2018 SRF Summer Scholar Profile: Martina Velichkovska

I am a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major at the University of Miami. As a freshman, I joined Dr. Toborek’s lab. His research group is focusing on the molecular neuroscience of the brain. In the Toborek lab, I worked on several projects and became a co-author on papers studying the mechanistic pathways for glucose and mitochondria uptake in pericytes as well as methamphetamine influence on HIV-infectivity of neural progenitor cells (NPCs). For my independent project, I am studying the molecular pathways of HIV-dependent aging of NPCs with a focus on mitochondrial dysfunction. Here at the SRF Research Center, I worked with the MitoSENS team.

The MitoSENS team envisions transferring all the energy-essential mitochondrial genes to the nucleus. In fact, most mitochondrial genes are already expressed from the nucleus and their respective proteins are localized to mitochondria. Hence, MitoSENS is applying the mechanistic intricacies of these biological processes in gene engineering strategies to relocate mitochondrial genes to the nucleus. These strategies can be applied to cure genetically inherited mitochondrial diseases, any mitochondrial-dysfunction related diseases, as well as aging.

As a SRF Summer Scholar, I had the opportunity to design and test mitochondrial gene engineering strategies that potentially have the ability to improve stable expression from the nucleus. I evaluated rescued function using several different research methods. Additionally, I optimized a quantitative assay that the MitoSENS team will use in the future to functionally assess rescued mitochondrial function and compare the efficiencies of the different gene engineering strategies.

2018 SRF Summer Scholar Profile: Sanam Kavari

I am a rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying Environmental Health Sciences in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. I became interested in stem cells through my position as a research fellow at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in the Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory where I study regulators of stem cell homeostasis. Based on my interest in stem cell biology, I applied to work with the Center for Stem Cell Therapeutics and Imaging at Harvard Medical School under the direction of Dr. Khalid Shah. The Shah lab works to develop novel stem cell based therapies for cancer.

In my time in the Shah lab, I have been working to develop a combined therapy for glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. We are interested in combining viruses that have been engineered to selectively target and kill tumor cells with immune-based therapies. These additional therapies aim to increase the efficacy of viral-based therapies. Both of these types of therapy will be loaded into stem cells to enhance their delivery to the tumor site. This approach makes use of the natural ability of stem cells to home to the site of tumors and avoid detection by the immune system. The efficacy of these treatments will then be validated in clinically relevant mouse models.

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