NIEHS Science Days celebrate excellent trainees and mentors
By Kelly Lenox
Each year, NIEHS researchers gather during the first week of November to share their work, explore collaborations, and celebrate excellence with awards. The NIEHS Science Days event Nov. 5-6 included recognition for the trainee and mentor of the year, as well as the best trainee poster and talk.
“Science Days is, in part, a training exercise — it gives trainees a forum to develop their technique in giving poster and oral presentations,” said Joel Abramowitz, Ph.D., special assistant to the NIEHS scientific director. “No other institute has the breadth of the types of science that we do here, so the trainees have to explain themselves to a broad audience.”
Fellow and mentor of the year
The NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) names a mentor of the year based on nominations from trainees and researchers alike. In 2012, the NIEHS Office of Fellows Career Development (OFCD) began selecting a fellow of the year, awarding travel funds to attend a conference.
Tammy Collins, Ph.D., OFCD director, said the fellow award was created to recognize a trainee with the outstanding qualities necessary for a well-rounded independent research career. A panel of scientists evaluated the nominees and selected Miranda Bernhardt, Ph.D., an Intramural Research Training Award fellow (IRTA) in the Reproductive Medicine Group, headed by Carmen Williams, M.D., Ph.D.
“Miranda has a passion for reproductive biology,” said Williams. “And she’s an intellectual powerhouse.” She cited Bernhardt’s successful demonstration of a novel calcium channel involved in egg fertilization (see related story). Williams also noted Bernhardt’s commitment to service, especially science education, among her qualifications for the prize.
In a fitting surprise, Kristin Gabor, Ph.D., announced that the NTA choice for mentor of the year was Williams. Bernhardt and Williams returned to the podium. “I’ve been able to accomplish so much more than I would have without her leadership and guidance,” Bernhardt said.
Other nominators cited Williams’ commitment to training the next generation of reproductive scientists and clinicians. One noted the possible key to Williams’ success. “She listens to all ideas, no matter how outside the box they are,” the letter read.
Excellent science presentations in talks and posters
Continuing the robust showing of recent years, Science Days featured 92 posters, representing research across all divisions of the institute. Scientists stood by on Nov. 5 to discuss their research with participants.
Organizers planned to recognize the top nine posters and award travel funds to the top five. But when the judges’ scores were tallied, there was a six-way tie for fourth place, and the Division of Intramural Research stepped up and provided all nine winners with cash awards (see text box).
Trainees presented nine of the scientific talks featured in the festival. Mitoki Takaku, Ph.D., won the best oral presentation award. Takaku, a visiting fellow in the Eukaryotic Transcriptional Regulation Group, headed by Paul Wade, Ph.D., discussed the mechanism of chromatin reprogramming by GATA3, a pioneer transcription factor that has been implicated in the progression of breast cancer.
“The science is of a really high quality. We have a magnificent group of people here doing important work, and it’s really important to acknowledge it,” Abramowitz said afterward.
First place — Telmo Henriques, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the Transcriptional Responses to the Environment Group, led by Karen Adelman, Ph.D., for “Probing Co-transcriptional RNA Processing.”
Second place — Sonika Patial, D.V.M., Ph.D., visiting fellow in the Polypeptide Hormone Action Group, led by Perry Blackshear, M.D., D.Phil., for “Genetic Deletion of an Instability Motif in the 3’ Untranslated Region of Tristetraprolin mRNA Increases TTP mRNA Stability and Protein Expression and Protects Against Immune-mediated Inflammatory Diseases.”
Third place — David Chen, Ph.D., research fellow in the Neuropharmacology Group, led by Jau-Shyong Hong, Ph.D., for “Reactive Microgliosis Is Essential in Driving Chronic Neuroinflammation-related Neurodegeneration: Role of the MAC1-NOX2 Signaling Pathway.”
Fourth place, six-way tie
Joanne Damborsky, Ph.D., IRTA fellow in the Ion Channel Physiology Group, led by Jerry Yakel, Ph.D., “Interplay Between Cholinergic and Galaninergic Modulation of GABA Release in the Basal Forebrain.”
Douglas Ganini da Silva, Ph.D., research fellow in the Free Radical Metabolism Group, led by Ron Mason, Ph.D., for “Human Mitochondrial SOD2 and Bacterial SOD A Incorporated With Iron Become Prooxidant Peroxidases.”
Samantha Hoopes, Ph.D., IRTA fellow in the Environmental Cardiopulmonary Disease Group, led by NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., for “Transgenic Mice Expressing CYP4F2 in Endothelial Cells Exhibit Altered Retinal Angiogenesis In Vivo.”
Julie Lowe, Ph.D., IRTA fellow in the Clinical Investigation of Host Defense Group, led by Michael Fessler, M.D., for “The Novel p53 Target TNFAIP8 Variant 2 Is Increased in Cancer and Offsets p53-dependent Tumor Suppression.”
Ngome Makia, Ph.D., visiting fellow in the Stem Cell Toxicology Group, led by Erik Tokar, Ph.D., for “Cadmium and Arsenic Transformed Human Peripheral Lung Cells Expressing CD34 Display Stem Cell-like and Malignant Properties.”
Dan Su, Ph.D., IRTA fellow in the Environmental Genomics Group, led by Doug Bell, Ph.D., for “Tobacco-smoke Associated DNA Methylation and Gene Transcription in Human Blood Cell Lineages.”