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Nine Trainees Presented with the Fast Track Award for Translational Neuroscience

Nine Trainees Presented with the Fast Track Award for Translational Neuroscience

Barrow Neurological Foundation has awarded nine trainees (PhD graduate students and post-doctoral fellows) the $10,000 Fast Track Awards for Translational Neuroscience through the Department of Translational Neuroscience led by Barrow’s Chief Scientific Officer and Chair of Translational Neuroscience, Robert Bowser, PhD. These funds are critical for our trainees’ continued research and career development. With this award, trainees obtain experience writing grant applications and developing a budget for their project for the fiscal year. Additionally, they obtain financial reporting experience and submit progress reports at the end of the year to Dr. Bowser describing their overall progress toward their research goals.

These highly competitive awards allow each trainee to develop and run their own research project without going through the lengthy and uncertain process of applying for grants. We are excited to highlight and celebrate their achievements and are grateful to our donors for the opportunity to advance Barrow Neurological Institute’s mission.

We asked our trainees what brought them to Barrow, what question their research aims to solve, what is next for their research, and what their professional goals are. Our trainees also offered a heartfelt thank-you to our donors who make their research possible. We have compiled their responses below.

Fast Track Neuroscience Awardees

Temesgen Assefa, M.D

Mentor: Brian Kelly, PHD

Project Title: Biomechanical Effects of Facet Joint Violation after T10-T11 Single Level Thoracic Fusion with Pedicle Screw Fixation with Rod System (PSR).

  1. I learned about Barrow Neurological Institute on social media during my neurosurgical residency and discovered that Barrow is one of the leading neurosurgical centers in the world! I watched their online lectures and many brain and spine surgery videos. Barrow has an excellent visitor exchange program in which observers from all over the world come to observe the neurological and neurosurgical activities of the Institute. This kind of program profoundly benefits international physicians and medical students. I was inspired to apply for a spine fellowship at Barrow and was excited by the Institute’s focus on neuroscience research and its engagement with international doctors like me. The opportunities available at Barrow have fueled my passion for spine surgery and research.
  2. This project investigates the biomechanical effects of facet joint violation (FV) at the thoracic spine during spine fixation. This cadaver-based research will provide evidence-based information on how facet violation or preservation will affect the subsequent development of adjacent segment degeneration. Adjacent segment degeneration is a big concern after spine fusion surgery, as it may lead to additional surgeries.
  3. The research outcome will be published in clinical spine journals and presented at different conferences.
  4. I aim to contribute to multiple scientific and practice-changing research on spine surgery, especially spine biomechanics. I also want to contribute to developing spine surgery in my country, Ethiopia.

Thank you so much for your generous support and contribution to the development of neuroscience!

-Dr. Assefa
Kommaraju, Shilpa

Shilpa Kommaraju, PhD

Mentor: Zaman Mirzadeh, MD, PhD

Project Title: Aberrant Protein Synthesis – a Common Factor Interlinking Diabetes and Cancer

  1. I wanted to be part of Barrow’s cutting-edge neuroscience research.
  2. There has been extensive literature on the comorbidity of diabetes and cancer. My main question is understanding the translational dysregulation in the hypothalamus in diabetes and its possible connection to cancer.
  3. I plan to submit a couple of grants in the coming year. I will work with my mentor and publish the results as soon as possible.
  4. My overall goal is to identify/develop unique models to study metabolic disorders (diabetes/cancer) and eventually be part of finding a cure for them.

I extend my gratitude to the Foundation donors for their generous support and belief in us continuing to explore novel research. Your support ensures the continuous growth of our scientific research study turns into clinical impact in the future.

-Dr. Kommaraju

Takuma Maeda, MD, PhD

Mentor: Tomoki Hashimoto, MD

Project Title: Role of Growth-Arrest Specific 6 on Intracranial Aneurysm Rupture

  1. I joined Barrow in May 2023 after an 8-year career as a neurosurgeon in Japan. My experience treating patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage emphasized the importance of translational research in addition to neurosurgical techniques. I consider Barrow to be a world-class institution in both clinical practice and research.
  2. Under Dr. Hashimoto’s leadership, we’re using a unique mouse model to explore pharmacological strategies to prevent intracranial aneurysm rupture. The central question of my project is whether impaired clearance of apoptotic cells contributes to aneurysm rupture. Reactivation of this process could potentially prevent aneurysm rupture.
  3. I plan to present our findings at the 2024 American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference and publish the results.
  4. Professionally, my goal is to establish pharmacological prevention of intracranial aneurysm rupture as a researcher and to prevent rupture through neurosurgical and neuroendovascular procedures as a neurosurgeon.

I express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity to conduct research. Securing grants for basic research in Japan has been difficult, but your generous donations have yielded valuable results that have propelled me toward my long-term goals.

My presentation on the trainee grant has been awarded the Mordecai Y.T. Globus New Investigator Award during the 2024 American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference. I would like to thank everyone involved with this grant.

-Dr. Maeda

Margaret McCann, MD, PhD(c)

Mentor: Richard Dortch, PhD

Project Title: Comprehensive Validation of Novel MRI Biomarkers of Peripheral Nerve Recovery

  1. I came to Barrow to research for my MD-PhD. I was excited for the opportunity to study neurotrauma and neuroimaging at a world-class institute.
  2. Our overarching goal is to diagnose peripheral nerve injury and predict recovery with imaging earlier than what is currently possible with diagnostic tools. My project, funded by the Foundation, explores using microcomputed tomography to evaluate peripheral nerve injury and validate novel MRI sequences.
  3. I plan to publish the results of my current project in a peer-reviewed journal. Pending final results, my lab is considering applying for a larger grant to build and expand on the project.
  4. My next steps are to apply for a residency in neurosurgery and continue researching neurotrauma. Ultimately, I want to help patients directly in the operating room and contribute to scientific advancement through research.

Thank you to the generous donors to the Barrow Neurological Foundation who have supported me and facilitated this research. I am grateful and honored to have the opportunity to pursue this work at Barrow.

-Dr. McCann
Ondatje, Briana

Briana Ondatje, PhD(c)

Mentor: Rita Sattler, MSc, PhD

Project Title: Microglia-Astrocyte Crosstalk in C9orf72 ALS/FTD

  1. I came to Barrow as a graduate student to work with Dr. Rita Sattler because she does incredible work on ALS/FTD using stem cell technology.
  2. My project aims to understand how the support, immune cells, microglia, and astrocytes in the brain and spinal cord communicate with one another and how that is dysregulated in patients with ALS/FTD.
  3. For my research, I have submitted for multiple pre-doctoral fellowships, including with the Department of Defense (DOD), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Additionally, I am a finalist in the ARCS Scholarship. These will all support my training as a PhD student and help progress my career development. Results for all of these I will find out later this year. My research will be compiled into a manuscript and, ultimately, in my dissertation.
  4. Professionally, I hope to continue my work in neurodegeneration by searching for therapeutic interventions that will halt disease progression and reverse it in not only ALS but other neurodegenerative diseases as well.

I would like to thank the Barrow Neurological Foundation for supporting my research and providing an environment for progress in the battle against neurodegeneration.

-Briana Ondatje
Orndorff, Keely

Keely Orndorff, PhD(c)

Mentor: Shwetal Mehta, PhD

Project Title: Investigation of the HDAC Inhibitor Quisinostat in a Syngeneic Mouse Model of Glioblastoma

  1. In August 2022, I joined the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience graduate program at ASU. At this time, I also joined Dr. Mehta’s lab at the Ivy Brain Tumor Center to complete my PhD thesis work
  2. My project is ultimately centered around glioblastoma and striving to bring more effective therapies to patients with this terrible disease.
  3. The research I am doing now is for my PhD thesis, so the goal is to publish this work in the future; however, we plan to apply for more grants, including an R01 and F31.
  4. I am currently studying to earn my PhD, and with this degree, I hope to become a professor at a university and mentor future scientists.

I am very grateful to the Barrow Neurological Foundation and its donors for their generosity and for supporting my research.

-Keely Orndorff
Moreno Rodriguez, Marta

Marta Moreno Rodriguez, PhD

Mentor: Sylvia Perez, PhD

Project Title: Profiling Frontal Cortex White Matter Microglia in High Performing Old People

  1. I was offered the opportunity to join Dr. Elliott Mufson’s laboratory at Barrow Neurological Institute and collaborate with Dr. Sylvia Perez to expand my research scope in the molecular biology of dementia. This transition involves shifting my focus from animal models to human patients.
  2. This project aims to elucidate the cellular mechanisms that allow certain individuals over the age of 80 to maintain memory functions akin to those at least three decades younger. Some individuals undergo markedly slower brain aging; thus, we compare their cellular changes with those of age-matched individuals undergoing typical aging. The insights gained from this comparison could be invaluable for the development of novel treatments for dementia.
  3. My next step is to collaborate with Dr. Sylvia Perez and Dr. Elliott Mufson to analyze and interpret the findings obtained here further. This collaboration will assist us in pursuing additional federal funding opportunities (NIH R01 or R21) and private foundation support (Alzheimer’s Association). Ultimately, our goal is to publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal to contribute to advancing knowledge in this field.
  4. I aim to expand my expertise and deepen my understanding of the fundamental mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases associated with dementia. Additionally, I aspire to collaborate with leading experts in the field and publish research findings that contribute to advancing our collective knowledge. Ultimately, my goal is to establish myself as an independent researcher, making meaningful contributions to the development of effective treatments for dementia and improving the lives of those affected by these conditions.

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of the Barrow Neurological Foundation donors for their generous support. Your contributions play a crucial role in fueling innovative research initiatives. Your generosity drives progress in scientific discovery and instills hope in patients and their families worldwide.

-Dr. Moreno Rodriguez
Xu, Yuan

Yuan Xu, MD, PhD(c)

Mentor: Mark Preul, MD

Project Title: Towards Precision Glioma Surgery: Improving Neurosurgical Florescence Techniques to Facilitate Intraoperative Glioma Cell Identification

  1. Before joining Barrow Neurological Institute as a PhD student in the ASU-BNI Neuroscience PhD Program, I was a neurosurgery resident in Shanghai, China. During my clinical training, I developed a keen interest in brain tumor surgery, which led me to The Loyal and Edith Davis Neurosurgical Research Laboratory, directed by Dr. Preul.
  2. Here, I am working with a novel cellular imaging technology called confocal laser endomicroscopy (CLE) that images brain tumor cells in vivo in real-time with the help of a fluorophore. Fluorescein sodium is the only fluorophore approved for CLE, but it does not label cells in a specific fashion that enables recognition of different cell types.
  3. I aim to explore and evaluate alternative fluorophores for CLE imaging to enhance the specific identification of tumor cells. This project holds the potential to significantly improve intraoperative brain tumor imaging to push the boundaries of precision brain tumor surgery. We have published numerous papers on this technology, which was pioneered at Barrow Neurological Institute, and I was awarded the Leica Proficient Surgical Tumor Award at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The results of this project will be published in prominent neurosurgery and neuro-oncology journals and form a significant part of my dissertation.
  4. After graduation, I aspire to continue my training in neurosurgery and contribute to brain tumor imaging research.

I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the generous Barrow Neurological Foundation donors for supporting my research and career development as a physician-scientist.

-Dr. Xu
Zhang, Hualin

Hualin Zhang, PhD

Mentor: An-Chi Tien, PhD

Project Title: Validating RAD51 Foci Score as a Survival Beneficial Predictor of Niraparib in GBM Patients

  1. Barrow is a place for a world-class multidisciplinary team of neurosurgeons, physicians, and scientists to coordinate in one center to solve hard-to-cure neurological diseases. I am honored to have the chance and resources to collaborate with those brilliant doctors and scientists. The Ivy Brain Tumor Center is the leading institute for the world’s largest phase 0 clinical trials program, where pre-clinical and clinical trials are ongoing to find the best cure for our patients. It is the place where I could devote my enthusiasm and knowledge.
  2. Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive type of brain tumor that requires improved treatment options. Recently, researchers have found that DNA damage response (DDR), in which PARP is one of the key components, is a promising target in GBM treatment. In pre-clinical studies, combining PARP inhibitors (PARPi) with radiotherapy has demonstrated a significant response in pre-clinical studies of GBM. Since several clinical trials are ongoing to investigate the efficacy of PARPi in GBM patients, defining the biomarkers for potential PARPi responders in GBM is crucial but needs to be included. In our study, we will develop a functional test using patient-derived tumors to precisely predict GBM patients who will benefit from the combination of PARPi and radiation therapy.
  3. We will use the biomarker developed from this grant to perform correlation analysis with clinical results that will be published later in the year during the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting. We aim to submit an abstract for our findings later at the Society of Neuro-Oncology international conference. Future studies will focus on validating this biomarker in pre-clinical models and identifying the molecular basis for homologous recombination deficiency in Glioblastoma. My mentor will work with me to apply for the postdoctoral fellowships and pursue funding opportunities from the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the National Institutes of Science (NIH) in 2024.
  4. As I move towards independence, my long-term goal is to design, implement, and lead a research team in conducting multi-center randomized clinical trials. My short-term goal is to develop expertise in pharmacodynamics analysis of Phase 0/2 clinical trials that elicit vital background information necessary to design and analyze future trials. By building on my emerging presence as a clinical research scientist in Ivy Brain Tumor Center at Barrow Neurological Institute, I will move forward to:
    • Develop and conduct clinical research studies likely to improve the survival and quality of life for patients with advanced diseases
    • Develop independent academic research programs, including writing grants and other funding proposals

Thank you for your donation! It is a true gift of hope. Your generous support will help us focus on accelerated clinical trials to save lives and change the course of medicine for people battling the most challenging brain tumors, especially Glioblastoma. It allows me to discover biomarkers to identify individualized strategies for treating brain tumors, distinguishing the potential responders and non-responders for novel therapeutic drugs even before the treatment starts.

-Dr. Zhang

With Your Support, Barrow Is Transforming Neuroscience

Barrow Neurological Foundation serves as the catalyst for our donors’ passion for transforming neuroscience. We ensure that their healthcare philanthropy continues to further the Institute’s mission to save human lives through innovative treatment, groundbreaking research, and education for the next generation of the world’s leading neuroscience specialists.

Anything is possible when inspired generosity is paired with mission and purpose. Join Barrow Neurological Foundation in transforming the future of neuroscience by donating today.


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