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

September 2020


Dear Basic Sciences Research Community,

For the tenth year, we are excited to welcome our new incoming biomedical sciences Ph.D. class to be a part of the Vanderbilt family at our annual Simple Beginnings ceremony on September 4, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Simple Beginnings Lab Coat Ceremony will be conducted in a completely virtual format.

While this year may look very different, we are looking forward to providing an afternoon of information, camaraderie, and celebration. In many ways, we hope to make this event more significant and inclusive than ever! We find ourselves in highly unusual circumstances, so there is all the more reason to celebrate our new students along with their families, friends, and loved ones who will join together virtually and participate in this event regardless of their location. And for the first time, many of you in our Vanderbilt community – current graduate students, postdocs, staff, and faculty – can join us in celebrating the big day and welcoming the incoming class into our research family.

The event will be held on Friday, September 4, with the guest and family activities at 2:00 PM and the lab coat presentation ceremony at 3:30 PM. Please register to join us in celebrating and sending well wishes to the incoming class.


Roger Chalkley
Associate Dean for Biomedical Research Education and Training


Basic Sciences BoV welcomes new members

The Board of Visitors of Basic Sciences is made up of experts who act as advisors to the dean and who help the school develop symbiotic relationships with industry, government, private foundations and academic partners, and more. We’d like to welcome the eight new members: Subramaniam Apparsundaram, Robert L. Caldwell, Harold Edward Fleming, Jr., Yiu-Lian Fong, Clayton D. Knox, Laura Jane Niedernhofer, Mace L. Rothenberg, and J. Joshua Smith.


Sanders named Protein Society president

Chuck Sanders (Biochemistry) is now the president-elect of The Protein Society. He will serve as president for three years, during which he will also be the chair of the Executive Council of the organization.





Siciliano thrice awarded

Cody Siciliano (Pharmacology) has recently been recognized with the Fay/Frank Seed Grant from the Brain Research Foundation and the Alkermes Pathways Research Award from the biopharmaceutical company Alkermes. Earlier this year, Siciliano was named a recipient of the Freedman Prize for Exceptional Basic Research from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.


Robertson earns Gilliam Fellowship

Gabriella Robertson, a graduate student in Cell and Developmental Biology, was announced as a recipient of a 2020 HHMI Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study. Along with dissertation advisor Vivian Gama (CDB), Robertson will develop a project to improve inclusive scientific spaces.


ACS Division of Carbohydrate Chemistry recognizes Townsend

The American Chemical Society has awarded Steven Townsend (Chemistry) the 2021 David Y. Gin New Investigator Award, geared toward investigators who are within seven years of finishing their graduate studies or their postdoctoral training. Townsend will be invited to speak at the annual ACS meeting in San Antonio, Texas, tentatively scheduled for March 2021.


Goldblatt Award goes to Kirabo

The American Heart Association has awarded Annet Kirabo (Medicine) with the 2020 Harry Goldblatt Award for Early Career Investigators, which recognizes annually an early-career independent investigator who has contributed to the understanding of the causes of hypertension and related cardiovascular disease.


Byndloss receives Bergmann Award

Mariana Byndloss (PMI) recently was awarded the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation’s Professor E.D. Bergmann Award, which is presented to early-career researchers who have recently received BSF grants. The funds may be used by recipients to further their research in any way they choose at any time during the period of their BSF grants.


IES interviews Mchaourab following Silver Medal Award

The International EPR (ESR) Society awarded the 2019 IES Silver Medal for Biology/Medicine to Hassane Mchaourab (MPB), and he was recently highlighted in an interview in their latest newsletter (page 6).


Sutherland Prize awarded to Crowe

The 2020 Earl Sutherland Prize for Achievement in Research, named in honor of the Nobel laureate and Vanderbilt faculty member, has been awarded to James Crowe (Pediatrics).




Student and postdoc fellowships

Join us in celebrating this month’s fellowship winners. The recipients and granting agencies are: Demond Williams (Cancer Biology, Barbara Fingleton lab) and Ariana von Lersner (Cancer Biology, Andries Zijlstra lab), National Cancer Institute; Daniel Sack (Epidemiology, Carolyn Audet lab) and Bridget Collins (Neuroscience, Jeffrey Neul lab), National Institute of Mental Health; Connor Beebout (Microbe-Host Interactions, Maria Hadjifrangiskou lab), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Nikki Rodgers (CDB, Marija Zanic lab) and Brenna Appleton (MPI, Amy Major lab), National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; Ashley Christensen (MPB, Maureen Gannon lab), National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; and Dylan Ritter (CDB, Ela Knapik lab), National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.




ASPIRE Annual Report

Exactly what kind of career development and exploration does the ASPIRE Program provide? Who benefits from these programs? ASPIRE has just published its annual report—check it out and learn what it can do for you or the students and postdocs in your lab.



VSSA looks back at a successful summer

After the in-person Vanderbilt Summer Science Academy program was cancelled this summer, Vanderbilt researchers and physicians-in-training came together to give aspiring graduate and medical students a view of the biomedical community—as well as to help them build an identity in science—through the Virtual VSSA program. Over 100 undergraduates attended each seminar. This program was led by Christina Keeton, Beth Bowman, and Kendra Oliver, and could not have happened without the help of the numerous faculty and student volunteers involved.


How to science with kids at home

If you have kids at home that you need to engage and entertain, try out some of these fun science experiments demoed by grad student Monique Bennett (PMI, James Crowe lab) and postdoc Will Beavers (Eric Skaar lab) on Channel News 4 Nashville.


Ortolano writes for STAT

Graduate student Natalya Ortolano (CDB, Vivian Gama lab) spent the summer as an AAAS Mass Media Fellow writing for STAT. Check out her writing and learn something sciency that might or might not be related to your field of study! Ortolano and VISE postdoc Allison Whitten represented Vanderbilt in this year’s cohort of Mass Media Fellows.


Interview with residential faculty Hasty

Did you know that our own Assistant Dean for Faculty Development Alyssa Hasty lives on campus? She’s a residential faculty at the undergrad dorm Murray House. Get to know her through this interview.


Vanderbilt Magazine highlights Warren Center

The most recent issue of the university’s quarterly magazine featured the dedicated work by researchers at the Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery. It takes readers through the history and significance of the recent phase I testing of VU319, a drug developed as a treatment candidate against Alzheimer’s disease.


Final chapter of the BEST adventure

Vanderbilt’s ASPIRE program was initially funded through a nonrenewable Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training grant from the NIH. This fall, the funding expired for the last of the 17 awarded institutions, but many of them, like ASPIRE will continue with institutional support. Their experiences—including lessons learned—were reported in a book published this year.




Substance abuse complicated by COVID-19

In an interview with NewsChannel 5, Erin Calipari (Pharmacology) relates her research on substance use disorders with the observed increase in opioid overdoses during the pandemic nationwide. Separately, a paper Calipari published along with Cody Siciliano reveals differences in how male and female mice respond to anticipated rewards and punishments, with implications for the treatment of psychiatric diseases.

How cells adapt to their environment

John York (Biochemistry) and his lab recently found that the bifunctional enzyme Vip1 can create and break down inositol diphosphates to help cells adapt to their environments.

Pathfinding behavior mediated by exosomes

The lab of Alissa Weaver (CDB) has developed a novel technique for visualizing exosomes in living organisms, helping her lab document new insights about exosome-mediated cellular migration.

Targeting metastatic melanoma

The Ann Richmond (Pharmacology) lab evaluated KRT-232, alone or as part of a combination, and determined that it’s a promising therapy for metastatic melanoma that does not respond to the standard therapy with dabrafenib and trametinib.

Defining the components of the IMAC

A recent paper from the lab of Matt Tyska (CDB), which identified the small EF-hand protein calmodulin-like protein 4 as a component of the intermicrovillar adhesion complex, was featured on the cover of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Maintaining ERα homeostasis

According to the lab of Deborah Lannigan (PMI), RSK2 is key to regulating estrogen homeostasis through estrogen receptor α.


Fighting fibrotic diseases

Ambra Pozzi (Medicine) and colleagues found that integrin and EGFR regulate collagen production partly by translocating the protein FUS to the nucleus. Mutations in FUS can damage nerve cells and cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

STING activation helps defeat neuroblastoma

Neuroblastomas are notoriously impregnable to immune cells, but the lab of John Wilson (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering) found a way to make neuroblastoma tumors more immunogenic and susceptible to immune checkpoint blockade therapy by activating the STING pathway.

Discovery of a resistance-resistant antibiotic

Brian Bachmann’s (Chemistry) group recently discovered a soil antibiotic that targets two separate bacterial targets, thereby reducing the probability that a bacterium will develop defenses against both.

Nonsense mediated mRNA decay targets viruses

NMD functions as a quality-control mechanism designed to regulate mRNA levels in host cells, but the lab of John Karijolich (PMI) has determined that it also serves an antiviral purpose.

Targeting mTORC1

Work from the Jin Chen (Medicine) lab found that inhibiting mTORC1 can help normalize blood vessels, that tend to be leaky and dysfunctional in tumors.


Targeting a T4SS in H. pylori

Tim Cover’s (Medicine) lab has developed methods to control Cag type IV secretion system activity in Helicobacter pylori, which is associated with a higher risk of gastric cancer.


Hidden reservoir for UTI bacteria

The lab of Maria Hadjifrangiskou (PMI) has found that Escherichia coli can use vaginal cells as a reservoir, thereby helping them evade antibiotics and leading to recurrent urinary tract infections.

Antibodies against MARV, alphaviruses

The lab of James Crowe found two non-neutralizing antibodies against the Marburg virus that nonetheless help clear infection. In a separate paper, his lab identified antibodies that block infection by alphaviruses, which include chikungunya, Mayaro, Ross River, Sagiyama, Getah and O’nyong’nyong, among others.

Finding a treatment for atherosclerosis

MacRae Linton (Medicine) led a collaboration that found a small-molecule “scavenger” that reduces inflammation and formation of atherosclerotic plaque in blood vessels in mice and could lead to a new approach for treating atherosclerosis in humans.

Announcements & Events

Student accountability sanctions updated

The Office of the Dean of Students recently announced a revision to the student accountability sanctions for violations of the university’s COVID-19 policies and protocols. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the guidelines.

Masks provided to departments
All four of our departments (Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology, Pharmacology, and Molecular Physiology and Biophysics) have been given a set amount of VU-branded masks for distribution to all faculty, staff, and postdocs. Graduate students will get their masks from the BRET Office via their director of graduate studies.

If you have any questions, please email your department’s administration. Staff who work in cores will get their masks from the department/center which houses the core.

Workshop to address everyday bias
We all have biases—do you know how to recognize yours in your everyday interactions? Learn how to identify how your preconceptions might be informing your actions even when those actions are not warranted through the “Disrupting Everyday Bias” workshop offered in Oracle Learning. Sessions are available every weekday through September 30.

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.

Instructional design support for adaptive teaching
The Center for Teaching has partnered with the instructional design firm iDesign to provide faculty with additional instructional design support as preparations continue for online and hybrid teaching this fall. Beginning July 24, Vanderbilt faculty have access to a resource hub, a week-long class, and support hours.


Register to Vote - roadsign information

As with all local and national elections, we encourage you to vote in the upcoming election on November 3. Make sure you are registered to vote (check here to see if you’re registered in Tennessee). Tennessee requires that you return the completed application to your county election commission or submit it online at least 30 days before the election to be able to vote. If you want to vote by absentee ballot, make sure you qualify first. At this time, fear of COVID-19 is not a reason to request an absentee ballot in the state of Tennessee, but you might consider early voting (October 14-29) to avoid crowds instead.


Info session on research-related IT resources at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt IT is hosting an info session on September 18 at 1:00 PM to help users learn about their offerings, including custom programming solutions and consultation, high-performance computing and cloud resources, IT training and digital resources, and more. Sign up here.

MEGA Microbe goes virtual
This yearly event for children will go virtual this September, featuring a “Vote for Your Favorite Microbe!” theme! If you’re interested in volunteering either independently or with your lab, or would simply like more information, please email Megan Schladt.

Webinar: Federal funding for early-career faculty
Early-career faculty will learn about key research agencies such as the NIH, NSF, and DOD; strategies for engaging with program managers at each; and tailoring their research to meet the needs of each agency. There also will be opportunities to ask general questions and receive information on how to connect with Lewis-Burke Associates for one-on-one guidance. Register here for the September 22 webinar, held at 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM.

NIH & You to not occur in Nashville
One of the NIH’s Regional Seminars on Program Funding and Grants Administration for 2020 was set to take place right here in Nashville in October, but due to the pandemic, the conference was switched to a virtual format. The virtual seminar will occur during the week of October 26-30 and will be free of charge for the extramural research community. Finalized details will be shared on the NIH Regional Seminar Homepage and in a future NIH Guide Notice.


Sandra Zinkel lab: Postdoctoral fellow

Sebastian Joyce lab: Postdoctoral fellow

Ivelin Georgiev lab: Postdoctoral fellows and research assistants interested in antibody discovery, vaccine development, or deciphering the fundamental rules of antibody-antigen interactions. Contact.


Funding Opportunities


VU Bridge Program
Primary Basic Sciences faculty with lapses in federal grant support are invited to apply for this program. The next submission deadline for Bridge/Realignment Grant funding is September 15. The instructions for submission of proposals have been completely overhauled and have been posted on the VBS website. It is critical that faculty who wish to apply follow the posted instructions.



BWF postdoc grant
Applications are currently open for the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Awards at the Scientific Interface, an award targeted to postdocs who are transitioning into the biomedical sciences from the physical, mathematical, or computational sciences or engineering. Pre-proposals are due September 1.

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. They answer questions on topics 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.

NIH Director’s Transformative Research Awards (R01 Clinical Trial Optional)
This FOA is a Common Fund initiative for scientists proposing “groundbreaking, exceptionally innovative, original, and/or unconventional research with the potential to create new scientific paradigms, establish entirely new and improved clinical approaches, or develop transformative technologies.” Applications must be submitted by September 20, 2019, at 5:00 PM local time of the applicant organization. More details here.

NSF to enable mid-scale infrastructure projects
The NSF has announced it will be supporting workshops and planning awards to address the research infrastructure needs of the biological sciences community. The workshops and awards will allow scientists to come together and explore, or further, mid-scale infrastructure goals. Learn more here.

NCI Cancer Moonshot
The Cancer Moonshot program at the NCI has a variety of funding opportunities available. Details are here.

NIH Guide
If you have not already done so, you are encouraged to subscribe to the NIH Guide email list, which provides a weekly update on NIH grant programs and requests for proposals. Subscribe here.


About this Issue’s Banner

Graduate student Amy Stark (Pharmacology, John Penn lab) has been working on optimizing the growth conditions of retinal pigment epithelial cells. Although she expected to find an even monolayer of cells when she looked under the microscope, she instead found isolated cells in the shape of—of all things—Gonzo the Muppet! Although the immunocytochemistry she ran to validate the RPE cells’ identity did not show the expected tight junctions that would have indicated a monolayer, she got a kick out of seeing her cells. And just like Stark, we think it’s important to find the joy in the day-to-day of science, even when things don’t go right.

See larger view.


Male hand placing wooden cut circle with an Oops sign on it on bright yellow background.


In the July 2020 issue, Henry Henderson III’s name was incorrectly listed as Harrison.


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.


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