View the original story on the Cornerstone Blog

Introducing the 2018 Distinguished Research Trainee Awardees

Training the next generation of investigators has long been a priority at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. There are numerous opportunities throughout the year to celebrate the accomplishments of our trainees and honor their commitment to science.

One of the ways some of our up-and-coming investigators are honored is through the annual Distinguished Research Trainee Awards. These awards provide institution-wide recognition for exceptional CHOP Research trainees and offer an opportunity for mentors to highlight the work of their researchers-in-training.

The Research Trainee Advisory Committee at Children’s Hospital selected graduate student Danielle Mor, PhD; postdoctoral fellows Nathan Roy, PhD and Laura Grafe, PhD; and physician fellow Sarah Wood, MD, as the recipients of the 2018 awards.

Danielle Mor, PhD
Research Mentor:
 Harry Ischiropoulos, PhD, Gisela and Dennis Alter Endowed Chair in Pediatric Neonatology

While at CHOP, Dr. Mor conducted experimental and impactful work in neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease. Though dopamine has long been thought to contribute to neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s, how it does so remains unclear. Through mouse models, Dr. Mor’s work showed that dopamine-induced neuron death in a structure of the midbrain, the substantia nigra, is dependent on the protein α-synuclein. Dr. Mor was the first author of a recent Nature Neuroscience paper, “Dopamine induces soluble α-synuclein oligomers and nigrostriatal degeneration.” Along with co-authoring papers about α-synuclein’s native structure in the human brain in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and Neurobiology of Disease Dr. Mor was selected for a short talk at the 2014 Keystone Symposia Joint Conference on Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases and received the First Prize Poster Award at the 2015 Penn Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research Retreat. Dr. Mor continues her research into neurodegenerative disease at Princeton University. “Danielle was exceptionally resourceful, a very careful worker, always striving to include many critical control experiments,” Dr. Ischiropoulos said.

Nathan Roy, PhD - Postdoctoral Fellow
Janis Burkhardt, PhD, Evelyn and George Willing Endowed Chair in Pathology Research at CHOP

An interdisciplinary scientist who applies cell biology, biochemistry, and biomechanics to his study of cancer, Dr. Roy was nominated by his mentor, Dr. Burkhardt, for his accomplishments, enthusiasm, and interpersonal skills. After completing his post-doctoral training in HIV research, Dr. Roy’s work has focused on the signaling pathways and mechanical processes that control T-cell adhesion and migration and recently had a first author publication accepted for the work. His track record includes co-authoring a paper in The Journal of Clinical Investigation that suggests Crk proteins can be targeted for immunotherapeutic purposes. Since then, Dr. Roy carried out a study laying out the mechanisms by which Crk proteins regulate T cell adhesion and migration. Dr. Roy continues his T-cell research through collaborations with scientists at CHOP, the University of Minnesota, the Penn Vet school, the lab of Dr. Carl June, and more. “[Nathan] consistently looks at the big picture, and seeks to do work of lasting significance,” Dr. Burkhardt said.

Laura Grafe, PhD
Research Mentor:
Seema Bhatnagar, PhD, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care at CHOP

Dr. Grafe has distinguished herself as an accomplished scientist in the field of stress neurobiology through her research, publications, grant funding, talks, and teaching experience. Described as “bright, dedicated, and insightful” by her mentor, Dr. Bhatnagar, Dr. Grafe’s primary research centers on understanding sex differences in biological responses to stress. Her work identified orexins, a neuropeptide, as a contributing factor to female susceptibility to stress — a finding that enriches our understanding of why women are twice as likely as men to experience stress-related psychiatric disorders. Dr. Grafe has given successful talks at two national conferences and excels as a mentor for undergraduates in Dr. Bhatnagar’s lab. After finishing her postdoc, she will lead her own lab in stress research and teach as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Bryn Mawr College.

“I believe Dr. Grafe has positioned herself to become a leader in the field of sex differences in stress neurobiology,” Dr. Bhatnagar said.

Sarah Wood, MD
Research Mentor:
Nadia Dowshen, MD, MSHP, Adolescent Medicine Specialist at CHOP

Dr. Wood is a clinician-scientist committed to advancing adolescent HIV research. Described by her mentor, Dr. Dowshen, as “exceptionally motivated, hardworking, creative, and collaborative,” Dr. Wood conducts pioneering research in pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a new biomedical tool in the fight against HIV prevention, in high risk populations like young transgender women. Working with Dr. Dowshen, Dr. Wood published novel qualitative studies related to this work in top journals, including a Journal of Adolescent Health paper that is the first to explore knowledge and attitudes toward PrEP in a diverse group of young transgender women. “Sarah has demonstrated unparalleled success in asking and answering the most relevant research questions to the field of adolescent HIV prevention that are grounded in her clinical expertise,” Dr. Dowshen said. “Few trainees at her stage would have been able to collaborate across institutions and with community organizations to recruit the most vulnerable and at-risk population for a study about [PrEP].”