Presenting the inaugural Conrad Prebys Foundation fellows

| Written by Miles Martin
Conrad Prebys Foundation Fellows

Sanford Burnham Prebys has announced the first cohort of the Conrad Prebys Foundation Fellowship. This one-year fellowship—available exclusively to early-career scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys—provides support to complete a project in translational medicine, a field that focuses on transforming fundamental biological discoveries into treatments for human diseases. The program is part of a broader collaboration between the Institute and the Prebys Foundation to increase diversity in the biomedical workforce.

“Thank you to the Conrad Prebys Foundation for their consideration. I am beyond grateful for the consistent support,” says predoctoral Prebys fellow Michael Alcaraz, who will complete his project on aging and brain disease with Professor Peter D. Adams and Steven Olsen, Ph.D., executive director of medicinal chemistry at the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics. “I look forward to working with the Prebys Center and to the findings that will come out of the proposed experiments.”

The objectives of the fellowship program are to train the next generation of translational biomedical researchers, as well as to increase the diversity of the biomedical workforce. Ph.D. students and postdocs at the Institute from historically underrepresented groups were encouraged to apply, and applicants were ultimately selected on the basis of the translational potential of their proposed project, as well as on their overall academic excellence.

“Promoting diversity in the biomedical workforce is a founding principle of our program, and so important—it’s really a no-lose situation,” says Alessandra Sacco, Ph.D., vice dean and associate dean of Student Affairs in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Sanford Burnham Prebys. “Working actively to include people from all backgrounds helps give opportunities to people who may not otherwise have had them; and it also improves the quality of the research itself, because now you’re applying so many different perspectives to each problem that emerges.”

The program is unique in that fellows are paired with two mentors: their current supervisor and a secondary mentor from the Prebys Center. This will help the fellows gain valuable skills in drug discovery that they may not get otherwise.

“Translational research is one of the biggest priorities in biomedicine right now because it’s how we turn scientific discoveries into actual treatments,” says Sacco. “Students and postdocs don’t usually get the opportunity to build the skills they need for translational research jobs in academia or industry. In many cases, it’s because their direct supervisors don’t have this kind of experience themselves.” Sacco will be overseeing the fellowship program along with Dean Guy Salvesen, Ph.D.; and Professor Michael Jackson, Ph.D.

“One of the goals of this fellowship is to connect early-career researchers with drug discovery experts who they may not otherwise have the chance to work with—especially at this stage in their career,” adds Sacco.

The fellowship will culminate in a final symposium next spring, where the fellows will present their research to their peers and to the wider community. 

“I’m looking forward to gaining more experience and making my contribution to the translational science at the Prebys Center,” says predoctoral Prebys fellow Merve Demir, who will complete a structural biochemistry project with Assistant Professor Jianhua Zhao, Ph.D.; and Eduard Sergienko, Ph.D., director of Assay Development at the Prebys Center. 

The complete list of Conrad Prebys Foundation fellows includes:

Postdoctoral Fellows

– Karina Barbosa Guerra [Deshpande Lab, Ed Sergienko co-mentor]
“SGF29 as a novel therapeutic target in AML”
– Merve Demir [Zhao Lab, Ed Sergienko co-mentor]
“Structural studies of MtCK and GCDH enzyme drug targets”
– Jerry Tyler DeWitt [Haricharan Lab, TC Chung co-mentor]
“Investigating the unique molecular landscape of ER+ breast cancer in black women” 
– Alicia Llorente Lope [Emerling Lab, Ian Pass co-mentor]
“Exploring PI5P4K as a novel molecular vulnerability of therapy-resistant breast cancer” 
– Van Giau Vo [Huang Lab, TC Chung co-mentor]
“Identifying enhancers of SNX27 to promote neuroprotective pathways in Alzheimer’s disease and Down Syndrome”
– Xiuqing Wei [Puri Lab, Anne Bang co-mentor]
“Selective targeting of a pathogenetic IL6-STAT3 feedforward loop activated during denervation and cancer cachexia”

Predoctoral Fellows
– Michael Alexander Alcaraz [Adams Lab, Steven Olson co-mentor]
“Activating the NAMPT-NAD+ axis in senescence to target age-associated disease”
– Shea Grenier Davis [Commisso Lab, Steven Olson co-mentor]
“Examining PIKfyve as a potential therapeutic target in pancreatic cancer” 
– Patrick Hagan [Cosford Lab, Ian Pass co-mentor]
“Discovery and development of novel ATG13 degrading compounds that inhibit autophagy and treat non-small cell lung cancer”
– Texia Loh [Wang Lab, Ed Sergienko co-mentor]
“Investigating the role of HELLS in mediating resistance to PARP Inhibition in small-cell lung cancer”
– Michaela Lynott [Colas Lab, TC Chung co-mentor]
“Identification of small molecules inhibiting ATF7IP-SETDB1 interacting complex to improve cardiac reprogramming efficiency”
– Tatiana Moreno [Kumsta Lab, Anne Bang co-mentor]
“Identifying TFEB/HLH-30 regulators to modulate autophagy in age-related diseases”
– Utkarsha Paithane [Bagchi Lab, TC Chung co-mentor]
“Identification of small-molecule enhancers of Honeybadger, a novel RAS/MAPK inhibitor” 

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