February 7, 2011

Nine SoM postdoctoral fellows win prestigious awards

Nine Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine postdoctoral fellows recently were awarded fellowships. Rita Strack received one of 12 total Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation fellowships, and Bagrat Abazyan, Robert H. Cudmore, Mi-Hyeon Jang, Shinichi Kano, Sun-Hong Kim, Minae Niwa, Frederick Charles Nucifora Jr. and Emily G. Severance were among the 214 recipients of the NARSAD: The Brain and Behavior Research Fund Young Investigator fellowship.

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on supporting innovative early career researchers, encourages the nation’s most promising young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with independent funding—$156,000 over three years—to work on innovative projects. Rita L. Strack, a postdoc in Molecular Biology and Genetics, is studying how cells ensure quality control during protein synthesis. The quality control process, called nonsense-mediated decay, is essential for cells to function properly; synthesizing defective proteins can lead to many types of cancer. This process may be a novel target for cancer diagnosis or therapeutics.

Since 1987, NARSAD: The Brain and Behavior Research Fund has awarded more than $274 million in 4,046 grants to 3,319 scientists around the world. Receiving up to $60,000 over two years, the fellowship recipients pursue brain and behavior research related to schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, autism, ADHD and anxiety disorders, such as OCD and PTSD.

Robert H. Cudmore, a postdoctoral fellow in Neuroscience, is studying on the cellular level the effects of exercise as an alternative and complementary treatment for mood disorders. Minae Niwa, of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, is studying how the immune system affects functioning of the dopamine neurotransmitter system to induce psychiatric disorders. Frederick Charles Nucifora Jr., an assistant professor of psychiatry, is exploring the role of a gene called neuronal PAS3 (NPAS3) in schizophrenia. Bagrat Abazyan, a fellow in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, is generating a mouse model of a gene that when functioning abnormally in brain cells may contribute to symptoms of schizophrenia.

Mi-Hyeon Jang, a postdoctoral fellow in Neurology, is exploring how new cells are born in the hippocampal region of the brain and how this is affected by the so-called disrupted-in-schizophrenia-1 (DISC1) gene. Shinichi Kano, of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, is investigating a mechanism through which altered glial cells and infection may work synergistically to contribute to schizophrenia. Sun-Hong Kim, a postdoctoral fellow in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, is studying a new mediator of nitric oxide–regulated behaviors in relation to brain development disturbances implicated in schizophrenia. Emily G. Severance, a research associate in Pediatrics, is testing whether a breached gastrointestinal barrier contributes to symptoms of psychiatric disorders.