of science, and through this program she has discovered a way to really make a difference.
"It is inspirational to see how hard they [teachers] work and how much they care. It is so exciting to be able to help them with equipment funds, work with them on curriculum and share our work with their students. I am driven to succeed, because I know our program makes a difference in the education and life of young people."
Fighting Lung Cancer
Tackling lung cancer in many ways, Ite’s lab studies the epigenetic changes underlying lung cancer development and progression, focusing on DNA methylation. Methylated DNA (a.k.a., epigenetically-modified DNA) has the potential to yield new targets for treatment and potential molecular markers that could enable early diagnosis, therapy response monitoring and recurrence detection. A recent finding, which improves the sensitivity of detecting methylated DNA in patient blood (patent pending), will soon be developed into a commercially-available technology. Ite’s laboratory is also studying the epigenomes of alveolar epithelial cells, the putative progenitors of the most common lung cancer subtype, adenocarcinoma. Meanwhile, the cancer-associated immune response to small cell lung cancer, the most aggressive form of lung cancer, is also being studied to leverage patient immune response for the development for new tools.
"Passion in science will move our understanding forward because it's the passionate people who achieve things, who make new discoveries. It's what got us to the moon. It's what makes people discover new things all the time."
Mathee Lab for 65 Roses
The name of Kalai’s laboratory might make you think that they specialize in horticulture, but the name is actually a mondegreen for cystic fibrosis, coined by 5-year old CF patient, Richard Weiss. The laboratory’s primary focus is the pathogenicity of certain bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa), and their resistance to antibiotic treatment. Ultimately, these bacteria lead to the demise of patients with CF, making a better understanding of their pathogenicity critical to the effective treatment of CF patients. In an effort to find a better way to treat CF patients with these infections, the lab searches for new botanicals for treatment and alternative drug targets.
"My students are [the] source of my energy and enthusiasm. They remind me everyday why I chose this profession. I am always so grateful that they chose to spend part of their life journey with me. I want to make sure that I leave a lasting and positive impact on them and hope that they would pay it forward."