Ten Top Latin American Scientists Named 2009 Pew Fellows in the Biomedical Sciences

Contact: Kip Patrick, 202.552.2135

Washington, DC - 06/16/2009 - The Pew Charitable Trusts today named 10 promising young scientists as Pew Latin American Fellows in the Biomedical Sciences. The rigorously competitive program provides $60,000 in salary support for postdoctoral level scientists to work with leading researchers in the United States. Upon returning to Latin America, Fellows receive an additional $35,000 to purchase essential equipment to continue their research in their home countries.

“Pew’s Latin American Fellows Program is designed to further the development of outstanding scientists by providing them with excellent training in high-quality scientific laboratories in the U.S.,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, President and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “We are proud to invest in Latin America’s scientific future. These Fellows will help lead the global advance of research to protect and promote the health of the public.”
The Latin American Fellows Program is one of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ two long-standing commitments in this field, which also includes the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences, a program for America’s leading early-career scientists. The Fellows program was launched in 1991 to help develop a community of highly-trained researchers who could stimulate and contribute to the growth of important biomedical research, and to foster collaboration between scientists in Latin America and the U.S.

Since 1991, Pew has invested over $14 million to fund over 175 fellows, close to 80 percent of whom have returned to their home countries. Applicants from all Central and South American countries are invited to apply to the program, 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. 

You may also view this announcement in Spanish (PDF) or in Portuguese (PDF).

The 2009 Pew Latin American Fellows in the Biomedical Sciences are:
FellowHost Laboratory
Diego Ezequiel Alvarez, Ph.D., ArgentinaYale University
Paulina Cortés-Hernández, M.D., Ph.D., MexicoUniversity of California, Davis
Verónica Eisner, Ph.D., ChileThomas Jefferson University
Ramón A. Jorquera, Ph.D., ChileMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Andrés Klein, Ph.D., ChileStanford University
Kelly Grace Magalhães, Ph.D., BrazilHarvard Medical School
João P.B. Monteiro, M.D., Ph.D., BrazilNIAID, National Institute of Health (NIH)
Facundo Germán Pelorosso, M.D., ArgentinaUniversity of California, San Francisco
Ileana Slavin, Ph.D., ArgentinaThe Scripps Research Institute
Luis Francisco Zirnberger Batista, Ph.D., BrazilStanford University

Fellows 09 AlvarezDiego Ezequiel Alvarez, Ph.D., received his doctorate in virology from the University of Buenos Aires, School of Pharmacy and Biochemistry, in Argentina. He will be conducting his postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Hervé Agaisse in the Section of Microbial Pathogenesis of Yale University’s School of Medicine. Dr. Alvarez intends to contribute to the identification and characterization of host factors required for the spread of infection by pathogens. To achieve this he will combine multiple techniques used in the lab such as RNA interference, advanced microscopy and image analysis of human cell lines that are infected with various pathogens. His specific aim will be to determine how pathogens travel from cell to cell inside a host, exploiting the host-cellular architecture to mobilize themselves from infected cells to uninfected cells. These studies will lend new insight into how to stop pathogens from spreading inside a host and will contribute to novel therapeutic targets for some of the worst human diseases related to pathogens.

Fellows 09 Cortés-HernándezPaulina Cortés-Hernández, M.D., Ph.D., received both her medical degree (in 2003) and her doctorate in biochemistry (in 2007) from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. She will extend her training as a postdoctoral fellow in cellular biology in the laboratory of Dr. Jodi M. Nunnari in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Cortés-Hernández’s work focuses on mitochondria, the energy producing organelles in our cells that are involved in many processes from cell death to cell division. The only way mitochondria can re generate and function properly is to divide and fuse often. Dr. Cortés-Hernández studies the phenomenon of how mitochondria divide and fuse in humans and how this relates to cellular signaling and cell death. She is using molecular and cellular biological approaches to characterize Drp1, a gene originally identified in yeast that is required for mitochondrial fission in humans. Her work could translate into powerful tools to remediate prevalent human diseases associated with cell death, such as myocardial infarction, stroke and some autoimmune disorders.

Fellows 09 EisnerVerónica Eisner, Ph.D., received her doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Chile. She proceeded to do a postdoctoral fellowship in the Center for Molecular Studies of the Cell at the University of Chile. Now, she will gain training with Dr. György Hajnóczky, in the Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology of Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Eisner plans to investigate mitochondria, the membrane-enclosed organelles in our cells that generate energy for the cell and are involved in cell signaling, differentiation, cell death and cell growth. She will focus on muscles, where mitochondrial dynamics are hypothetically regulated by the influx of calcium to muscle. In a cardiac and skeletal muscle culture system she will perform microscopy, calcium measurements and molecular and biological techniques to determine whether improper calcium regulation contributes to altered mitochondrial processes that could lead to tissue injury and muscular disease.

Fellows 09 JorqueraRamon A. Jorquera, Ph.D., received his doctorate in cellular and molecular biology from the Universidad Austral in Chile in 2008. He will undertake postdoctoral studies at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Brain and Cognitive Science of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology training in the laboratory of  Dr. J. Troy Littleton in computational neuroscience. Dr. Jorquera uses the fruit fly as a model system to understand neuronal firing at the synapse. Neuronal communication requires the fusion of little sacs of neurotransmitters called synaptic vesicles, which then allows the neurotransmitters to be released. The fusion of the synaptic vesicles requires a complex of proteins, called SNARE, that are themselves regulated by synapse-specific regulatory proteins. Dr. Jorquera will use genetic manipulations combined with electrophysiological and imaging approaches to characterize how two of the synapse specific regulatory proteins regulate neurotransmitter release at the synapse. Insights gained from this work will extend to the related proteins found in humans that have been shown to be associated with Schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Fellows 09 KleinAndres Klein, Ph.D., received his doctorate in cellular and molecular biology from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He will train with Dr. Matthew P. Scott in the Department of Developmental Biology, Genetics and Bioengineering at Stanford University. Dr. Klein plans to investigate multiple aspects of Niemann Pick type C disease (NPC), a fatal pediatric neurodegenerative disorder. He will use a mouse model to find important clues for how the multiple different brain cell types that are affected contribute to the diagnosis of the disease, and he will delineate time points when a mouse gene therapy model could be used to reverse the disease. In addition, he will further characterize the NPC gene product to determine how the protein is responsible for changes in cellular signaling and transport pathways that cause the disease. The combination of approaches may provide answers to how a neurodegenerative disease is related to a cell trafficking disorder and lead to fresh insights into the biology and treatment of NPC.

Fellows 09 MagalhãesKelly Grace Magalhães, Ph.D., earned her doctorate in cellular and molecular biology from the Institute Oswaldo Cruz-Fiocruz in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She will study with Dr. David Branch Moody, a 2003 Pew Scholar, in the Department of Immunology of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Magalhães’ project will focus on Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the human parasite that causes tuberculosis and is responsible for two million deaths annually. It was recently shown that specialized immune cells, called T cells, that were once thought to recognize foreign substances only through peptide flags, can also recognize foreign substances by other molecules, such as fats, or lipids. The cellular wall of M. tuberculosis is very dense in lipid content and Dr. Magalhães will characterize these wall components and then investigate whether they are responsible for stimulating an immune response. Her work will contribute not only to a better understanding of immune system activation, but could lead to strategies towards the eradication of tuberculosis.

Fellows 09 MonteiroJoão P.B. Monteiro, M.D., Ph.D., earned his medical degree and his doctorate in immunology from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. He will work with Dr. Ronald N. Germain, Deputy Chief of the Laboratory of Immunology of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIH. Dr. Monteiro plans to investigate the mechanism by which specialized T-cells of the immune system have“memory” or the capacity to respond faster and better to a foreign challenge than a naive cell. Using advanced imaging methods and fluorescent markers in a mouse model, he will try to gain insight into how memory T cells respond to a foreign challenge, whether it is faster, more sensitive or earlier, in comparison to naive cells in the unique environment of the lymph system. This work will contribute to our understanding of immunological memory and will advance the progress towards using immunotherapy tools to combat human disease.

Fellows 09 PelorossoFacundo Germán Pelorosso, M.D., Ph.D., earned his medical degree and his doctorate in vascular physiology and pharmacology from the University of Buenos Aires, School of Medicine in Argentina. He will train with Dr. Allan Balmain at the Cancer Research Institute of the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Pelorosso will work on a gene identified in the Balmain lab, HipK2, which acts as a tumor suppressor gene in lymphoma. Loss of HipK2 gene function in a mouse model causes an increase in the expression of certain genes related to the metabolic pathway. It has been observed for over a century that a tumor cell has increased glucose uptake, lactate production and glycolytic rate. This increased metabolic activity of a tumor cell is known as the Warburg effect and is thought to give tumor cells an advantage over their non-tumor cell neighbors. Dr. Pelorosso’s goal is to discover and characterize the molecular players, like HipK2, that underlie this Warburg effect in order gain new insights into cancer biology and identify potential pharmacological targets for cancer.

Fellows 09 SlavinIleana Slavin, Ph.D., received her doctorate in chemical sciences from the National University of Córdoba, School of Medicine, in Argentina. She initiated her postdoctoral studies in the Department of Clinical Biochemistry at the National University of Córdoba, Argentina and will now be continuing her training with Dr. Jeanne F. Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Scripps Research Institute. Dr. Slavin will investigate how micro-RNAs (miRNAs), small non-coding RNAs that regulate gene expression, work in concert with heritable modifications of DNA that do not change the DNA sequence, known as epigenetic mechanisms. She aims to determine whether a specific miRNA cluster is epigenetically changed and, if so, how this relates to stem cell differentiation or maintenance, which will provide valuable insight into tumor biology and oncogene activity.

Fellows 09 Zirnberger BatistaLuis F. Zirnberger Batista, Ph.D., received his doctorate in microbiology from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, in 2008. He will train at Stanford University, School of Medicine, with Dr. Steven E. Artandi, in the field of telomerase regulation. Dr. Zirnberger Batista’s research focuses on the telomerase complex, a group of proteins that is required through unique mechanisms to maintain the tails of chromosomes that would be otherwise lost during mitosis. Specifically, he is interested in how the telomerase complex is regulated during the process of taking a differentiated cell and reprogramming it back to a stem cell and how telomerase complex function is involved. He will investigate the telomerase complex in cells from patients with dyskeratosos congenital, a bone marrow failure syndrome that is characterized by stem cell defects in other tissues as well, and is caused by mutations in the proteins of the telomerase complex. Understanding the role of the telomerase complex will increase our knowledge of how cells reprogram back to stem cells and ultimately uncover clues to potential stem cell therapies for genetic disorders.

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