News From The Basic Sciences

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

December 2020


Dear Basic Sciences,

This is our last newsletter of the year! We hope you’ve been enjoying Basically Speaking as much as we’ve loved highlighting all your successes and achievements.

Come the new year, we’ll be ready to continue featuring the work that you do — just make sure to keep me in the loop!

Happy holidays,

Lorena Infante Lara
Communications and Social Media Manager



Holiday message from the dean

If you missed last week’s email from Dean Marnett, you can find it here.

Carrasco elected to the National Academy of Medicine

Nancy Carrasco (MPB) was elected to the National Academy of Medicine. The Academy recognized Carrasco for her pioneering public health work. Her research focuses on understanding the physiology of thyroid hormone biosynthesis and how it is affected by genetic mutations and environmental pollutants.

Cortez named interim chair of biochemistry

David Cortez (Biochemistry) has been named interim chair of the Department of Biochemistry, beginning on January 1, 2021. John York, the current chair, has been named chief scientific officer of food technology startup Impossible Foods and will be moving to California. During York’s term, the Department of Biochemistry became the top NIH-funded department in the nation.

Coogan named as PMI chair

Alice Coogan, who previously served as interim chair of the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, has been named chair. She is the seventh chair of PMI and the first female chair.

Center for Structural Biology, CPB to have new directors

Walter Chazin (Biochemistry) will be stepping down from his role as director of the Center for Structural Biology at the end of the year. Come January 1, 2021, he will become the new Program Director for the Chemical and Physical Biology program, replacing current director Bruce Damon (Radiology and Radiological Sciences). Borden Lacy (PMI) will take Chazin’s place at the helm of the CSB.

Lindsley named editor in chief of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry

Craig Lindsley (Pharmacology) was recently named editor in chief of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. Linsdley, who has been at Vanderbilt since 2006, also heads the university’s Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery. His research focuses on central nervous system drug discovery, particularly on the allosteric modulation of G protein-coupled receptors and kinases, as well as ion channels.

Basic Sciences faculty honored with endowed chairs

Brian Bachmann (Chemistry), Timothy Blackwell (Medicine), David Cortez (Biochemistry), Tina Iverson (Pharmacology), Kimryn Rathmell (Medicine), and Susan Wente (CDB) are among this year’s Vanderbilt University endowed chair honorees, the highest honor the university can bestow on its faculty. A future in-person event will be held to celebrate these endowed chair honorees.

Crowe wins Golden Goose Award

James Crowe Jr. (Pediatrics) has won a 2020 “Golden Goose” Award for his scientific responses to COVID-19. Crowe has pioneered development of human monoclonal antibodies as potential treatments for viral diseases.

Six faculty elected as AAAS fellows

This year, six faculty were elected as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The new fellows are Raymond Harris (Medicine), Richard Peek (Medicine), Kimryn Rathmell (Medicine), John Jeffrey Reese (Pediatrics), Antonis Rokas (Biological Sciences), and Matthew Weinger (Anesthesiology).

Siciliano named in Forbes 30 Under 30 – Science list

Cody Siciliano (Pharmacology) has been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 – Science list. He is also featured in this month’s Basic Sciences faculty profile video. He provides an overview of his research into understanding neural mechanisms of individual differences in decision making.

Banerjee selected as AAAS STP Fellow

Recent graduate Amrita Banerjee (CDB, lab of Ken Lau) has been awarded a coveted spot as a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow. Banerjee will be working in the office of U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer.

Mixing mitochondrial biology, mentoring — and doughnuts

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology recently spotlighted Breann Brown (Biochemistry), who shared her insights on the Black experience in academia and on keeping talented students in science.

Vanderbilt Winter Showcase

The Basic Sciences Winter Showcase gets researchers out of the lab and into the spotlight! If you missed the talent show, you can read all about it here and can view the full show here.

Students donate funds to peers through the BCC

Recently, the CDB Graduate Student Association decided to do more than release a statement supporting their Black peers and the Black Lives Matter movement: they donated the entirety of their $1,000 budget — which normally funds social and outreach events — to the Vanderbilt Black Cultural Center. The BCC, an organization that supports the needs of Black staff, faculty, alumni, and students through programming, resources, and fellowship opportunities, will use the money to provide laptop computers through their student loan program. The CDB-GSA’s generous donation inspired their MPB counterparts to also donate their remaining budget to the BCC. Interested individuals are invited to donate to the BCC as well through here.

New faculty: Rick Sando

Rick Sando will join Vanderbilt’s faculty in January 2021. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Stanford University professor and Nobel laureate Thomas Südhof. Sando’s research will focus on the molecular logic of how the brain’s neural circuits are formed and could eventually yield clues as to how some disorders arise.

Calkins named Assistant VP for Research at VUMC

David Calkins (Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences) has been appointed Assistant Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.


Burnette lab members make a clean sweep of ASCB 2020 image contest

Three members of  Dylan Burnette’s (CDB) lab recently took home top honors at the American Society for Cell Biology’s image and video contest. Burnette and James Hayes (CDB, Burnette lab) tied for first place along with Nilay Taneja (CDB, Burnette lab); the third first-place winner, Aidan Fenix, is himself a Burnette lab alumnus. Burnette took second-place honors, and both Burnette and Hayes brought home the third-place prize.

Anti-inflammatory therapy now in clinical trials for eczema

A cell-penetrating, anti-inflammatory peptide developed by Jacek Hawiger (Medicine) and licensed to biopharmaceutical company Amytrx, has been approved by the FDA for testing as a potential therapeutic for mild to moderate eczema. The peptide, known as AMTX-100, has been in clinical trials since March. 

Vega awarded dissertation enhancement grant

Graduate student Paige Vega (CDB, lab of Ken Lau) has received a Dissertation Enhancement Grant from the Russell G. Hamilton Graduate Leadership Institute at Vanderbilt. She will use the funds to analyze the effects of long-term, efficient, and specific Paneth cell ablation on the maintenance of the intestinal stem cell niche.

Saleh to serve on VU Appellate Review Board

Nabil Saleh (CDB, lab of Ken Lau) was recently appointed to serve a two-year term on the university’s Appellate Review Board as the student representative of the Graduate School. It required a recommendation from the student body, a nomination from the Dean of the Graduate School, and an appointment by Provost Susan Wente.



IMSD program funding renewed

The NIH has awarded a grant to continue Vanderbilt’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity program, which supports the success of biomedical research graduate students from underrepresented groups. The program, led by Roger Chalkley, senior associate dean for biomedical research education and training, and Linda Sealy, Basic Sciences senior advisor on issues relating to equity, diversity and inclusion, has supported more than 165 graduate students.

Expanding the VI4-AiR program

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund has awarded the VI4 Artist-in-Residence program, established through a collaboration with ArtLab, a three-year grant to expand AiR into other places in the Southeast.

Vanderbilt-Ancora partnership advances research for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease

Ancora Innovation, LLC, announced it will fund further research into therapeutics for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, an inherited condition that damages peripheral nerves. The research will continue to be led by Chuck Sanders (Biochemistry), who will also be joined by Bruce Carter (Biochemistry).

Millis receives Chan Zuckerberg Initiative grant to expand access to imaging technologies

Bryan Millis (CDB) has been awarded a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Imaging Scientists program. The award will go toward building an immersive virtual education platform to expand instruction and accessibility of high-end microscopy techniques within and beyond the Vanderbilt research community. VUIIS scientists also received a CZI grant to develop deep-tissue imaging methods.

Byndloss receives V Scholar Award

The V Foundation for Cancer Research has awarded Mariana Byndloss (PMI) a V Scholar Award to study the links between obesity, the gut microbiome and colorectal cancer.

Team awarded grant to continue T-cell immune response research

Matt Lang (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering) and his collaborators have been awarded a five-year grant that involves characterizing the biological and structural features of T-cell signaling. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the division of the National Institutes of Health that studies COVID-19 and seasonal flu, awarded the group a combined $11 million program P01 grant.

Paper by Centanni recognized with NEATOR award

A 2020 Neuropsychopharmacology paper by postdoc Sam Centanni (MPB, lab of Danny Winder) was recently recognized with the 2020 Neuropsychopharmacology Editors’ Award for a Transformative Original Report. View their acceptance speech here.

VPA recognizes postdoc efforts

The 14th annual symposium of the Vanderbilt Postdoc Association recognized a number of award winners, including Jessica Thomas (lab of Roger Colbran) for best poster presentation and Sam Centanni (lab of Danny Winder), postdoc honorable mention award.



Deceiving SARS-CoV-2 and revealing the cause of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease

Chuck Sanders (Biochemistry) lab graduate student James Hutchinson is working on altering the novel coronavirus’s envelope protein to turn it into a Trojan horse to fight against COVID-19. Their approach can neutralize the virus during assembly, thus ending its ability to infect other cells. The Sanders group has also recently shed light on the cause of CMT disease, putting them on the road to developing therapeutic approaches for the disease that affects 1 in 2,500 people.

Researchers create molecular ‘atlas’ of GI tract neurons

Michelle Southard-Smith (CDB) and colleagues have generated the first comprehensive molecular “atlas” of genes expressed by the neuronal cells within the intestine that coordinate the functions of the gastrointestinal tract. The atlas offers a foundation for future studies aimed at advancing the understanding and treatment of GI diseases.

Study reveals new strategy for reducing tumor growth, metastasis

A team of Vanderbilt investigators led by Ann Richmond (Pharmacology) has discovered that blocking a certain signaling pathway boosts antitumor immunity and reduces tumor growth and metastasis in models of breast cancer and melanoma.

Regulating the length of microvilli

Recent work from the lab of Matt Tyska (CDB) was recognized as an Editor’s Pick and cover for the November Journal of Biological Chemistry issue. Tyska’s lab also recently landed the cover of the December 1 issue of Molecular Biology of the Cell. Both articles are germane to the regulation of the length of microvilli.

New melanoma research brings understanding of cellular resistance to cancer treatment

Vito Quaranta (Biochemistry) and colleagues have identified the enzymes that keep tumor cells growing in the presence of drug treatment, opening the door to stopping these cells dead in their tracks. Their research was published in the journal Cancer Research and is key for identifying enzymes that enable other cancers’ drug-tolerant persister cells in hopes of exploiting their vulnerabilities.

Preserving gut mucus architecture

Ken Lau (CDB) and his lab have established a method for preserving microbes and host cells together using a mucus-adhesive polymer called Poloxamer 407. Their approach, reported in npj Biofilms and Microbiomes, makes it possible for researchers to study complex host-microbe interactions in native tissue environments, and potentially in clinical specimens.

Developing a publicly available COVID-19 animal susceptibility prediction tool

A cadre of Vanderbilt researchers has developed a tool to understand and predict animal susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, providing evidence that horses and camels may be at increased risk of the virus. Wenbiao Chen (MPB) is the corresponding author for this paper, published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal.

Making counterintuitive discoveries about immune-like characteristics of cells, chemotherapy’s impact on tissue growth

Ian Macara (CDB) reports in Developmental Cell that certain chemotherapeutic agents used to treat tumors can have the opposite effect of tissue overgrowth in normal, intact mammary glands, epidermis and hair follicles.The findings have broad implications for diseases associated with the immune system like psoriasis, as well as cancer and stem cell research.

Medium spiny neurons and “sticking” to bad habits

Recent work from the labs of Brad Grueter (Anesthesiology) and Heidi Hamm (Pharmacology), reveals processes that may disrupt communication between the nucleus accumbens and other areas of the brain.

Detailing the inflammatory response’s early events

The lab of Henrique Serezani (Medicine) recently found that a protein called LTB4 is required for the protective effects of IL-1 beta in an animal model of skin infection.

Parsing SARS-CoV-2’s interactions with the host

The lab of Lars Plate (Chemistry) has been researching the differences and similarities between how three coronaviruses — including the one that causes COVID-19 — interact with their host, leading to insights into possible new therapeutic targets.

Possible COVID-19 “decoy”

Robert Coffey (Medicine) and an international research team found that the presence of a recombinant, soluble form of human ACE2 reduced viral growth and inhibited infection. Their findings, published in the journal Gastroenterology, have important implications for the development of strategies to prevent infection by SARS-CoV-2, as well as other pathogenic coronaviruses.

Factor involved in stomach injury response identified

James Goldenring (Medicine) and fellow researchers have identified a key factor that coordinates the body’s repair response to severe injury in the stomach caused, most commonly, by infection by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori.





VUMC and VU email directories to split on January 8

This might sound technical, but it might very well affect you. Starting on January 8, 2021, the VU and VUMC email directories will be separated as part of the split between the two organizations. This means that if you have a VU email address, you will no longer find any VUMC email addresses when typing a name in the “To:” field (the same will be true for the converse situation); there are implications for distribution lists as well. Read more here.


mRNA vaccines??

Are you curious about the difference between mRNA vaccines and “normal” vaccines? Do you have friends or family who have asked you to explain the difference? VI4 has you covered with this handy infographic that lays out the similarities and differences.


We want YOU on our Instagram!

Basic Sciences is more than just our research—we’re a community of individuals driven to excel in biomedical research. Let us feature you on Instagram! We want to see you in lab, outside of lab, with friends (socially distant and masked, please), in the wilderness—wherever you are, we want to see you. Tag or DM us on social media (@vubasicsciences).


Preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic

If you missed Mark Denison’s excellent presentation on December 14, “Preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic…for 36 years,” a recording is now available for viewing.



Intersections Science Fellows Symposium

This upcoming symposium, to be held January 6 to 8, 2021, is designed to showcase the outstanding research of postdocs in the biological sciences and to support the scientific and professional development of the next generation of academic faculty. This is an outstanding chance to identify potential future members of your lab or department and to forge the personal connections that help in recruitment. Vanderbilt is one of the supporting institutions. Visit the symposium website for more details.


Clinical Research Center workshops

The Vanderbilt High-throughput Screening core hosts free Clinical Research Center Research Skills workshops each Friday from 9:00 to 10:00 AM via Zoom. The weekly CRC Research Skills workshops offer basic instruction and practical advice on commonly encountered clinical research topics and can count for continuing medical education credits. Sessions are typically demonstration-oriented and provide an informal setting to learn new skills. Read more about it here.

Karpay Award Lecture

Please join us for the upcoming Karpay Award Lecture featuring Justin Marinko (Biochemistry, lab of Chuck Sanders): “There and Back Again: A Protein’s Tale.” Sponsored by the Center for Structural Biology, the talk will take place on January 21, 2021, at 12:20 PM via Zoom.


Ancora Information Session

Ancora will host an Information Session, “Accelerating the Commercialization of Transformative Biomedical Technologies with a Focus on Rare Genetic Diseases,” on January 21, 2021 at 10:00 AM. Interested attendees should register here to RSVP.




In the October issue, we incorrectly stated that Lourdes Estrada was elected director of the Academy for Excellence in Education and would serve until 2022. Estrada is currently the director-elect until 2022 and will serve as director from 2022-2024.


Have a job opening you’d like to promote? Send us a link or a description and contact info, and we’ll post it below.

Rick Sando lab: Postdoctoral fellow

Will Wan lab: Postdoctoral fellow

Sandra Zinkel lab: Postdoctoral fellow

Sebastian Joyce lab: Postdoctoral fellow

James Crowe 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.

Cynthia Reinhart-King lab: Postdoctoral fellow for work on funded projects related to the role of the tumor microenvironment in metastasis. Contact.

VI4: Postdoctoral fellow

Amy Major lab: Postdoctoral fellow and graduate student

Henrique Serezani lab: Postdoctoral fellow and research assistant

Seth Bordenstein lab: Postdoctoral fellow

Bhuminder Singh lab: Postdoctoral fellow



Internal Funding Opportunities

SARS-CoV-2 and diabetes
The Vanderbilt Diabetes Center, the NIH-funded Diabetes Research and Training Center, and the NIH-funded Center for Diabetes Translational Research seek pilot and feasibility proposals to study the interaction of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 and diabetes. Research projects could focus on basic, clinical or translational studies to improve understanding of the COVID-19-diabetes connection, including pathogenic mechanisms, health care delivery or long-term impact.


External Funding Opportunities

Ancora rare genetic diseases funding
Each therapeutic discovery project supported by this funding opportunity must focus on a clear therapeutic hypothesis enabled by genetic and biological understanding of disease pathophysiology with cellular and in vivo models available. Existing therapeutic candidates are not required. Therapeutics of interest include small molecules, biopharmaceuticals, and gene therapies. To create a profile with Ancora Innovations and learn more about the Letter of Intent application, please click here. Interested faculty should email Margaret Read to learn more about next steps and formal submission.

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 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.

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.


About this Issue’s Banner

To cap the year, we’re featuring art by VICTR Senior Project Manager Robert Lavieri. He uses a program called UCSF Chimera to render images from coordinates in the Protein Data Bank. He then takes that “raw” image and modifies it in Photoshop to create art like this piece. Here, Lavieri worked with 5DE5, the complex between the RGG motif of the human Fragile X mental retardation protein and G-quadruplex RNA. FMRP is a regulatory RNA binding protein that plays a central role in the development of several human disorders including Fragile X Syndrome and autism. In this image, you can see both the protein — a yellow ribbon — and a stretch of bound RNA — in rainbow colors. The red spheres are potassium cations.

See larger view.


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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What a year! Thank you Basic Sciences faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and staff!





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