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The Robert F. Furchgott Society

2013 Robert F. Furchgott Award Recipients

Robert F. Furchgott Scholar

Trevor Sweeney, PhD
Research Instructor
Department of Pathology

photo of Trevor Sweeney

After graduating with a PhD in Structural and Molecular Virology from Imperial College London in 2010, Trevor joined Dr Christopher Hellen and Dr Tatyana Pestova to begin his postdoctoral training studying translation initiation of viral proteins. He is specifically interested in the different mechanisms of internal ribosomal entry used by certain types of positive strand RNA viruses. Trevor has developed the first in vitro reconstitution assay to study the Type 1 class of internal ribosomal entry site. His research has shed new light on the translation mechanism used by poliovirus and related viruses such as enterovirus71 (that causes hand, foot and mouth disease) and coxsackievirus (which can cause heart disease). This work has identified the key role of an IRES trans-acting factor, the cellular protein PCBP2, in regulating translation of each of these viruses. Trevor's research has also contributed to the identification and detailed characterization of a new class of internal ribosomal entry site, as used by the Aichi virus, which causes severe gastroenteritis, and other related viruses. The Aichi virus internal ribosomal entry site was found to require the function of two IRES trans-acting factors, the RNA binding protein PTB and the RNA helicase DHX29, for activity. As well as identifying the minimal set of factors required for activity of these internal ribosomal entry sites, Trevor's research is helping us to get a better understanding of their mechanism of action.


Robert F. Furchgott Medical Student Award for Excellence in Research

Farah Hussain
MS4

photo of Farah Hussain

Farah Hussain is an MD candidate in the Class of 2013. She has conducted research on the role of microRNAs in the physiology of atherosclerosis since the summer after her first year of medical school in the laboratory of Dr. Kathryn Moore, PhD, Professor of Medicine at NYU Medical Center. Her studies suggest that the inhibition of miR-33, a microRNA encoded in the 16th intron of the SREBP-2 gene, is a key regulator in the reverse cholesterol transport pathway. In mice, inhibition of miR-33 induced an increase in ABCA1, a molecule involved in shuttling cholesterol from macrophages to HDL particles, leading to increases in plasma HDL. It also caused a significant decrease in lipid and macrophage content of plaques, and increased collagen. Together, these data suggest that not only can miR-33 induce plaque regression, it can also cause plaques to become more stable. Continuing this work in African green monkeys as a non-human primate model showed that the inhibition of miR-33 increases reverse cholesterol transport, decreases fatty acid synthesis, and increases fatty acid oxidation, ultimately leading to improved cardiovascular health. Her work resulted in publications in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and Nature. This research is currently being investigated by Regulus Therapeutics as a novel therapy for the treatment of coronary artery disease and metabolic syndrome. Outside of her research, Farah has been an active member of the Downstate community. She has served on her class' Med Council, Student Liaison Committee, and the LCME Reaccreditation Committee. She is very excited to continue her training next year in Internal Medicine at Columbia University - New York Presbyterian Hospital.


Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research

Lana Rabinovich
MS3

photo of Lana Rabinovich

Dr. Lana Rabinovich is the 2013 recipient of the Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research and is currently a third year medical student in the MD/PhD Program. She recently completed her thesis work under the supervision of Drs. Christopher Parks, Ross Lindsay, and Maria Chiuchiolo at the Design and Development Laboratory of the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). Her research focused on the design of candidate HIV vaccines for evaluation in preclinical studies. Specifically, in collaboration with members of the IAVI lab, Lana designed stable replicating VSV Vectors that express HIV Envelope Trimers for analysis in murine studies. The results were highly encouraging as Env-specific immune responses were detected, including antibodies similar to known HIV-specific broadly neutralizing antibodies. She is the author of a number of research articles and patents. She is also the recipient of numerous awards including the the 2012 Keystone Vaccines Symposia Travel Scholarship and Jonas E. Salk Award for significant research potential as an undergraduate student. Lana received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Biochemistry and Chemistry with Honors from Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, College of Staten Island (CSI). Her interest in research began during high school and developed under the direction of Distinguished Professor and Provost Fred Naider as she investigated the biochemistry of receptor-related peptides, which belong to the G-protein coupled and chemokine receptor families, in his laboratory at CSI.


2012 Robert F. Furchgott Award Recipients

Robert F. Furchgott Scholar

Alice Pavlowsky, PhD
Department of Pathology

photo of Alice Pavlowsky

After obtaining her PhD in neuroscience from Paris-VI University and Cochin Institute, Dr. Pavlowsky joined the laboratory of Dr. Juan Marcos Alarcon for her post-doctoral training. Research in Dr. Alarcon's laboratory focuses on how neurons integrate multiple streams of neural activity arriving at separate synapses. The main goal is to understand how neurons encode and decode multifold information associated to a learning experience. In a recent study (PLoS One, 2012), Dr Pavlowsky and Dr. Alarcon studied the interactions between synapses expressing synaptic plasticity in located in different dendritic domains and characterized the spatial and temporal rules that govern such interactions. A main finding is that plastic changes compartmentalize within groups of synapses located in defined dendritic domains. The notion of groups of synapses forming functional compartments in response to the activation of plastic events made Dr. Pavlowsky hypothesize that plastic events triggered by a learning experience could promote the functional grouping of plastic synapses. In collaboration with Dr. Andre Fenton and his MD/PhD student Emma Wallace, Dr. Pavlowsky found that mice trained in a cognitive memory task, exhibit functional changes in defined groups of synapses in proximal, but not distal, apical dendrites of CA1 pyramidal neurons of the dorsal hippocampus. These findings provide first direct evidence of functionally-defined synaptic grouping associated to learning experience and suggests that the neuron needs to compartmentalize incoming information in order to correctly encode and store the multiple aspects of experience.


Robert F. Furchgott Scholar

Yongxia Sarah Qu, MD, PhD
Department of Medicine

photo of Yongxia Sarah Qu

Dr Yongxia Sarah Qu, MD/PhD is currently a second year cardiology fellow at Downstate Medical Center. Dr Qu's research focused on the pathogenesis of autoimmune associated congenital heart block under the mentorship of Professor Mohamed Boutjdir. Specifi cally, Dr Qu characterized the molecular and functional basis of complete atrio-ventricular (AV) block which occurs in newborn from mothers with anti-Ro/La antibodies. She demonstrated that anti-Ro/La antibodies bind directly to the L-type calcium channel protein and inhibit the calcium current at the AV node which results in AV block. Subsequently, Dr Qu identifi ed a novel isoform of L-type calcium channel (alpha1D isoform) in the heart which is also a target for anti-Ro/La antibodies. Dr Qu's work has been published in high impact journals such as circulation and circulation research. More recently Dr Qu's research extended to the effects of anti-Ro/La antibodies on the adult heart of patients with autoimmune diseases. Unlike the newborn heart, the adult heart exposed to anti-Ro antibodies is not affected by the AV block but unexpectedly has QT prolongation. Dr Qu elegantly demonstrated that sera from adult patients with anti-Ro antibodies and QT prolongation, but not control sera, inhibited potassium current, IKr, which is responsible for repolarization. She was also able to establish an animal model of autoimmune associated QT prolongation thus demonstrating direct causal relationship between the presence of anti-Ro antibodies and QT prolongation. The findings from her research will likely affect the clinical practice to monitor QT interval in patients with anti-Ro antibodies and to educate these patients to avoid medications causing QT prolongation.


Robert F. Furchgott Medical Student Award for Excellence in Research

Johnson F. Tsui
College of Medicine 2012, MD Student

photo of Johnson Tsui

Johnson F. Tsui is an MD candidate in the class of 2012. Working under the mentorship of Dr. Weiss, Professor and Chair of Urology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and Dr. Blaivas, Clinical Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College and Adjunct Professor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, he participated in numerous research projects in General Urology and Urooncology over the past two and a half years. During this time, on top of co-authoring various published journal articles and book chapters, he also functioned as the research coordinator for the Department of Urology at Downstate as well as the Institute for Bladder and Prostate Research. One of his projects, "Comparison of Nocturia Severity in Men, Interquartile Ranges of Voided Volume (IRVV) and Bladder Compliance" hypothesized that in men, low bladder compliance may play a role in the etiology of nocturia. The study also hoped to demonstrate that in men, IRVV may be used as a noninvasive surrogate for assessing bladder compliance, thereby providing physicians with an additional tool by which a patient may be evaluated. Johnson will continue his training as a General Surgery intern this July at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.


Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research

Sam Neymotin, PhD
School of Graduate Studies, Biomedical Engineer Program

photo of Sam Neymotin

Dr. Sam Neymotin is the 2012 recipient of the Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research. Sam received training in computer science (BS Queens College; MS Columbia University) but always had an interest in how the brain works. As a biomedical engineering PhD student at SUNY Downstate, he was able to explore these interests when he joined the Neurosimulation laboratory of Dr. William Lytton to begin study in computational neuroscience. Sam recently defended his PhD thesis under the mentorship of Dr. Lytton, in the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology, and the Dept. of Neurology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Sam's research was focused on developing biologically-realistic computer models of neuronal networks, including models of neocortex and hippocampus. The aim of the research was to better understanding of how dynamics emerge from the interacting neurons, how neurons process information, and the effects of learning on neuronal function. The models Sam developed have provided predictions on neuronal dynamics and information processing both in health and in diseases such as epilepsy and schizophrenia. Sam has also worked on additional projects under the mentorship of Dr. Lytton and Dr. Andre Fenton, analyzing and developing computational methods for the analysis of electrophysiological data obtained from Dr. Fenton's lab.

Sam has published 12 research papers during the course of his graduate studies. He was primary author on 7 of these with 2 first-author papers in Journal of Neuroscience. He also recently wrote a didactic chapter, Computational Neuroscience of Neuronal Networks, for use in the undergraduate textbook, Neuroscience in the 21st Century. In 2011, Sam was awarded a $1500 travel award for his Biomedical Engineering presentation at SUNY Downstate's annual research day. He has also won travel awards from the Organization for Computational Neuroscience and Statistical Analysis of Neuronal Data meetings. Sam recently had the chance to develop his teaching skills, by serving as a tutor in the fourth Latin American School on Computational Neuroscience in Brazil, for several weeks in 2012.


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2011 Robert F. Furchgott Award Recipients

Robert F. Furchgott Scholar

Amon Asgharpour, MD
Department of Medicine

photo of Amon Asgharpour

Dr. Amon Asgharpour is a second-year Internal Medicine Resident. He has conducted research in new modalities of therapy for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Dr. Asgharpour's mentorship was provided by Dr. Frank Gress, Professor of Medicine and Chief of Gastroenterology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Dr. Laura Martello-Rooney, Director of GI Research SUNY Downstate, and in collaboration with: Dr. Albert Stanek, Professor of Surgery SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Dr. Alicia Gooding, GI Research Technician SUNY Downstate, Dr. Richard Gross and Dr. Manoj Ganesh of NYU Polytechnic Institute. Their work has established the feasibility of direct injection of drug-eluting biodegradable polymer-based microparticles (MPs) into the tail portion of the mouse pancreas. He continues work with them to expand on this project and will soon inject Gemcitabine loaded MPs directly into tumors of mice with pancreatic cancer. The goal of this work is to use Endoscopic Ultrasound Fine-Needle Injection as a means of delivering drug-eluting MPs to patients with pancreatic cancer. The direct injection of drug-eluting MPs may provide a means to decrease systemic toxicity of chemotherapy, decrease dosing frequency of chemotherapy, provide a less invasive option compared to conventional surgery, and provide another option in non-surgical patients. Dr. Asgharpour was recently recognized with a travel fellowship award at SUNY Downstate's Annual Research Day for his poster titled: "Drug-eluting Microparticles for the Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer: Preliminary In Vivo Results".


Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research

Ehsan Sarafraz-Yazdi, PhD
School of Graduate Studies, Molecular & Cellular Biology Program

photo of Ehsan Sarafraz-Yazdi

Dr. Sarafraz-Yazdi is the 2011 recipient of the Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research. He received his M.Sc. in "Genetics" from University of Birmingham and Imperial College of London (U.K.) and recently defended his PhD thesis under the supervision of Drs. Josef Michl and Matthew Pincus in the Department of Pathology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

His research revealed a novel mechanism of action for anti-cancer peptide, PNC-27, which selectively kills tumor cells without harming normal cells. He found that PNC-27 binds to the protein HDM2 that is expressed only in the membranes of cancer cells. When it binds to HDM2 it induces pore-formation through the membrane that kills the cancer cells. This work was recently published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Hiswork has strengthened the potential use of PNC-27 as an effective drug for treatment of cancer. The research of his thesis has also resulted in the identification of a potentially novel tumor marker which is expressed on the plasma membrane of a variety of transformed cells and is absent in untransformed cell's plasma membrane.

In 2010, he was awarded the "Outstanding Clinical Scholar" by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), from whom he received a 2-year travel award. He is also a winner of Downstate's Annual Research Day Award in 2010 for Platform Presentation. Recently, he received the "Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence", the highest student honor given by the State University of New York, which recognizes academic excellence, leadership, community service and career achievement.


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2010 Robert F. Furchgott Award Recipients

Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research

Marc Justin Braunstein, MD, PhD
School of Graduate Studies, Molecular & Cellular Biology Program

photo of Timothy Carter

Dr. Marc Justin Braunstein is the 2010 recipient of the Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research and is currently a fourth year medical student in the MD/PhD Program. He received this award for his translational thesis research, which focused on endothelial cells in cancer and built upon the fundamental knowledge of blood vessel dynamics for which Dr. Furchgott received the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Performed under the guidance of his thesis advisor Dr. Olcay Batuman, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology, Dr. Braunstein's thesis, entitled "Vascular Progenitor Cells in Multiple Myeloma: Genomic Characterization and Clinical Significance," used high-throughtput microarray analyses to explore the genomic relationship between tumor cells and their vascular microenvironment in multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer that is currently incurable and is the second most common hematologic malignancy. Results of these studies revealed previously unknown genomic alterations in tumor-related endothelial cells that have the potential to enhance our understanding of myeloma pathogenesis and improve treatment strategies. The winner of Downstate's Annual Research Day Award on several occasions – in 2008 for Best Platform Presentation and in 2007 and 2005 for Best Poster – Dr. Braunstein has twice received a travel award from the American Society of Hematology. Dr. Braunstein is also active in campus and community activities, co-organizing a fundraiser for multiple myeloma patients as President of the Student Center Governing Board, working as a basic science tutor in the Department of Academic Development, and serving as a volunteer at the Brooklyn Free Clinic. This year Dr. Braunstein was also awarded the Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, which recognizes academic excellence, leadership, and community service and is the highest student commendation within the State University of New York.


Robert F. Furchgott Medical Student Award for Excellence in Research

Timothy Carter
College of Medicine 2010, MD Student

photo of Timothy Carter

Timothy Carter is an MD candidate in the class of 2010. He worked on wrist kinematics throughout medical school in the Department of Hand Surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery, under the direction of Dr. Scott Wolfe and in collaboration with: Dr. Howard Hillstrom, Director of the Motion Analysis Laboratory; physical therapists, Aviva Wolf & Sherry Backus; and engineers, Brian Pansy and Mark Lenhoff. The group hypothesized that a specifi c arc of wrist motion, known as the Dart Thrower's Motion, was highly conserved between multiple activities. It has been suggested that this motion is unique to the morphology of the human wrist and as such may have provided an evolutionary advantage to Homo sapiens. Timothy worked specifi cally to develop and validate 3-D Motion Analysis (3DMA) for the measurement of wrist motion during functional activities. 3DMA is currently being applied to identify the Dart Thrower's Motion in a variety of functional activities, which may have conveyed a survival advantage to our species. Clinically, validation of 3DMA in the wrist joint will promote understanding of normal wrist kinematics, allow further study of wrist pathology and potentially lead to the development and refi nement of surgical therapies. Timothy was accepted as a medical student member in the American Association for Academic Surgeons and is a graduate student member to the American Physiologic Society. He will pursue his residency in General Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University.


Robert F. Furchgott Resident Award for Excellence in Research

Naveen Anand, MD
Department of Medicine

Photo of Naveen Anand

Dr. Anand is the Chief Medical Resident at Kings County Hospital Center, and the State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn (SUNY Downstate). Dr. Anand conducted his research under the mentorship and guidance of Dr. Vlado Simko, Professor of Medicine and former Chief of Gastroenterology at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center, and alongside Dr. Mujtaba Butt, Clinical Fellow in Gastroenterology. Together they conducted a retrospective study, investigating groups of patients with gastric intestinal metaplasia in an effort to identify groups at increased risks for gastric cancer. Their study entitled "Gastric Intestinal Metaplasia: Natural History and Surveillance", showed that patients with gastric intestinal metaplasia were more likely to develop gastric cancer when compared to the general population, and that patients above the age of 70 and of African-American ethnicity were at increased risk. For this work, Dr. Anand won the 2009 Lawlor Award from the American College of Gastroenterology for best scientifi c paper by a resident, and had the opportunity to present his work at the College's Annual Conference. Both his medical degree and graduate medical training were completed at SUNY Downstate, and he will begin his gastroenterology fellowship there in July 2010. During his fellowship, Dr. Anand plans to embark on additional research projects in the area of gastric cancer and gastric intestinal metaplasia, in the hope of answering questions that have arisen as a result of his study.


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2009 Robert F. Furchgott Award Recipients

Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research

Melissa James, PhD
School of Graduate Studies, Molecular & Cellular Biology Program

Dr. Melissa James is the recipient of the 2009 Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research. Dr. James' thesis research, conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Stacy Blain, focused on the regulation of the oncogene cyclin D-cdk4 by the tumor suppressor p27. p27 is a potent inhibitor of cell cycle progression and detection of low p27 levels correlates with a poor prognosis in many cancers. Her studies demonstrated that p27 can be either a cyclin D-cdk4 bound, inhibitor or a bound, activator, depending on the growth state of the cell. In proliferating cells, p27 is tyrosine phosphorylated in its 3-10 helix and this allows it to bind to cyclin D-cdk4 without causing inhibition. When cells are arrested by contact, p27 is no longer tyrosine phosphorylated and now binds to the cyclin D-cdk4 complex in an inhibitory conformation. Tyrosine phosphorylation in the 3-10 helix appears to prevent an interaction between p27 and the cdk subunit, permitting ATP access to cdk4's activity site. Her work was among the first to demonstrate that p27 could be tyrosine phosphorylated and more importantly finally answered the long-standing question in the cell cycle field about how p27 could transition from activator to inhibitor, and vice versa. These studies were the first to demonstrate that tyrosine phosphorylation affected p27's ability to inhibit cyclin D-cdk4 and has been published in two peer reviewed journal articles. This work was also cited by Faculty of 1000 Biology for its important contribution to the field.


Robert F. Furchgott Medical Student Award for Excellence in Research

Jonathan Silverberg
College of Medicine 2009, MD, PhD, MPH Student

photo of Jonathan Silverberg

Dr. Jonathan Silverberg is an MPH candidate ('09) and recipient of the 2009 Robert F. Furchgott Medical Student Award. Jonathan received this award for two translational studies of regulation of human allergic responses, conducted under the mentorship of Drs. Rauno Joks, Department of Medicine, Tamar-Smith Norowitz, Department of Pediatrics, and Helen G. Durkin, Department of Pathology. With Drs. Joks and Durkin, Jonathan discovered that minocycline, a new anti-allergic drug invented at SUNY Downstate, suppresses P38 MAP kinase phosphorylation, an upstream molecular event required for suppression of Th2 cytokine and IgE responses. With Drs. Smith-Norowitz, Joks and Durkin, he discovered a new T cell subpopulation (CD8+CD60+CD45RO+TCR alpha/beta+) whose 5 cytokines are absolutely required, along with IL-4 produced by CD4+ T cells, for induction of human memory IgE responses. These discoveries provide new targets for anti-allergic drugs. Jonathan received his PhD degree in Neuroscience in 2006 under the mentorship of Dr. Durkin and Drs. Mark Stewart and Vahe Amassian, Department of Physiology-Pharmacology, for which he was awarded the 2009 Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence.


Robert F. Furchgott Resident Award for Excellence in Research

Kelley A. Sookraj, MD
Department of Pathology

Photo of Kelley A. Sookraj

Dr. Kelley A. Sookraj's research was conducted in the laboratories of Drs. Wilbur B. Bowne, Josef Michl, and Matthew R. Pincus. Dr. Sookraj's studies focused on oncogenesis, oncoprotein structure, mitogenic signal transduction, and design of anticancer agents. This laboratories earlier work utilized a computer-based molecular modeling approach to identify various sequences from the murine double minute binding domain of p53, known as MDM-2, that were shown to possess anticancer activity. Two such synthesized peptides, designated PNC-27 and PNC-28, demonstrated potent anticancer activity against a rodent metastatic pancreatic and selected human cancer cell lines: an effect not observed among their untransformed cellular counterparts. The observed cytotoxic effect of these p53-derived peptides was later found to occur by the mechanism of necrosis rather than apoptosis in both wild-type p53 and p53 null cancer cell lines providing evidence for a p53-independent anticancer mechanism. Current studies reveal that these amphipathic, PNC peptides target the over-expressed MDM-2 oncoprotein, unique to selected cancer cell membranes, leading to trans-membrane pore formation, membranolysis, and cancer cell death by necrosis. The effect of these novel anticancer peptides, upon further investigation, suggests that these PNC peptides may potentially serve an important role in the future treatment of certain cancers.


Robert F. Furchgott Fellowship Award for Excellence in Basic Science Research

Xiaoyue Pan, PhD
Department of Cell Biology

Photo of Xiaoyue Pan

Dr. Xiaoyue Pan, in the laboratory of Dr. M. Mahmood Hussain, explored mechanisms responsible for diurnal and food-entrained regulation of nutrient absorption by the gut and changes in plasma lipids. She identified that transcriptional regulation of microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTP) correlates with changes in plasma triglycerides in rodents kept in 12 h light/dark cycle and fed ad libitum. To understand how light and food control MTP, Dr. Pan used cells that exhibit cyclic expression of MTP after exposure to high serum concentrations. Using siRNA, she elucidated that Clock transcription factor regulates SHP, a negative regulator of MTP transcription, and controls MTP expression. In addition, she investigated the role of clock genes, which are critical for circadian regulations, in the control of intestinal function. She showed that expression of intestinal protein, carbohydrate, and lipid transporters show diurnal variations. Dr. Pan also demonstrated that transcription factors involved in circadian rhythms are important for both light and food-entrainment of intestinal transporters using dominant negative Clock mutant mice. These studies indicate that both light and food entrainment mechanisms might utilize the same or similar set of clock genes that show cyclic expression to regulate metabolism. Therefore, disruptions in circadian regulations might contribute to hyperlipidemia and hyperglycemia. Understanding molecular and biological mechanisms regulating daily variations in plasma lipids may provide new perceptions about the pathobiology of common metabolic disorders.


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2008 Robert F. Furchgott Award Recipients

The Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research

Daisy Lin, PhD
School of Graduate Studies, Neuroscience Program

I studied the role of small untranslatable RNAs called BC (brain specific) RNAs in the regulation of gene expression. BC1 and BC200 RNAs are highly abundant in the brains of rodents and humans, respectively. BC RNAs localization, in dendrites of neurons where local postsynaptic protein synthesis takes place, make them candidates for the regulation of input specific synaptic plasticity. Previously, BC1 RNA has been shown to inhibit protein synthesis at the level of translation. In my thesis, I examined the underlying functional mechanisms between BC1 RNA and its two binding factors, eukaryotic initiation factors 4A (eIF4A) and poly (A) binding protein (PABP). Biochemically, BC1 RNA binding to either eIF4A or PABP is of high affinity. eIF4A is an RNA helicase that hydrolyzes ATP to unwind the mRNA secondary structure during translation initiation. I showed that eIF4A-dependent helicase activity is uncoupled from its ATPase activity by both BC RNAs. Helicase stimulator eIF4B and adenosine nucleotides are shown to be involved in the modulation of the BC1-eIF4A interaction. In HEK293 cells, I showed that BC1 RNA inhibits translation of 5' secondary structure containing chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) mRNA with or without a poly (A) tail. My data suggest that the mechanism by which dendritic BC1 RNA inhibits protein synthesis at the level of translation is by targeting the catalytic activity of eIF4A and interacting specifically with PABP, My work provide new insight in understanding the mechanism of local translation control by small neuronal RNAs.


The Robert F. Furchgott Fellowship Award

Ghazanfar Qureshi, MD
Department of Medicine

photo of Ghazanfar Qureshi, MD

Dr. Qureshi’s studies, conducted under the direction of Drs. Jason Lazar and Louis Salciccioli, examined the mechanisms and significance of increased arterial stiffness. Arterial stiffness, a biophysical property of the arterial system that is predictive of increased cardiovascular risk, is correlated with left ventricular hypertrophy and the presence and severity of coronary artery disease. Dr. Qureshi investigated the relationship between atherosclerosis and arterial stiffness and found stiffness to vary among patients with little atherosclerosis but to be uniformly increased in those with more marked atherosclerotic disease.  These data suggested multiple mechanisms contributing to arterial stiffness.  With further study, he found that the use of beta blockers, a commonly prescribed class of medications for patients with heart disease, is associated with higher arterial stiffness.  This may account for the decreased efficacy shown for this drug class in primary prevention trials.  Dr. Qureshi proposed a new measure of arterial stiffness, derived from the dynamic relationship between systolic and diastolic blood pressures called “self-measured arterial stiffness index”.  The index, which uses self-measured blood pressure recordings, increased with cardiovascular risk factors and was positively correlated with direct measures of arterial stiffness.  In two additional studies, Dr Qureshi found that arterial stiffness is higher in women with systemic lupus erythematosus, and that bone demineralization is associated with higher arterial stiffness, independent of atherosclerosis.  These latter studies suggest that inflammation and vascular calcification contribute to the development of arterial stiffness.


The Robert F. Furchgott Fellowship Award

Vera Pisareva, PhD
Department of Cell Biology

photo of Vera Pisareva, PhD

Dr. Pisareva’s studies, conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Tatyana Pestova, focused on the mechanism of translation initiation on eukaryotic mRNAs containing structured 5'-untranslated regions (UTR). Most eukaryotic mRNAs possess relatively short unstructured 5’- UTRs.  Initiation on unstructured 5'-UTRs is described in terms of the ribosomal scanning model, in which 43S preinitiation ribosomal complexes first attach to the capped 5’-proximal region of mRNA and then scan along the 5’UTR to the initiation codon where they form 48S initiation complexes. Attachment of 43S complexes is mediated by initiation factors eIF4F, eIF4A and eIF4B, which cooperatively unwind the cap-proximal region of mRNA. In addition to this role, eIF4F, eIF4A and eIF4B also assist 43S complexes during scanning. Dr. Pisareva's novel research demonstrated that these canonical initiation factors are not sufficient for efficient initiation on mRNAs with structured 5’-UTRs.  She identified an additional factor, the DExH-box protein DHX29, that is required for this process. DHX29 binds 40S subunits and efficiently hydrolyzes ATP, GTP, UTP and CTP. NTP hydrolysis by DHX29 is stimulated by 43S complexes, and is required for DHX29’s activity in promoting 48S complex formation.


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2007 Robert F. Furchgott Award Recipients

The Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research

Paul Stephen Rava., PhD
School of Graduate Studies, Molecular & Cellular Biology Program

Dr. Paul Stephen Rava, the recipient of the 2007 Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research is currently in the fourth year of the College of Medicine and is one of the finest students to be trained in Downstate’s School of Graduate Studies.  Paul epitomizes the research excellence that is expected of the awardee of this prestigious prize.  Dr. Rava’s thesis is titled “The Evolution of Microsomal Triglyceride Transfer Protein and its Role during the Assembly of ApoB-lipoptroteins.”  As part of his research conducted in the laboratory of Dr. M. Mahmood Hussain, Dr. Rava designed a new fluorescence-based assay for measuring cholesterol ester and the phospholipid transfer activity of microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTP) a key enzyme in the biogenesis of apoB-lipoproteins.  He used this and other assays to compare MTPs from different organisms.  Dr. Rava demonstrated that the phopholipid transfer activity of MTP is evolutionarily conserved, and that its more recently acquired triacylgycerol transfer activity, found in vertebrates, resides in a particular domain of the enzyme.  His research results have been published in eight peer-reviewed journal articles including four first-authored papers.


The Robert F. Furchgott Fellowship Award

Andrey Pisarev, PhD
Department of Microbiology

Dr. Andrey Pisarev is the recipient of the 2007 Robert F. Furchgott Fellowship Award. Dr. Pisarev’s studies, conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Tatyana Pestova, were focused on determining the mechanism of eukaryotic ribosomal complex recycling. After termination, mRNA and P site deacylated tRNA remain associated with ribosomes in post-termination complexes (post-TCs), which therefore have to be recycled by splitting them into ribosomal subunits and dissociating mRNA and deacylated tRNA. Recycling of bacterial post-TCs requires elongation factor EF-G and a ribosome recycling factor RRF. Eukaryotes do not encode a RRF homologue and their mechanism of ribosomal recycling is unknown. Dr. Pisarev investigated eukaryotic recycling using post-TCs assembled in vitro on a model mRNA encoding a tetrapeptide followed by a UAA stop codon.  He reported that initiation factors eIF3, eIF1, eIF1A and eIF3’s loosely associated eIF3j subunit can promote recycling of eukaryotic post-TCs. eIF3 is the principal factor that promotes splitting of post-termination ribosomes into 60S subunits and tRNA- and mRNA-bound 40S subunits. Its activity is enhanced by eIF3j, eIF1 and eIF1A. eIF1 also mediates release of P-site deacylated tRNA, whereas eIF3j ensures subsequent mRNA dissociation.


The Robert F. Furchgott Fellowship Award

Anett Unbehaun, MD, PhD
Department of Microbiology

Dr. Anett Unbehaun is the recipient of the 2007 Robert F. Furchgott Fellowship Award. Dr. Unbehaun studies protein synthesis in eukaryotic cells in the laboratory of Dr. Tatyana Pestova. Her work focuses on the molecular mechanism by which eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF) 5B promotes joining of the ribosomal subunits at the end of the initiation process. Dr. Unbehaun determined the position of eIF5B on the 80S ribosome and described the first eIF5B/ 80S ribosome model. The data indicate that eIF5B is located in the intersubunit cleft of the ribosome. eIF5B occupies a large surface on the small subunit and is located in close proximity to the GTPase associated center and the peptidyltransferase center of the large subunit. The eIF5B/ 80S ribosome model also indicates that eIF5B induces substantial conformational changes in both ribosomal subunits.


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2006 Robert F. Furchgott Award Recipients

The Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research

Richard Pomerantz, Ph.D.
School of Graduate Studies, Molecular & Cellular Biology Program

Dr. Richard Pomerantz is the recipient of the 2006 Robert F. Furchgott Award for Excellence in Research. Dr. Pomerantz's studies, conducted in the laboratory of Dr. William McAllister, explored the potential applications of T7 RNAP, a polymerase in bacteriophage as a tightly regulated molecular motor in nanotechnology. He investigated the mechanism by which T7 RNAP selects for correct nucleotide substrates during transcription. T7 RNAP converts the chemical energy stored in nucleotide triphosphates (NTPs), like ATP, into the mechanical work of transcription. Previous studies had shown that T7 RNAP can exert forces up to 30 piconewtons as it moves along the DNA while copying the information in the DNA template into RNA. Dr. Pomerantz demonstrated that the forward motion of T7 RNAP is dependent on the availability of the next incoming (correct) NTP that is encoded by the template strand of the DNA. Dr. Pomerantz received his Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in May 2006.


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