Research on a Novel Viral Protein Earns Mount Sinai Postdoc a Charles H. Revson Senior Fellowship
Jessica Sook Yuin Ho, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in microbiology at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, was selected in July 2021 as a Charles H. Revson Senior Fellow in Biomedical Science by the Charles H. Revson Foundation. The two-year fellowship is awarded annually to eight exceptionally talented New York City scientists entering their third or fourth year of postdoctoral research.
The award is intended to help address the need for funding during the critical third and fourth years of training when postdoctoral fellows are finishing their initial projects and establishing themselves as independent researchers.
Dr. Sook Yuin Ho works in the laboratory of Ivan Marazzi, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology. Her research focuses on a novel viral protein and its role in pathogenesis. She wrote her fellowship application based on a paper, for which she was the first author, published in Cell in 2020. The research focused on the presence of human-chimeric proteins/genes that are generated during influenza A infection.
Specifically, the researchers assert that these proteins are not generated by chance during infection, but are actually a means for the virus to explore its genetic potential to encode new genes. Additionally, they believe these proteins could be suitable targets for future therapeutic or vaccine design for influenza A virus. Dr. Sook Yuin Ho is interested in further characterizing the functions and roles of these proteins in infected cells.
Fellowship Encourages and Supports the Research of Female Scientists
Two outstanding female scientists, Whitney Cowell, PhD, MPH, and Angélica Torres-Berrío, PhD, are the recipients of the 2021 Robin Chemers Neustein Postdoctoral Fellowship Award.
Intended to encourage and support female research scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the fellowship was established in 2010 through a generous gift from Robin Chemers Neustein, JD, MBA, a former member of Mount Sinai’s Boards of Trustees. Recipients are senior postdoctoral scientists who intend to complete their training within two years, have demonstrated high-impact accomplishments in biomedical sciences, and exhibit the potential for an independent scientific career. Dr. Cowell and Dr. Torres-Berrío are the 21st and 22nd recipients of the award.
Dr. Cowell works in the laboratory of Rosalind J. Wright, MD, MPH, in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health. Her research leverages a combination of molecular and epidemiologic tools to investigate subclinical changes at the biological level, with the goal of translating these findings to improve population-level health.
“Dr. Cowell is an exemplary transdisciplinary scientist who is able to combine principles of molecular biology, data science, environmental health, and life course theory to identify key social and environmental drivers of health and disease,” explains Dr. Wright. “Her research promises to elucidate modifiable factors that can be intervened upon to reduce persistent disparities in pregnancy and perinatal outcomes in New York City and beyond. I am very proud to see her recognized for her innovative work.”
Dr. Torres-Berrío works in the laboratory of Eric J. Nestler, MD, PhD, in the Nash Family Department of Neuroscience. Her research is focused on understanding how stress across the lifespan leads to enduring epigenetic alterations linked to depression. She is also interested in identifying molecular biomarkers that can be used to prevent and treat this psychopathology.
“For over a decade, the Robin Chemers Neustein Postdoctoral Fellowship Award program has been a spectacular feature of Mount Sinai’s postdoctoral community,” says Dr. Nestler. “I am very proud of Dr. Torres-Berrío and her impressive accomplishments. She joins a growing list of star women biomedical researchers who have been recognized by this great honor.”
PhD Student Studying the Immunology of Cancer Named a 2021 Lasker Foundation Essay Winner
• She is one of five winners selected from several hundred submissions
• The Essay Contest invites young scientists—medical, biomedical, and other health professional trainees—from around the world to discuss big questions in biomedical research and policy.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Miriam Saffern frequently struggled to convert her high-level scientific knowledge into simple answers to her family’s questions about the coronavirus.
“I asked myself, ‘How can I develop that skill?’” says Ms. Saffern, a third-year graduate student at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “How can I begin to melt the barrier between the research and science that I do and love, and the minds of my family who yearn to be involved and understand it?”
Her journey to distill complex technical information into simple descriptions served as the basis for ‘My Mother the Layperson,’ which was selected as a 2021 winner of the Lasker Foundation Essay Contest.
This year, applicants were asked to share the most important lesson they learned over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and how that lesson will influence their future careers. Ms. Saffern’s essay detailed how she used short and simple text summaries, analogies, and visuals to help her family understand scientific aspects of the pandemic.
Ms. Saffern is studying the immunology of cancer in the Precision Immunology Institute, which is directed by Mount Sinai Professor of Immunology and National Academy of Sciences member Miriam Merad, MD, PhD. She says the opportunity to interact with Dr. Merad, a world-renowned physician-scientist who is advancing understanding of how dendritic cell and macrophages contribute to human diseases, has inspired her.
“Dr. Merad supported me in starting an initiative to teach immunology to high school students, which I organized in 2020, and recently led again this summer,” Ms. Saffern says. “I really admire her commitment to outreach and to showing the next generation they can enter the field no matter what their background is.”
For her thesis, Ms. Saffern is exploring whether there are immune system–related genetic defects or changes that confer a higher risk of developing cancer to individuals. Her thesis mentor is Robert Samstein, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at Icahn Mount Sinai.
“Only a few days into my rotation, I knew I wanted to join his lab,” she says. “He devotes a lot of time toward mentorship, and really cares about the growth of his students. He makes sure that our projects give us the opportunity to learn skills that we would like to develop, and he maintains a balance between being hands-on and giving us the space to be independent.”
“Working on projects that allow me to cultivate both an experimental and computational skillset greatly contributes to my growth as a scientist.”
–Third-year PhD student Miriam Saffern
Ms. Saffern has multiple career interests, including computational work in the realm of immunology, medical writing, or joining an academic institution where there is a close interaction between the research laboratory and the clinic.
“That is what I like about being part of Dr. Samstein’s lab,” she says. “Working on projects that allow me to cultivate both an experimental and computational skill set greatly contributes to my growth as a scientist. Moreover, knowing that my work has the potential to directly impact patients motivates me to continue probing my scientific curiosity.”
Here, Ms. Saffern talks about two scientists who have inspired her over the years