Philadelphia, PA -
06/27/2005 - The Pew Charitable Trusts and the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) announced today that seven promising Latin American biomedical scientists have been named 2005 Pew Latin American Fellows in the Biomedical Sciences. Funded by the Trusts through a grant to UCSF, the highly competitive fellowship program offers talented young Latin American scientists $25,000 a year for two years (supplemented by at least $5,000 per year from the host institution) to obtain cutting-edge postdoctoral research training in a leading U.S. research laboratory, followed by $35,000 to set up a laboratory in the scientist’s home country upon completion of his or her training.
“This marks the 15th year of our support for the Pew Latin American Fellows in the Biomedical Sciences program and we are exceptionally proud, and humbled, by the fellows’ accomplishments and tremendous long-term potential,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “The science frontier is truly a global one, and these fellows have brought outstanding talent, skills and intellectual curiosity into this program and then have gone on to enrich their own scientific abilities and the scientific enterprise in their home countries.”
The Pew Latin American Fellows Program in the Biomedical Sciences was launched in 1991 to help develop a cadre of highly trained Latin American scientists who could stimulate and contribute to the growth of high quality biomedical science in Latin America and foster collaboration between scientists in Latin America and the U.S. Since 1991, the Trusts has invested more than $11 million to fund nearly 140 fellows, over 80 percent of whom have returned to their home countries. Applicants from Mexico and all Central and South American countries are invited to apply, and selection is made by a distinguished national advisory committee chaired by Dr. Torsten N. Wiesel, president emeritus of Rockefeller University, and a 1981 Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine.
The 2005 Pew Latin American Fellows in the Biomedical Sciences are: (view bios)
|Roberto Araya, Ph.D., Chile||Columbia University|
|Alexander De Luna, Ph.D., Mexico||Harvard University|
|Tatiana Hochgreb, Ph.D., Brazil||University of California, San Francisco|
|Yazmin Macotela, Ph.D., Mexico||Harvard University|
|Adriana Elisa Tron, Ph.D., Argentina||Dana-Farber Cancer Institute|
|Adrian Gustavo Turjanski, Ph.D., Argentina||National Institutes of Health|
|Alexander Omar Vargas, Ph.D., Chile||Yale University|
The Pew Charitable Trusts serves the public interest by providing information, advancing policy solutions and supporting civic life. Based in Philadelphia, with an office in Washington, D.C., the Trusts will invest $204 million in fiscal year 2006 to provide organizations and citizens with fact-based research and practical solutions for challenging issues.
The Pew Latin American Fellows in the Biomedical Sciences program is part of a portfolio of projects funded by the Trusts that focuses on science and technology. Other programs include the Science and Society Institute, which trains biomedical scientists so they can effectively contribute to science policy discussions and solutions, and three science policy initiatives that address the benefits and challenges raised by emerging technologies – the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, the Genetics and Public Policy Center, and the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.Pew Latin American Fellows' BiosRoberto Araya, Ph.D.
, received his doctorate in physiology from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile last year. He will work with Dr. Rafael Yuste at Columbia University. Dr. Araya intends to investigate how neurons (the specialized cells of the nervous system) integrate the information they receive from neighboring cells and determine whether to forward a signal. Neurons collect input from other cells via projections called dendrites, each of which is covered with thousands of spines. The neurons process incoming electrical signals, which arrive at different times and from different branches of the dendritic trees, and decide whether to fire off their own impulses and transmit a message. Using cutting-edge techniques for stimulating individual dendritic spines and measuring the activity of nerve cells, Dr. Araya hopes to determine how these spines process information and whether nerve cells take into account when, where or how frequently individual spines are stimulated when computing their response. The answers could enrich our understanding of how nerve cells communicate, a process that underlies learning, memory and all activity in the brain.Alexander De Luna, Ph.D.
, received his doctorate in biomedical sciences from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 2002. He plans to continue his training with Dr. Roy Kishony at Harvard University. Dr. De Luna wants to build a comprehensive database of genetic interactions in yeast. Genes can influence each other’s activity, and one way to assess those interactions is to examine an organism in which a pair of genes has been mutated. In some cases, one mutation can alleviate the deleterious effect of another; in others, two mutations that are not harmful individually can be lethal when they occur together. Using classical genetic techniques coupled with advanced computational analysis, Dr. De Luna plans to identify the positive or negative interactions of approximately 2,000 pairs of yeast genes. His findings could help scientists better understand the complex genetics involved in how physical appearance and traits (phenotypes) are inherited from one generation to another.Tatiana Hochgreb, Ph.D.
, received her doctorate in cell and tissue biology from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, this year. She will train with Dr. Didier Stainier at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Hochgreb plans to study the genes and signaling pathways that promote regeneration of beta cells, the pancreatic cells that produce insulin and are destroyed in diabetes. In response to injury or surgical assault, the adult pancreas can replenish its missing cells. This regrowth might involve reactivation of some of the same molecules that guide the formation of the pancreas during development. Using classical genetic and molecular biological techniques, Dr. Hochgreb intends to investigate how these developmental signaling pathways stimulate regeneration in zebra fish larvae in which she has destroyed the pancreatic beta cells. She also will use the same larvae to search for novel genes that either enhance or impair beta-cell regeneration. Her findings could spur the development of therapies that can restore pancreatic activity in people with diabetes.Yazmin Macotela, Ph.D.
, received her doctorate in biomedical research from the National University of Mexico this year. She will train with Dr. Ronald Kahn at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Macotela plans to clarify the role that the hormone prolactin plays in diabetes and obesity. Prolactin, which regulates the metabolism and distribution of fats during pregnancy, also has been linked to insulin resistance, the molecular defect that underlies diabetes. In addition, the receptor that recognizes prolactin is present in higher numbers in abdominal fat—the type that renders obese individuals more prone to diabetes—than in fat that accumulates under the skin. Using a range of advanced cell and molecular biological techniques, Dr. Macotela will explore how prolactin affects the activity of molecules known to be involved in insulin resistance in fat cells from different parts of the body, and whether prolactin activity is altered in mice that are genetically obese or have been raised on high-fat diets. Her studies could provide a deeper understanding of the complex interactions between hormones and the fat cells that contribute to diabetes and obesity and could lead to the discovery of novel therapies for combating these metabolic disorders.Adriana Elisa Tron, Ph.D.
, received her doctorate in biological sciences from the National University of the Littoral in Argentina this year. If she were to receive an award because one of the first seven declines, she would train with Dr. James De Caprio at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Tron intends to investigate how certain viruses cause cancer. Many of these oncogenic viruses—including simian virus 40 (SV40) and human polyomaviruses—possess a protein that shuts down the activity of the tumor suppressor protein p53. Without this important molecular brake, many cells begin to proliferate uncontrollably. Using state-of-the-art genetic and biochemical techniques, Dr. Tron will probe how SV40 T antigen, a protein that inactivates p53, interacts with various cellular factors to carry out its duties. Her work would deepen our understanding about how viruses trigger cancer and could lead to the identification of novel targets for anticancer therapies.Adrian Gustavo Turjanski, Ph.D.
, received his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2003. He will train with Dr. Silvio Gutkind at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Turjanski plans to explore how a family of proteins, called Activator Protein 1 (AP-1), controls the activity of genes involved in cell growth. AP-1 can locate and bind to its target genes, but additional modification of one of its constituent parts, called Fos, is required for AP-1 to be able to regulate the activity of those genes. Using a combination of computational and experimental approaches, Dr. Turjanski intends to analyze both the substances and processes that modify Fos to allow AP-1 to carry out its cell regulation duties. The results could ultimately help to explain the molecular interactions that guide cell growth and reproduction in normal tissues and in cancers.Alexander Omar Vargas, Ph.D.
, received his doctorate in developmental evolution from the University of Chile in 2004. He will work with Dr. Gunter Wagner at Yale University. Dr. Vargas would like to resolve a century-old debate between evolutionary and developmental biologists about the origins of the three digits (fingers) found in bird wings. Fossil records suggest that the digits evolved from theropod dinosaurs that lost digits number four and five (the ring finger and the little finger), whereas embryological studies suggest that the bird digits instead represent the index, middle and ring fingers. In preliminary studies using mice and chickens, Dr. Vargas found evidence to support the “dinosaur” theory. Using experimental techniques that include cloning a gene expressed only in digit one, Dr. Vargas now proposes to compare the expression of this gene in the developing limbs of a variety of creatures, including chickens (with three digits), Australian skinks (with four digits), and alligators (with five digits). This work could provide important insights into how species remain distinct from each other, animal evolution and the development of body shapes and parts, and may ultimately help scientists understand why development goes awry in some individuals.