Promising Latin American Biomedical Scientists Named 2010 Pew Fellows

Contact: Kip Patrick, 202.552.2135

PHILADELPHIA, PA - 06/17/2010 - The Pew Charitable Trusts today named 10 gifted biomedical researchers as 2010 Pew Latin American Fellows in the Biomedical Sciences. The competitive program aims to further scientific knowledge, promote exchange and collaboration, and strengthen the research community in Latin America.  The new Fellows will be part of an elite scientific community that includes winners of the World Economic Forum’s “Young Global Leaders Award,” the Pius XI Gold Medal from the Vatican and the recently elected president of the Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences.

Awardees receive support of $60,000 over two years to pursue postdoctoral training with leading researchers in top laboratories and institutions throughout the United States. Following their fellowship, the program provides an additional $35,000 for each fellow to purchase equipment and supplies as they establish their own laboratory in their home country. Since 1991, Pew has invested more than $15 million to fund nearly 200 fellows, 80 percent of whom have returned to their home countries to continue their research careers.

“I am exceptionally impressed by the talent, accomplishments and potential of this year’s recipients,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, president and chief executive officer of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “The quest for scientific advancement and innovation is truly a global pursuit. Pew’s Latin American Fellows Program promotes dialogue and fosters collaboration across nations. We are honored to play a part in the intellectual development of these outstanding scientists who are poised to be leaders at the forefront of discovery to improve human health.” 

Now in its 20th year, the Pew Latin American Fellows Program in the Biomedical Sciences is part of a portfolio of projects that focus on science and technology. The program is a complementary initiative of the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences Program, which provides critical flexible funding to leading U.S. scientists in the early stages of their careers. 

Exemplary biomedical scientists from all Central and South American countries are invited to apply; 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 2010 Pew Latin American Fellows in the Biomedical Sciences are:

Ariel A. Bazzini, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Antonio Giraldez, Ph.D.
Yale University
Developmental Biology
Paola A. Haeger, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Pablo E Castillo, Ph.D.
Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University
Rodrigo Laje, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Dean V. Buonomano, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles
Gonzalo H. Olivares, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Margaret T. Fuller, Ph.D.
Stanford University
Genetics and Stem Cell Biology

Veronica C. Piatti, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Jill Leutgeb, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego

Pablo A. Oteiza, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Laboratory of Florian Engbert, Ph.D.
Harvard University
Ana Paula S. Arruda, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, Ph.D.
Harvard School of Public Health
Metabolic Disease and Obesity
José Manuel Baizabal, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Andrew P. McMahon, Ph.D.
Harvard University
Developmental Biology
Daniel Y. Takahashi, M.D., Ph.D.
Laboratory of Asif A. Ghazanfar, Ph.D.
Princeton University
Enrique Balleza, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Philippe Cluzel, Ph.D.
Harvard University
Genomics and Gene Expression

Arruda2-web.jpgAna Paula S. Arruda, Ph.D. received her doctorate in biochemistry from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where she worked with Dr. Leopoldo de Meis. She then moved to the University of Campinas to conduct postdoctoral work on the interaction between metabolism and the immune system with Dr. Licio Velloso.  As a Pew fellow, she will work in the lab of 1997 Pew scholar Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, Ph.D. at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Arruda’s project will focus on obesity-related diseases that are now one of America’s most serious health problems. Obesity is associated with low-grade inflammation throughout the body and subsequent activation of molecules that interfere with insulin function.  This interference with insulin function has been shown to predispose obese people to type II diabetes. Dr. Arruda’s project aims to identify what molecules initiate inflammation in tissues of obese individuals. Her work will help single out key proteins that could be used in therapies to prevent type II diabetes and other diseases due to obesity.

Baizabal2-web.jpgJosé Manuel Baizabal, Ph.D. completed his doctoral training in biochemistry from the Biotechnology Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).  As a Pew fellow, he will conduct his postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Andrew P. McMahon in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University. Dr. Baizabal will contribute to the lab’s work on understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate growth, differentiation, and patterning of the vertebrate embryo. Specifically his focus will be on one of the most critical genes in the construction of the vertebrate central nervous system, Sonic Hedgehog (Shh). His project will focus on how Shh activity leads to the formation of two distinct brain cell types from the same original type of cell. Understanding how unique brain cell populations develop may contribute to the creation of stem cell therapies to treat and prevent neurodegenerative disorders, such as Huntington’s disease.

Balleza2-web.jpgEnrique Balleza, Ph.D. did his graduate work with Dr. Maximino Aldana at the Institute of Physical Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He then performed postdoctoral work with Dr. Julio Collado-Vides, Ph.D. in the Center for Genomic Sciences at UNAM.   He is now training with Dr. Philippe Cluzel of the Harvard Center for Systems Biology.  During his Pew fellowship, Dr. Balleza will be designing a way to study the activity of all of the genes in a single cell for the microorganism E. coli. His goal is to understand how a single cell receives an external signal and then gives a response in the form of a particular gene activity pattern. Dr. Balleza’s experimental design will include fluorescence microscopy, theoretical and statistical data analysis and molecular biology.  His work will help researchers understand how disruption of one or more parts of a biological system, even in a single cell, in turn disrupts the interactions among various other parts, often leading to disease.

Bazzini2-web.jpgAriel A. Bazzini, Ph.D. completed his doctorate in molecular plant biology in 2007 with Dr. Sebastian Asurmendi of the University of Buenos Aires. He will now move to Yale University’s Department of Genetics where he will train as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Antonio Giraldez, a 2008 Pew scholar.  Dr. Bazzini plans to study the laboratory model organism, the zebrafish, to answer a long-standing question in developmental biology - how are genes regulated in the fertilized egg to give rise to a multicellular embryo.  He aims to identify the first genes activated in the initial cell formed when a new organism is produced, known as the zygote. He also aims to determine what factors are responsible for activating these first genes as the cells divide to form an embryo. The identification of new factors that activate genes in the zygote will help scientists understand how cells develop to a specific tissue type and could contribute to the development of stem cells for therapeutic use.

Haeger2-web.jpgPaola A. Haeger, Ph.D. studied with Dr. Katia Gysling, of the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile for her doctoral work. She proceeded to do postdoctoral work in neuroscience with Dr. Cecilia Hidalgo at the University of Chile.  During her Pew fellowship, she will train with 2002 Pew scholar, Dr. Pablo E. Castillo, at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, She will research the molecular mechanisms related to learning and memory in the brain.  Specifically Dr. Haeger will explore how activity changes in the brain affect a specific protein receptor, the N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. This receptor is involved in the transmission of brain signals and is crucial for learning and memory.  She will approach her project using recordings of brain signals combined with molecular and genetic techniques.  Knowledge gained from her studies may contribute to strategies to reverse or prevent NMDA-receptor dysfunction that appear to be related to disorders such as mental retardation and autism.

Laje2-web.jpgRodrigo Laje, Ph.D. earned his doctoral degree on the physics of bird song with Dr. Gabriel B. Mindlin of the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina. He moved to the University of Quilmes in 2008 as a full-time researcher and teacher.  He now plans to do postdoctoral research with Dean V. Buonomano, Ph.D. in the Departments of Neurobiology and Psychology of the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Laje’s studies will focus on the how the brain understands time. The brain’s ability to tell time is critically important for sensory and motor processing including speech, music perception, and motor coordination. How the brain estimates time is still largely unknown.  For his Pew fellowship, Dr. Laje will use computational modeling and numerical simulations to produce a realistic brain network model capable of processing time.  His work will contribute to the development of a general theory of brain function, and to understanding the causes of the neurological disorders that impair memory and cognition.

Olivares2-web.jpgGonzalo H. Olivares, Ph.D. received his doctoral degree from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in the laboratory of 1998 Pew fellow Dr. Juan Larraín. Dr. Olivares will now join the lab of Dr. Margaret T. Fuller, in the Department of Developmental Biology of Stanford University School of Medicine where he will continue his studies of developmental biology, now focusing on stem cells. Stem cells are unique in that can renew themselves through cell division or differentiate into a diverse range of specialized cell types. Dr. Olivares will use molecular biology, genetics and microscopy to test the hypothesis that a gene that functions to prevent the growth of tumors regulates stem cell decisions. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that mediate the choice between self-renewal and differentiation in stem cells has important implications for many areas of biology, including cancer treatment, regenerative medicine and new cell-based therapies.

Oteiza2-web.jpgPablo A. Oteiza, D.V.M., Ph.D. received his doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Chile.  He then completed his doctoral work at the University of Chile in developmental biology with Dr. Miguel Concha. He is now pursuing postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Florian Engert in the Departments of Neuroscience and Molecular and Cellular biology of Harvard University.  Dr. Oteiza’s work focuses on how the brain manages to simultaneously process information from multiple senses. For example, physical stimuli and visual stimuli send the brain signals with differing timings and from different locations, however little is known regarding how the brain integrates all of this information. Dr. Oteiza’s goal is to describe how the central nervous system processes these stimuli and how this processing influences behavior. He will use advanced genetic and microscopic techniques in the model organism the zebrafish, to advance our understanding of how the brain functions.

Piatti2-web.jpgVerónica C. Piatti, Ph.D. conducted her doctoral studies in neurobiology at the University of Buenos Aires where she worked with Dr. Alejandro F. Schinder in the Laboratory of Neuronal Plasticity of the Leloir Institute in Buenos Aires.  As a Pew fellow, she will now train with Dr. Jill Leutgeb in the Division of Biological Sciences and Section of Neurobiology of the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Piatti’s project will focus on how adult nerve cells are generated in the dentate gyrus, a brain region that is important for memory and one of the only areas of the brain where new nerve cells are generated in adulthood. She will investigate whether these new-born cells in the dentate gyrus influence memory, since their increase or absence has been associated with changes in memory formation, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy.

Takahashi2-web.jpgDaniel Y. Takahashi, M.D., Ph.D. received his medical degree from the University of São Paulo, Brazil in 2003.  Dr. Takahashi then worked with Dr. Koichi Sameshima of the University of São Paulo for his doctoral thesis project in bioinformatics, which combined neuroscience and mathematical analyses. He then did postdoctoral research with Dr. Galves in the Institute of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of São Paulo. As a Pew fellow, he will train at Princeton University with Dr. Asif A. Ghazanfar. His work will aim to further our understanding of the integration of multiple senses, both vision and hearing, in the nerve cells required for speaking.  Dr. Takahashi will analyze how the brain coordinates sensory signals from two distinct neuronal regions of the brain by taking measurements of nerve signals and using mathematical modeling and complex computational analyses. This work will further our comprehension of how the brain functions, and our understanding of the causes of neurological and speech disorders.

Download a copy of this press release in Spanish. (PDF)

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