T he annual Sackler Oktoberfest was held on October 23 in Jaharis 508, and organized the Social committee of the Sackler GSC. One of the more well-attended events of the semester, the Oktoberfest saw around 65-70 attendees eager to indulge in the festivities. As always, there was the popular stein hoisting competition for males and females, separately. 10/10 would attend again – the experience was well worth the $2 donation.
Are you interested in getting some teaching and outreach experience? If so, consider volunteering to participate in the fall semester’s BIOBUGS (Biology Inquiry and Outreach with Boston University Graduate Students) program. BIOBUGS is a week-long program where we invite Boston area high school biology classes to come to Boston University and participate in a newly redesigned 3 hour lab, Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy!
Guest Post by Michaela Tolman
On Thursday October 8th, the Neuroscience Department hosted its 7th annual Neuroscience Symposium and William Shucart Lecture. The daylong event brings together neuroscience enthusiasts from the entire Tufts community, including the Departments of Neurosurgery, Psychiatry and Neurology as well as the basic science departments of Tufts University School of Medicine. The day is filled with talks celebrating the cutting edge of neuroscience research and stimulating conversations. The final lecture of the day honors William Shucart, MD. With nearly 200 people in attendance, the 2015 Symposium was a great success.
This year, Dr. Thomas Biederer of the Neuroscience department served as symposium director. Invited speakers included Dr. QiuFu Ma from Dana-Farber/Harvard Medical School: “Spinal circuits transmitting mechanical pain”, Dr Scott Soderling from Duke University Medical Center: “Actin badly – cytoskeletal drivers of neuropsychiatric disorder”, Dr. Elly Nedivi from MIT: “Structural dynamics of inhibitory synapses”, Dr. Pavel Osten from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories: “Automated analysis of functional and anatomical circuits in the mouse brain”, and Dr. Christina Alberini from New York University: “Molecular mechanisms of memory consolidation and enhancement”. Students and post docs had the opportunity to meet the speakers in small groups during lunch and talk more in depth about their research and experiences.
The day concluded with Dr. Gordon Fishell from New York University giving the 2015 William Shucart Lecture on his work in the field of interneuron development. Dr. Philip Haydon, chair of the Neuroscience Department, describes in his welcome Dr. Shucart’s contribution to the Neuroscience Department, “…William Shucart, MD, who at that time was chair of Neurosurgery, recognized the importance of basic Neuroscience and was unwavering in his support for the formation of our Department. It is only fitting therefore that the last lecture recognizes his important contributions.” Previous Shucart Lecturers include Dr. Martha Constantine-Paton, Dr. Karl Deisseroth, and Dr. Mark Schnitzer to name a few. More information can be found on the Symposium website at http://medicine.tufts.edu/Education/Academic-Departments/Basic-Science-Departments/Neuroscience/Neuroscience-Symposium-and-Shucart-Lecture and the Neuroscience Department’s Facebook page.
Michaela Tolman is a Neuroscience PhD Candidate in the Yang lab, studying astrocyte maturation and functional development. She is also the current President of the Sackler Graduate Student Council.
Guest Post by Alex Jones
Of the myriad skills a scientist must have in his repertoire, arguably the most important is the ability to clearly present his findings. Whether speaking amongst colleagues, giving a talk at a scientific meeting or simply answering the age-old question, “So, what do you do?” at a cocktail party, the need for better scientific communication skills is ever present. But how does one improve their public speaking abilities insofar as they relate to science? The answer is as simple as it is nerve-wracking (at least for some); that is, speaking publicly about science.
With this in mind, on October 20th, the Sackler Graduate Student Council Career Paths committee and the Tufts Biomedical Business Club teamed up to present the first “Sackler Science Open Mic Night”. The goal of the event was for students to present short, two to three minute talks covering some aspect of their research and to help each other workshop these talks, in the hopes of improving. This “flash talk” style of presentation is challenging as it leaves only enough time for the speaker to present the most crucial aspects of their research, but it is also one of the most frequently used skills whether it be at a networking event, an interview, or even in response to that question at a cocktail party.
Professor Dan Jay joined students for the event and to kick it off he gave a flash talk of his own on a favorite subject of his, “the intersection between art and science”. Student presenters from all over Sackler gave talks ranging from astrocytes (and their communication with neurons via vesicular release of transmitters) to v-ATPases (and the signaling pathways that control their assembly). Presenters and spectators alike made the event a success, providing tons of feedback on how to improve those talks for future presentations. Keep an eye out for more events similar to the Sackler Science Open Mic Night in the future as the Sackler Graduate Student Council and Tufts Biomedical Business Club look for more ways to promote scientific communication.
Alex Jones is a Neuroscience PhD student in the Reijmers lab studying changes in molecular profile of neurons during memory formation. He also serves as the current Treasurer of the Sackler Graduate Student Council.
The Charlton Lectureship, named in honor of Mr. Earle P. Charlton, has been held annually since 1975. This celebrated lectureship has evolved over the years to include a student poster competition. Held in conjunction with the lectureship, the poster competition is a platform to recognize outstanding research work being done by Tufts graduate, medical, dental, and veterinary students. The Charlton Poster Competition and Lecture are sponsored and hosted by the Academic Research Awards Committee of the Tufts University School of Medicine.
This year’s lecture was held on October 27, 2015, in the Sackler DeBlois Auditorium. The 2015-16 Charlton Lecturer was delivered by Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD. Dr. Lee obtained her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of California in San Francisco (1973) and an MBA at the Wharton School of Business (1984).
Dr. Lee is the John H. Ware 3rd Chair for Alzheimer’s Research, and directs the center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Lee’s work was instrumental in demonstrating that tau, α-synuclein, and TDP-43 proteins form unique brain aggregates with a central role in numerous neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The poster competition was held on October 26, 2015 with finalists competing again the following morning. Students with similar levels of training are evaluated with their peers:
Sackler Senior Category: Sackler biomedical PhD students in years 4 and above, MD/PhD students in Sackler years 4 and above, and Sackler CTS PhD students
1ST PLACE – Kevin Goncalves, CMP
Angiogenin promotes hematopoietic regeneration by dichotomously regulating quiescence and expansion of stem and progenitor cells
2ND PLACE – Jennifer Shih, NRSC
Partial genetic deletion of the astrocytic glutamate transporter GLAST disrupts organization of the cerebral cortex and causes network hyperexcitability
3RD PLACE – Brian Lin, CMDB
Neuronally committed progenitors can dedifferentiate, become multipotent, and generate nonneuronal cell lineages following injury
Sackler Junior Category: Sackler PhD students in years 1-3, MD/PhD students in Sackler years 1-3, and Sackler MS students
1ST PLACE – Joseph Sarhan, IMM
Basal levels of Interferon β Regulates Necroptosis in Macrophages
2ND PLACE – Danish Saleh, NRSC
Kinase activities of RIPK1 and RIPK3 are required for GNB-induced IFN-I synthesis
3RD PLACE – Payel Ghatak, GENE
Digital ELISA Based Ultrasensitive Strategy to Detect microRNAs at Subfemtomolar Concentration.
Professional Category: All Medical, Dental, and Veterinary Medicine students and MD/PhD students in TUSM years 1 and 2.
1ST PLACE – Mary Tam, Medical
The HBP1 Gene: A Pre-clinical Model for Genetic and De novo epilepsies
2ND PLACE – Seda Babroudi, Medical
A Novel Compound, Membrane-Tethered E2, Selectively Activates the ER Rapid Signaling Pathway – Implications for Vascular Benefit
3RD PLACE- Marianna Papageorge, Medical
Cyst Aspiration of Endometriomas Prior to In-Vitro Fertilization
Congratulations to all participants, finalists, and award winners.
First awarded in 1901; The Nobel Prize is widely regarded as the most prestigious award available in the fields of physiology or medicine, chemistry, physics, economics, and literature. Nobel Prizes are awarded annually in recognition of outstanding academic, cultural and/or scientific advances. Each Nobel Laureate receives a Nobel Foundation medal, a diploma, and a sum of money, which is decided by the Nobel Foundation. As of 2012, each prize was worth approximately $1.2 million (USD).
This year, Nobel prizes in the fields of physiology or medicine and chemistry were awarded for: discoveries concerning a novel therapy against malaria and infections caused by roundworm parasites; and mechanistic studies of DNA repair, respectively.
Novel Therapies for Parasitic Infections
Diseases caused by parasites have plagued humankind for millennia and constitute a major global health problem. In particular, parasitic diseases affect the world’s poorest populations and represent a huge barrier to improving human health and well-being. This year’s Nobel Laureates for the field of physiology or medicine developed therapies that revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating parasitic diseases. The Nobel was awarded ½ to Youyou Tu and ¼ each to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura.
Youyou Tu is recognized for her discovery of Artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rates for patients suffering from Malaria. William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura are recognized for their discovery of Avermectin, the derivatives of which have radically lowered the incidence of River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis, as well as showing efficacy against an expanding number of other parasitic diseases. These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually.
The discoveries of Artemisinin and Avermectin have fundamentally changed the treatment of parasitic diseases. Malaria infects close to 200 million individuals yearly. Artemisinin is used in all Malaria-ridden parts of the world. When used in combination therapy, it is estimated to reduce mortality from Malaria by more than 20% overall and by more than 30% in children. For Africa alone, this means that more than 100 000 lives are saved each year. Today the Avermectin-derivative Ivermectin is used in all parts of the world that are plagued by parasitic diseases. Ivermectin is highly effective against a range of parasites, has limited side effects and is freely available across the globe. The importance of Ivermectin for improving the health and well-being of millions of individuals with River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis, primarily in the poorest regions of the world, is immeasurable. Treatment is so successful that these diseases are on the verge of eradication, which would be a major feat in the medical history of humankind.
The discoveries of Artemisinin and Avermectin have revolutionized therapy for patients suffering from devastating parasitic diseases. Tu, Campbell, and Ōmura have transformed the treatment of parasitic diseases. The global impact of their discoveries and the resulting benefit to mankind are truly unfathomable.
The cells’ toolbox for DNA repair
Each day our DNA is damaged by UV radiation, free radicals and other carcinogenic substances, but even without such external attacks, a DNA molecule is inherently unstable. Thousands of spontaneous changes to a cell’s genome occur on a daily basis. Furthermore, defects can also arise when DNA is copied during cell division, a process that occurs several million times every day in the human body. The reason our genetic material does not disintegrate into complete chemical chaos is that a host of molecular systems continuously monitor and repair DNA.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar for having mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information. Their work has provided fundamental knowledge and insight into how a living cell functions.
In the early 1970s, scientists believed that DNA was an extremely stable molecule, but Tomas Lindahl demonstrated that DNA decays at a rate that ought to have made the development of life on Earth impossible. This insight led him to discover a molecular machinery, base excision repair, which constantly counteracts the collapse of our DNA.
Paul Modrich has demonstrated how the cell corrects errors that occur when DNA is replicated during cell division. This mechanism, mismatch repair, reduces the error frequency during DNA replication by about a thousand fold. Congenital defects in mismatch repair are known, for example, to cause a hereditary variant of colon cancer.
Aziz Sancar has mapped nucleotide excision repair, the mechanism that cells use to repair UV damage to DNA. People born with defects in this repair system will develop skin cancer if they are exposed to sunlight. The cell also utilizes nucleotide excision repair to correct defects caused by mutagenic substances, among other things.
These Nobel Laureates have provided fundamental knowledge and insight into how a living cell functions. Their respective breakthrough discoveries have been applied and used for the development and advancement of novel cancer treatments.
Who wouldn’t want to be a space pirate? Granted, if you had to be stranded alone on a barren planet for over a year for that chance to happen, it might not be so appealing. Still, space pirate: think of the possibilities.
It is this optimistic, jocular tone that Ridley Scott’s The Martian, based on the book by Andy Weir, takes as it follows astronaut and botanist Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, through the trials and tribulations of having to remodel rudimentary living conditions after being presumed dead and left behind by his crew during a mission to Mars. Stranded initially without means of communication to Earth, Watney’s life-saving ventures range from making water using hydrogen and oxygen gas (which almost gets him blown up) to growing potatoes in a homemade greenhouse (you don’t want to know where he got the fertilizer for that project, just saying). His life gets a little less difficult when an observant mission control operator notices a moving rover on the satellite surveillance of Mars’ surface late one night, giving those on Earth the first sign that Watney is in fact alive. With some quick thinking and teamwork, they rig up a way to communicate and suddenly Watney isn’t so alone anymore. They continue to help him survive in the harsh conditions of the planet, which he does all to the lively beats of disco hits, as that is apparently all his team’s commander, played by Jessica Chastain, loaded into the system during their stay, much to his chagrin.
The 1970s soundtrack calls back to the post-space race era, using the backdrop of where we have been to throw into sharp relief how far we have come, and also how far we can still go in exploring the stars. Still, The Martian, at its heart, is not a two-hour promotion for NASA and its programs. Though it does get ample on-screen time, political maneuverings and calculated public relations decisions made in board rooms rival the time spent problem solving in mission control or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), giving the organization an almost ominous corporate vibe. Driven by Jeff Davis’ performance as the callous program director, NASA becomes the antagonist when the decision is made to keep the news of Watney’s survival from his crew, who are making their way back to Earth, in an attempt to keep their focus on the mission to return home safely.
It is this theme–balancing the lives of several versus one–that refracts throughout the back half of the film, making the humanity of this survival story begin to outshine the science in a subtle and heartwarming way. Thus it comes as no surprise that the returning Ares III crew chooses to risk their lives in a genius attempt, crafted by an eccentric but endearing JPL engineer, to change course and retrieve Watney even though NASA initially rejects the plan. As every pirate adventure should, mutiny and risky swashbuckling ensue, ending in a daring rescue attempt that requires the brains and particular STEM skills of all six members of the Ares III team. In a breathtakingly beautiful and nerve-wracking sequence, an injured, exhausted, and bearded Watney attempts to launch into Mars’ atmosphere with a jerry-rigged pod to reach his crew’s ship which is orbiting by, all while the whole world watches on.
Whether or not he makes it–well, you’ll have to go see The Martian yourself to find out the answer to that question. Though the AMC Loews Boston Common 19 will no longer screen the sci-fi adventure after this week, Regal Fenway Stadium 13 and AMC Assembly Row 12 have showings scheduled for the next two weeks, so catch it while you can.
Lastly, for those interested in how accurate Watney’s scientific efforts to remodel his surroundings are, NASA  and The Guardian  both addressed this question, and Neil deGrasse Tyson also weighed in on the matter via Twitter with some very amusing and pointed commentary .
- Fox, Steve. “Nine Real NASA Technologies in ‘The Martian’.” NASA. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 11 Sept 2015. Web. 03 Nov 2015. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nine-real-nasa-technologies-in-the-martian
- Zubrin, Robert. “How Scientifically Accurate Is The Martin?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, Limited. 06 Oct 2015. Web. 03 Nov 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/06/how-scientifically-accurate-is-the-martian
- Gettell, Oliver. “Neil deGrasse Tyson Tweets His Thoughts on The Martian.” Entertainment Weekly. Entertainment Weekly, Inc. 2 Oct 2015. Web. 03 Nov 2015. http://www.ew.com/article/2015/10/02/neil-degrasse-tyson-the-martian
The Central Square Theater in Cambridge houses two award winning and professional theater companies; The Nora Theatre Company and The Underground Railway Theater. This vibrant hub of theatrical, educational, and social activity, is where artists and audiences can come together to create theater that is both vital and captivating to the community.
Live performances for the month of November include:
Einstein’s Dreams (ending Nov. 14th)
Switzerland, 1905: A modest, newly-married patent clerk struggles to make ends meet while re-conceiving time. What happens when Albert Einstein completes his Theory of Relativity? Absurd, comic, and poetic, Einstein’s Dreams captures the poignancy of the human condition. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, Underground Railway Theater reunites the original 2007 world premiere cast, adapted by director Wesley Savick from the novel by Alan Lightman.
Copenhagen (ending Nov. 15th)
Copenhagen, 1941: Two brilliant physicists – fast friends from enemy nations – famously confront each other at the height of WWII. This award-winning psychological mystery unravels what transpired on that fateful night. Werner Heisenberg and his mentor Niels Bohr meet again in the afterlife, goaded by Bohr’s wife, Margrethe. Who will remember the truth that changed the course of history? Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the Atomic Bomb, Eric Tucker cracks open Michael Frayn’s contemporary classic play.
Arabian Nights (beginning Nov. 27th)
Become enchanted by the power of storytelling one final time! The Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater revive their award-winning production of Dominic Cooke’s Arabian Nights. Based on One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of folk tales from the Middle East and Asia, Arabian Nights is rich with suspense, romance and hilarity—stories irresistible for all ages, and at its heart, the power of the imagination to heal, inspire, and transform.
We probably all remember elementary school science worksheets, those ink-marked copied pages with large Comic Sans text that asked us the most basic questions: What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? These are simple enough questions, with simple answers to simple experiments. As the science gets more complex, so do the questions, and the fact that a researcher’s daily bread-and-butter, the core component of our work, is merely observation often gets lost among that complexity. The importance of it, however, cannot be forgotten.
Dr. Vicky Seewaldt, formerly of Duke University and now a clinician and the Population Sciences department chair at City of Hope in California, and her work investigating the mechanisms of malignant progression in high-risk breast cancer patients highlight the crucial role that simple observation can play, and how it can lead to more tangible advances in how we conceptualize, research, and treat disease. When she made the move from University of Washington to Durham, North Carolina, she found herself treating a new patient population, the majority of whom were women of color. When some of her high-risk patients came to her and described their cancers as seemingly ‘appearing from nowhere’—a concept that, at the time, was at odds with her previous experience with breast cancer diagnosis—she did not dismiss them. Instead, she listened to their very personal experience with their very personalized disease. She listened, she observed, and then she began to wonder and plan.
For more than a decade, Dr. Seewaldt worked for and with her patients to delve more deeply into understanding why certain populations display such aggressive disease progression. Her main focus was on identifying biomarkers for short-term risk assessment within this subset of triple-negative breast tumors, as well as understanding how the breast microenvironment contributes to disease occurrence and development. Simply by listening, she launched a career that would benefit many and carve out new inroads to understanding breast cancer heterogeneity.
Yet her listening didn’t end with the disease, either. Dr. Seewaldt took note of her patients’ requests for wellness treatment beyond the one part of their anatomy that at the time needed it the most. Thus the Women’s Wellness Clinic came into play at Duke. Through the clinic, Seewaldt and colleagues not only sought to provide underserved women with access to information and services regarding breast health and cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment, but also to encourage overall wellness within the community.
She reiterated this idea as she concluded her talk given for the 3rd Diane Connolly-Zaniboni Lecture in Breast Cancer at Tufts Medical Center earlier last month, commenting that clinicians should treat “the whole body, not just the breast.” Her work in Durham, which will no doubt be continued in the same enthusiastic and innovative capacity at her new position at City of Hope, demonstrates this idea of whole-body medicine and whole-body research, a reminder that a snapshot won’t do to truly eradicate disease. Rather, you need a mural, made up of bits and pieces of the many, in order to see the whole picture.
Photo credit: UC Davis M.D. Class Notes, Spring 2011
Guest Post by Jessica Davis-Knowlton
About two hours north of where you sit reading your InSight there is another site of Tufts scientific discovery waiting to greet you! Tufts Sackler and Tufts University Medical School have partnerships with institutes in Maine allowing students to experience research and medicine in a unique setting with a strong emphasis on collaboration. During the 3rd and 4th rotations, first year students in Sackler have the opportunity to rotate with faculty members at the
Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) in Scarborough, Maine before joining the CMDB program or with faculty at Jackson Laboratories (Jax) in Bar Harbor, Maine before joining the Genetics program. For TUSM students in the Maine Track Program immersion in the particular challenges facing Maine physicians starts with brief stints to Maine in the first and second years followed by a 9-month Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship in the third year.
Enough background though; what is particularly exciting about Maine this November is that MMCRI will be holding their annual Open House on the 20th and all are encouraged visit! The Open
House is a great opportunity to investigate our cores (Transgenics and Gene Targeting, Histopathology and Antibody Production, Confocal Microscopy, Small Animal Imaging, Protein and Nucleic
Acid Analysis, Molecular Phenotyping, Physiology and Behavior, and Clinical and Translational Research Services/Tissue Bank), see posters from Tufts and UMaine MMCRI grad students, meet the faculty, tour the building, and of course see green mice.
For first year CMDB students coming to visit on the 20th I’d like to highlight the newest principal investigator to join MMCRI and Jumbo alum, Michaela Regan, PhD. Dr. Reagan has a B.S. in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. During her graduate
research, Dr. Regan studied Breast Cancer Bone Metastasis by investigating mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) tumor homing and developed silk scaffold implants with therapeutic bone marrow MSCs that deliver anti-tumor proteins to breast tumors. Her post-doctoral fellowship was in the lab of Dr. Irene Ghobrial at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School where she focused on understanding how multiple myeloma cells manipulate their bone marrow niche to support their growth and cause osteolytic lesion formation. She developed a 3D model of inhibited osteogenesis in silk scaffolds and examined the roles of abnormally expressed microRNAs in MSCs in this process. She also developed bone-targeted, bortezomib-loaded nanoparticles to modulate the bone microenvironment and make it less receptive to cancer cell colonization. When you see Dr. Regan, ask her about her path to becoming a PI: it’s all about collaboration and networking folks!
Collaboration is the name of the game up here in Maine, as research institutes scattered about the state are relatively small. As a fortuitous consequence, a culture of cooperativeness and the drive to reach far outside normal comfort zones to seek said cooperation has prevented research in Maine from becoming insular. As pressure by publishers for completeness and complexity in manuscripts mounts, partnerships between labs, and the skills to develop such partnerships, have become ever more indispensible.
Remember, Boston had more snow than Portland last year so don’t fear the “winter, still winter, almost winter, and road construction” description of seasons in Maine: come see the Maine-Tufts partnership in action!
Jessica Davis-Knowlton is a 3rd year CMDB student in the Liaw lab in MMCRI. Her thesis work focuses on the role of Notch signaling in smooth muscle cells involved in atherosclerosis.