News From The Basic Sciences

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CAS - Basic Sciences - Internal E-Newsletter [Vanderbilt University]

June 2020


Faculty support for Black Lives Matter

Vanderbilt Basic Sciences faculty hold BLM signs while protesting on a Nashville Street.

Following a recent town hall on critical and supportive conversations about racial injustice facilitated by our dean and associate deans, Basic Sciences faculty made the decision to publicly show their support for their Black colleagues, trainees, and fellow human beings. They arranged an informal, off-campus protest for Saturday, June 6, and showed up at Broadway and 21st with signs supporting Black Lives Matter and encouraging passersby to break their silence. Many faculty and trainees showed up, all of them in masks and doing their best to physically distance from one another, over the course of the morning and afternoon. The faculty hope that by showing their individual support to anti-racism efforts, others will see that they are open to learning about injustices and that they are committed to creating an inclusive environment in their professional lives as well.


Graduate student demonstration

On Friday, June 12, over 70 graduate students from across campus held a demonstration in support of BLM and #BlackintheIvory, a hashtag where Black academics share their stories of casual, overt, and systemic racism in academia.


VUMC Day of Silence for Black Lives

VUMC workers kneel while holding BLM signs.House staff from the medical center organized a socially distant, peaceful demonstration of support for Black Lives Matter on June 10. From 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM, over 1,100 volunteers rotated in and out, kneeling in remembrance of George Floyd, who died last month, and other Black people who have died at the hands of police. You can see photos of the event here, here, and here and on VUMC’s Twitter account.


Merrikh recognized by the Blavatnik Family Foundation

Houra Merrikh (Biochemistry) has been named a finalist in the Life Sciences category of the 2020 Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists. The 2020 Blavatnik Award is the world’s largest unrestricted prize for early-career scientists. As a finalist, Merrikh will be inducted into the New York Academy of Sciences.


Chazin receives Armstrong Mentoring Award

Walter Chazin, professor of Biochemistry and director of the Center for Structural Biology, has been awarded the Richard Armstrong Mentoring Award, presented by the Department of Biochemistry.



Recent fellowships

This month, we’d like to give a shout out to the following trainees: Kimberly Thibeault (Neuroscience, lab of Erin Calipari), who received a fellowship from NIDA; Dalton Greenwood (MPI, lab of Jeff Rathmell), who earned a fellowship from NHLBI; and Sam Centanni (MPB, lab of Danny Winder), who was awarded a fellowship from NIAAA.


VICC appoints new associate director for basic science research

The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center has named David Cortez (Biochemistry) as its new associate director for basic science research. Cortez, who has been at Vanderbilt since 2002, will be replacing fellow biochemistry faculty member Scott Hiebert.


New Warren Center announced

Thanks to a new gift from the William K. Warren Foundation, the Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery, led by Craig Lindsley (Pharmacology) and Jeff Conn (Pharmacology), has been rebranded into the Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery.


Vanderbilt partners with ACADIA

The Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery has entered into an exclusive, worldwide licensing and collaboration agreement with ACADIA Pharmaceuticals. The partnership is designed to develop and commercialize treatments for central nervous system disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.


VVC, AstraZeneca partner to fight against COVID-19

The Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, led by James Crowe (Pediatrics), has entered into a partnership with AstraZeneca to advance two SARS-CoV-2-neutralizing antibodies they discovered into clinical development as a potential combination therapy for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.


COVID-19 antibody therapy vs. vaccine

Looking to start conversations and spread some COVID-19 #scicomm to those around you? Check out this handy guide and infographic that lays out the differences between antibody therapy and vaccines, courtesy of VI4.


Trainees organize, aid COVID-19 effort

Eric Skaar (PMI) lab members Clare Laut (Microbe-Host Interactions) and Andy Weiss, a graduate student and a postdoc, respectively, organized over 150 scientist volunteers from across Vanderbilt to support novel coronavirus diagnostic and research efforts on campus, and were recently featured by News4 Nashville.


Connecting from afar

Social distancing shouldn’t mean social isolation! IGP/QCB students from across all years have been meeting regularly for some friendly trivia competition and virtual hang outs. Yoga, led by CPB student Abby Neininger, happens weekly. Interested in joining in? Email Beth Bowman.


People Behind the Science features Byndloss

The People Behind the Science recently interviewed Mariana Byndloss (PMI) for an episode focusing on the gut microbiome and disease. Listen here!




FOCiS spotlights Rathmell

The Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies recently featured Jeff Rathmell (PMI) in an episode of their podcast. Listen or read the transcript of the interview here.




New Discoveries

Using AI in the fight against COVID-19

The laboratory of Jonathan Irish (CDB) has been using a technique called high-dimensional cytometry to study rhinovirus, using AI to parse through the data. Recently, they switched gears to study SARS-CoV-2, seeking to identify rare immune cells that target the virus.


Tuning in to the first virus-host interactions, innate immunity

A recent paper from the lab of Manny Ascano (Biochemistry) describes a new method, VIR-CLASP, that can help researchers identify the primary interactions between incoming viral RNA genomes and host proteins. A second paper validates the use of RU.521 (a cGAS inhibitor) as a tool to assess the contribution of the cGAS-STING signaling axis in various immune responses.


Improved interpretation of high-dimensional data

Single-cell RNAseq generates high-dimensional data, but techniques designed to help interpret them can dampen or exaggerate similarities between cells. The lab of Ken Lau (CDB) now reports an unbiased, quantitative framework for evaluating the preservation of single-cell data structure by various “dimensionality reduction” techniques.


Perchlorate inhibits iodide uptake

Nancy Carrasco’s (MPB) group recently published a paper describing how the environmental pollutant perchlorate, found in many sources of drinking water, decreases iodide transport and thyroid hormone production.


Protecting abasic sites

The lab of David Cortez had previously found evidence that the HMCES protein protects abasic sites in single-stranded DNA. Now, his lab has found direct evidence that HMCES responds to abasic sites in single-stranded DNA and that it shields the sites of damage to avoid mutations and maintain genome integrity.


Parsing WDR5’s moonlighting roles

The lab of Bill Tansey (CDB) recently described protein synthesis as one of the central roles of WDR5, a known MYC cofactor.



NMDA receptors are an appealing therapeutic target

Work from the Danny Winder (MPB) lab, featured in May by the Journal of Neuroscience, supports a role for GluN2D-NMDA receptors in regulating emotional behavior through their influence on excitatory signaling in a region-specific manner, and suggests that these NMDARs may serve as a novel target for selectively modulating glutamate signaling in stress-responsive structures and cell populations.


Exosomes promote cell pathfinding behavior

Recent work from the labs of Alissa Weaver (CDB) and Andries Zijlstra (PMI) describes a new way to visualize secreted exosomes in 3D culture and in vivo and reveals exosome-dependent pathfinding behavior in migrating cells.


First reported use of automated patch clamp electrophysiology

Dan Roden’s (Medicine) lab and VUMC colleagues have used a high-throughput, automated robotic patch clamp electrophysiology system to rapidly study and classify variations in a gene linked to heart rhythm disorders and cardiac conditions.


Preventing CKD with beta-catenin

The lab of Leslie Gewin (Medicine) recently activated beta-catenin in mouse proximal tubules and showed that it protected mice from kidney fibrosis and epithelial injury in two different models of acute kidney injury to chronic kidney disease progression, challenging previous studies that indicated that beta-catenin signaling promotes CKD.


Two-component system keeps B. anthracis ahead; using blood as a shield

The bacterium Bacillus anthracis, infectious agent of anthrax, uses a two-component system to repair its envelope and maintain viability after treatment with targocil, the lab of Eric Skaar (PMI) reports. A second paper from the Skaar lab indicates that Clostridioides difficile uses a blood cell cofactor as a shield against our immune system.


Studying the heart post-COVID-19 death

The laboratory of Meghan Kapp (PMI) is using imaging and diagnostic pathology to examine postmortem hearts donated by victims of COVID-19, looking for blood clots, vascular damage, and inflammation.

Announcements & Events

Inaugural issue of Peabody newsletter: Race Research and Justice
The first issue of the Race Research and Justice newsletter, put together by the Initiative for Race Research and Justice at Peabody College, has just been unveiled. We invite you to check out this comprehensive resource and subscribe (there’s a “Subscribe” tab at the top of the page in the link above). The newsletter will be published annually, but you might also receive periodic updates and event announcements throughout the year.

Resources for remote work
Check out these resources for online work, including tips on running a smooth digital dissertation defense, options for choosing the right tool for your communication needs, and info on courses and workshops you can take to enhance your online teaching.

Faculty workshop on self-care
The Office of the Provost, Faculty Affairs has a workshop on self-care during a difficult academic year scheduled for June 15 from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM. Register here, or visit this site to keep an eye out on other upcoming workshop opportunities.

Submit your papers to Pharmacology and Translational Science
Craig Lindsley has been named interim Editor-in-Chief of ACS Pharmacology and Translational Science, and invites his colleagues to submit to the journal. They publish basic and translational pharmacology research—including clinical trials—in oncology, immunology, renal, cardiovascular, metabolic diseases, and CNS. The journal publishes Articles, Letters, Reviews, Perspectives, Viewpoints, and Drug Discovery Stories.


Online Course Design Institutes
Enroll in this two-week online experience designed to help you prepare for teaching an online course. This course will be offered multiple times over the summer, with remaining dates available in June. Apply now!

Mark your calendars for the VICB Symposium
The 2020 symposium of the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology is currently scheduled for August 6. Gregory Verdine, Harvard University professor and founder of the biotech companies Enanta, Wave Life Sciences, and FogPharma, is slated to be the keynote speaker. Although the event is scheduled to be an in-person event, the organizers are prepared to move the event to the cloud if necessary. Registration is now open!




Funding for COVID-19 research
Many new COVID-19-related funding opportunities are now available from both federal agencies and from private foundations. For an excellent and constantly updated list, visit the VU OVPR website. We urge you to be vigilant in following new funding announcements from the NIH and other groups. If you stumble upon new grant programs that you think may be of broad interest, please forward this info to Chuck Sanders and we will make sure they are appropriately posted.

Private funding opportunities
Corporate and Foundation Relations has put together an extensive list of funding opportunities from non-government organizations. This page is updated when new opportunities are identified.

NIH guidance on research and grants
The NIH has published information for grant applicants and recipients of funding given the current coronavirus pandemic. It answers questions ranging from proposal submission to clinical trials and animal welfare, and more. The page is continually updated, so make sure to check back to see newly posted information.



New SCLC grant
The Center for Systems Biology of Small Cell Lung Cancer, Vanderbilt’s Cancer Systems Biology Consortium center, has announced a new funding opportunity for innovative pilot projects focused on basic and translational research in SCLC. Projects involving computational and experimental methods will be considered, ideally in combination. Deadline for submission is June 30. Apply here.



John Karijlolich laboratory: Postdoctoral fellow

Innovative Translational Research Shared Resource: Research Assistant II

Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery: Drug discovery scientist I, Drug discovery scientist II


About the Newsletter

This monthly newsletter recognizes the achievements and latest discoveries of any trainees, faculty, and staff who aid in the basic research enterprise of the biomedical sciences at Vanderbilt University. Archive.


About this Issue’s Banner

This month’s banner image was taken by Greg Salimando, a recent graduate from the lab of Danny Winder. It shows how mRNA transcripts for the N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) subunit GluN2D prominently co-localize with transcripts for the neuropeptide corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). This 20X image of the mouse BNST shows individual neural cells counterstained with the DAPI nuclei stain, in blue, and labeled for transcripts of both GluN2D (red) and CRF (green). Greg’s research during his time in Dr. Winder’s lab concerned whether GluN2D-NMDA receptor activity in the BNST could regulate emotional behavior. See his recent paper (NMDA receptors are an appealing therapeutic target, above) for more information.

See larger view.


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