Alexandra Diller Costello, a biology graduate student in the D Cornelison lab in Bond Life Sciences Center, recently received a three-year NIH fellowship from the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute.
It provides Diller Costello with funding to pursue her work on muscle and blood vessel regeneration for three years.
The fellowship comes as a result of her proposal titled, “Signaling in the Microvasculature During Skeletal Muscle Regeneration.” Diller Costello’s research focuses on the coordination between muscles and blood vessels during muscle regeneration in adult mice. Diller Costello is also developing a novel method of 3D co-culture using primary muscle and endothelial cells to expand her investigation.
The study is part of a collaboration between the Cornelison lab at the Bond LSC and the Segal lab in the Medical Pharmacology and Physiology department at the MU School of Medicine.
It was another day in the lab. Kinjal Majumder, a postdoctoral fellow in the David Pintel lab at Bond Life Sciences Center, was working on his research and stopped to check his email. At that moment, he found out he just won a $700,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
He felt relieved.
“I wish I could say something more high minded about it, but honestly, at that point, you’re like, ‘Oh, thank God. I got the award,’” Majumder said. “Then I thought, ‘Alright. I’m gonna go back to my experiments.’”
Majumder won the NIH Pathway to Independence award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that helps postdoctoral research fellows transition from working under a research mentor to starting their own lab. The application process takes time, so Majumder had to wait almost a year and a half from the time he submitted his application.
“It’s very humbling and honestly I am still processing it,” Majumder said. “The way these awards work is that you apply, you hope for the best, you walk away and try not to think about the possible outcomes.”
According to 2019 data from NIAID, applicants have a 19.1% success rate in receiving the award.
“No, I’m not surprised at all,” said Maria Boftsi, graduate student in the Pintel lab. “I think he’s worth it. He works very hard. He loves research. He loves being in the lab and doing experiments.”
Even when Majumder first started at Bond LSC, he showed promise.
“He’s a very imaginative guy, and he’s got a lot of energy,” said David Pintel, endowed professor in medical research Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. “He’s very forward thinking and he’s very creative. Those are the kind of scientists that can get to another level because they do experiments that most people wouldn’t think of.”
When he first joined Pintel’s lab, they were trying to figure out where a virus goes once it enters a cell.
The lab studies a small, single stranded DNA virus called, Minute Virus of Mice, which is a parvovirus. According to Majumder, it’s a good prototype to study how small DNA viruses in general navigate the host cell’s environment to establish infection.
“So, when we started asking where a virus localizes in the nucleus of a host cell, I realized that I possessed the expertise in the techniques we need to answer those basic questions in virology [techniques I had learned during my Ph.D. at Washington University],” Majumder said. “We jumped into it headfirst and experiments started working.”
Researchers originally thought viruses set up replication centers in the nucleus of cells by randomly interacting with the factors they need to replicate. However, Majumder and a previous graduate student in the lab, Matt Fuller, started to test whether viruses went to specific places in the nucleus, particularly on the cellular genome where factors already exist to facilitate virus replication.
“For a lot of reasons, it seemed a reasonable idea although people hadn’t thought about that before, certainly in our lab,” Pintel said. “So, they started doing the experiments, and they found that’s actually what happens.”
Majumder has been working at Bond LSC for the past five years doing many collaborations.
“He has a lot of knowledge and lab experience so whenever I have troubles and I need to troubleshoot experiments, I will talk to him,” Boftsi said. “He will share thoughts, and he’ll give me advice. His advice is always helpful.”
Majumder has been studying virology ever since he first started as a post doctorate in the Pintel lab. His interest began in graduate school thanks to his colleagues in the immunology graduate program at Washington University in St. Louis.
“I had several friends in graduate school who were virologists and studied how the immune system responds to different types of viral infection. Every time they presented at departmental seminar, they insisted that viruses were super cool,” Majumder said. “Eventually I decided that, ‘Hey, maybe I’ll check this out and see what the fuss is about.’”
Turns out it was worth the hype.
Now, Majumder is going to use the grant money to further his research on studying how viruses establish infection in host cells, usurp host proteins to replicate and spread to neighboring cells.
“In this proposal, I want to study the nuts and bolts of this process and find out what are the proteins that the virus is hijacking from the cell,” Majumder said. “How is it using those proteins to replicate in the cell, and then how is it further damaging the cell’s DNA so that it creates new viral replication centers?”
Other than it being “really cool science,” as Majumder puts it, this research can eventually be applicable to human diseases. Some parvoviruses can even be modified to target cancer cells.
Majumder is planning on continuing this research in his own lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the Institute for Molecular Virology and McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research starting in October 2020.
“I think his future students will be very lucky working with him because he likes sharing his knowledge, and he really loves what he’s doing,” Boftsi said. “I think this is something that he will pass to his future students.”
Majumder received help from Bond LSC investigators David Pintel, Christian Lorson, Ron Mittler, Trupti Joshi, the MMI department faculty, the MU Postdoc Association and the MMI postdoctoral fellows in the assembly of his K99/R00 application. Majumder also relied on the Genomics Technology Core and the Advanced Light Microscopy Core at the Bond LSC for experimental support. Majumder was funded for his postdoctoral research by a Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Individual National Service Award by the NIH.
Mizzou was always near the top of Olivia Warner’s list for Ph.D. programs.
Its renowned psychological sciences program, sound training in Warner’s specialty of addiction and supportive, collaborative atmosphere that she didn’t see at other places made it a top choice on paper.
But she was not introduced to her most formative program in terms of professional development until she had already moved across the country from Arizona to mid-Missouri. Within her first month, Warner learned of the Maximizing Access to Research Careers/Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (MARC/IMSD) program.
“I found out about IMSD right away, and I’m glad I did,” Warner said. “Without this program, I would have had a tougher time networking on campus, and wouldn’t have picked up a lot of the skills that I have today.”
MARC/IMSD is a federal program that partners with universities to identify and train the next generation of researchers in biomedical and behavioral sciences. It provides research, mentoring, academic and social support, and professional development to help them along the way to doctoral degrees that will lead them to diversify the workforce. These underserved students include minorities from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, those with disabilities, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and first-generation college students. The program gives them a helping hand in graduate school.
“Evidence says teams from diverse backgrounds approach problems differently and, ultimately, better in terms of solutions than teams of individuals from similar backgrounds,” said Dr. Mark Hannink, director of MARC/IMSD, Bond Life Sciences Center principal investigator and Biochemistry faculty member. “Data drives the National Institutes of Health’s recognition that entire research enterprises benefit from different perspectives and approaches.”
For 20 years, Mizzou was the recipient of an MARC/IMSD grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), that provided mentored research training and professional development to both undergraduate and graduate students. Hannink said that while the mentoring and professional development will continue, there will be changes in MARC/IMSD’s structure with the new grant. The most significant change is that the undergraduate and graduate training programs are now separated into two different grant-funded programs. The graduate MARC/IMSD program, which will become a T32 training program, has recently received $2.2M in funding from NIH to support training of 25 students over five years. A number of units at MU, including the School of Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Engineering, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Division of Biological Sciences and the Graduate School, have provided funding to support training of at least 10 additional students. The MARC/IMSD program is truly a partnership between NIH and MU that will have a significant impact on diversity in biomedical research.
“This is more than just a scholarship,” Hannink said. “It’s a training program, in which students develop three different areas of expertise that our students need to develop to become successful scientists: professional, technical and operational skills.”
These objectives include increasing the percentage of underrepresented minorities in participating biomedical predoctoral students to 20% from 16%, to improve the Ph.D. completion rate for such students to 90% from its current 84%. An end goal is that 30% of trainees obtain external fellowships during their time in the program.
While MARC/IMSD provides two years of financial support to participants, its key focus is to foster professional development programs, workshops and support mechanisms to ensure that students in the program have whatever they need to succeed.
Coming out of Arizona State University with degrees in Psychology and Human Development, Warner worked full time for three years and volunteered in a lab, researching the ways in which contextual and interpersonal factors influence alcohol use motives and subsequent problematic use.
Despite significant research experience, Warner’s transition into the six-year clinical psych sciences Ph.D. program would have been much more difficult if not for MARC/IMSD.
“I was connected with Dr. Hannink pretty much immediately after I arrived on campus, and surrounded with people in the program that had a lot of shared experiences with me,” she said. “The program provided extra support and a sense of togetherness for us, which is really important since a lot of us are underrepresented in Ph.D. programs. It really helps to be around a group of people you can relate to and connect with.”
Under the new grant, much of the mentoring aspect of the program will remain the same, but the new format will be much more explicit in terms of the specific training activities used to develop said technical, operational and professional skills.
In addition to moral support and togetherness, MARC/IMSD aims to equip participants with academic skills. For Warner, who just completed her second year of the program, this meant taking a professional development class taught by Hannink. The class included a segment on public speaking which was especially beneficial for Warner.
“Having public speaking and presentation skills is a large part of any successful researcher’s skill set, so it was really helpful for me to be able to develop those skills early on in the program,” Warner said.
Participants also complete rotations in other labs besides their own as part of the program in order to broaden their knowledge about all areas of research, and are given opportunities to network with experts in the field. Many cycle through labs within Bond LSC.
“The next generation of researchers need to have exposure to disciplines outside their degree, to be able to talk with people doing research that’s very different than their own and collaborate effectively,” Hannink said.
Warner wants to be able to continue her research in some capacity for the rest of her career, so being a well-rounded graduate able to face any challenges thrown at her is invaluable.
“Everything I’ve been a part of in this program, from the professional development class, to being exposed to areas of research I might not have otherwise known anything about, has been very beneficial,” she said.
The science community as a whole reaps benefits from this development.
“Any research effort is more effective if it’s inclusive and brings different perspectives and approaches to the problem, and that’s how the skills IMSD teaches really translate long term into a better biomedical workforce.”
MU received a National Institutes of Health five-year grant for $2,228,008 to continue its focus on minority graduate student development in biomedical and behavioral sciences. This grant started February 1, 2020.
It feels good to get recognition, especially when it comes from the White House.
This week D Cornelison, a Bond Life Sciences Center researcher and associate professor of biological sciences found out she will receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. She joins 102 researchers this year selected by the White House to receive this prestigious award.
This is a first for Missouri as a state as well as MU, making her the only scientist based in Missouri to ever be selected. Cornelison was nominated by her program officer at the National Institutes of Health, which funds her work on satellite cells.
Read more here from Melody Kroll on the Division of Biological Sciences website.