Skip to Content

UGSP Spring 2016 Newsletter

Compiled by UGSP Newsletter Editors and Scholars, Sohee Shim and Courtney Vaughan

Recapping NIH Summer Poster Day 2015

NIH Summer Poster Day 2015 was a great success, with our UGSP scholars presenting their research projects with the trainees in the rest of the NIH Summer Internship Program. Below, each scholar's independent research project is listed along with their institute and mentor's name.

Joel Adu-Brimpong (2015 Graduate)
The Precision Medicine Initiative: A Qualitative Analysis of the Publics' and Researchers' Perspectives on Community Engagement Strategies and Health Disparities Issues.
University of Michigan
Mr. Vence Bonham, Mentor (NHGRI)

Charisse Ahmed (2015 Graduate)
Assessment of Viral Load Response after Four Weeks of Community-based Treatment for Chronic Hepatitis C (ASCEND Trial).
University of Florida
Dr. Henry Masur and Sarah Kattakuzhy, (CC)

Adriana Alexander
Distribution of Cortical Granules in Maturing Mammalian Oocytes is Regulated by Zinc and Lin28b.
Southern Oregon University
Dr. Jurrien Dean, Mentor (NIDDK)

Zakary Beach (2015 Graduate)
Role of IRF8 in Periodontal Disease.
University of Missouri, Columbia
Dr. Martha Somerman, Mentor (NIDCR)

Dabin Choi (2015 Graduate)
Battery-Powered Electrified Conductive Vascular Access Device Minimizes Fibrin Sheath Adhesion and Biofilm Formation.
Emory University
Dr. Bradford Wood, Mentor (NIDCR)

Abraham Corrales
Role of the Prodomain in the Biogenesis of fragilysin from Enterotoxigenic Bacteroides
University of California, Davis
Dr. Harris Bernstein, Mentor (NIDCR)

Neranjan de Silva
Development of Targeted Gene Therapy for Hematopoietic Stem Cells.
Columbia University
Dr. Andre Larochelle, Mentor (NHLBI)

Ebenezer Ewul (2015 Graduate)
Using Inhibitory Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Discern the Contribution of Cortical Areas in Skill Learning.
CUNY-Lehman College
Dr. Eric Wasserman, Mentor (NINDS)

Charlesice Hawkins (2015 Graduate)
Parkinson's Disease-related LRRK2 Regulates the Compartmentation of Murine Striatum.
University of California Merced
Dr. Huaibin Cai, Mentor (NIA)

Indra Kar (2015 Graduate)
Association of Transportation-Related Physical Activity with Driving Licensure and Environmental Status Among Emerging Adults.
New York University
Dr. Denise Haynie, Mentor (NICHD)

Christian Mayfield (2015 Graduate)
Inter-joint Coordination in Brachial Plexus Palsy.
Morehouse College
Dr. Diane Damiano, Mentor (CC)

Joshua McCausland (2015 Graduate)
The S. aureus PSM Transporter (Pmt) Contributes to Colonization and Infection Through Export of AMPs.
University of North Georgia
Dr. Michael Otto, Mentor (NIAID)

Kevin McPherson
Tracking the Worm Head: Examining the Genesis of Behavior in the Developing Embryo of Caenorhabditis elegans.
Emory University
Dr. Hari Shroff, Mentor (NIBIB)

Bilal Moiz
The Missing Link: DHHC5-Catalyzed Palmitoylation of SLC1A5 and Growth of NSCLC.
University of Rochester
Dr. Anil Mukherjee, Mentor (NICHD)

Chase Morgan
Constructing IQGAP1 Knockout Human Cell Lines with CRISPR-Cas9.
Columbia University
Dr. David B. Sacks, Mentor (NICHD)

Akosua Osei-Tutu (2015 Graduate)
Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Bevacizumab and Dasatinib - Translational Endpoints.
University of Maryland Baltimore County
Dr. Christina Annunziata, Mentor (NCI)

Veronica Ramirez
The Effect of Scene Context on Object Perception.
University of San Diego
Dr. Chris Baker, Mentor (NIMH)

Kelly Sanchez (2015 Graduate)
Looking for Rare Genetic Variants in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
University of Connecticut
Dr. Philip Shaw, Mentor (NHGRI)

Bethany Sauls (2015 Graduate)
Electrodermal Response to Thermal Pain Stimulation in Healthy Volunteers.
University of Texas, Dallas
Dr. Lauren Atlas, Mentor, (NCCIH)

Sohee Shim (2015 Graduate)
Effect of HDACi Givinostat on the Polarization of Human Th17 Cells: Implication in Autoimmune Uveitis.
George Washington University
Dr. Robert Nussenblatt, Mentor (NEI)

Courtney Vaughan (2015 Graduate)
Determinants of Control Over Drinking and IV Alcohol Self-Administration in Non-Dependent Drinkers.
Virginia Commonwealth University
Dr. Vijay Ramchandani, Mentor (NIAAA)


UGSP 2014-2015 Scholars at the NIH Summer Poster Day
UGSP 2014-2015 Scholars at NIH Summer Poster Day. From left: Joshua McCausland, Chase Morgan, Charlesice Hawkins, Bethany Sauls, Christian Mayfield, Charisse Ahmed, Adriana Alexander, Kelly Sanchez, Abraham Corrales.

UGSP 2014-2015 Scholars at the NIH Summer Poster Day
UGSP 2014-2015 Scholars at NIH Summer Poster Day. From left: Ebenezer Ewul, Neranjan de Silva, Courtney Vaughan, Kelly Sanchez, Sohee Shim, Veronica Ramirez, Akosua Osei-Tutu, Joel Adu-Brimpong, Indra Kar, Bilal Moiz.


Our annual Mentor Match event was held in early January, and we had the opportunity to meet new scholars (and welcome several renewals) on the main NIH campus in Bethesda, MD. They interviewed with potential mentors, participated in seminars, and interacted with current UGSP paybacks working at the NIH. We are excited to welcome 19 UGSP scholars studying at universities from 11 states across the country to the UGSP community!

  • Adriana Alexander - Senior at Southern Oregon University
  • Assanatou Bamogo - Senior at University of Central Florida
  • Neranjan de Silva - Junior at Columbia University
  • Emilie Fisher - Senior at Scripps College
  • Patrick James Jensen -Senior at University of Chicago
  • Fehad Khan  -Senior at Boston College
  • Ana Maldonado -Senior at Princeton University
  • Kevin McPherson - Senior at Emory University
  • Bilal Moiz - Senior at University of Rochester
  • Chase Morgan - Junior at Columbia University
  • Quang Nguyen - Senior at Duke University
  • Kelly Nguyen - Sophomore at San Diego State University
  • Obadi Obadi - Senior at University of North Georgia
  • Nancy Ortega - Junior at University of San Francisco
  • Akosua Osei-Tutu - Senior at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)
  • Zaw Phyo - Senior at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • Veronica Ramirez - Senior at University of San Diego
  • Launick Saint-Fort - Senior at Pennsylvania State University, Berks Campus
  • Beverly Wu - Junior at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)


Paybacks Give Back
Kelly Sanchez

Kelly Sanchez
B.A., Psychology and Latin American Studies, University of Connecticut, Storrs
UGSP Scholar: 2014-2015
Research at NIH: Summer 2015, Current UGSP payback

Kelly is a current UGSP payback working in Dr. Philip Shaw's lab in the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). She has also been selected to participate in the NIH Academy cohort of 2015 because of her interests and dedication to community service. Outside of her NIH Academy participation, Kelly actively volunteers with two different local organizations-Mother & Babies Project at Mary's Center (a Federally Qualified Health Center) and with the Health Education Outreach Program (HEOP) at a family home in Rockville.

The Mothers & Babies Project is a project run by GWU doctoral students in the Clinical Psychology Program; the project aims to help specifically monolingual Latina mothers who are experiencing and or dealing with postpartum depression. The mothers (and recently, fathers) are interviewed before and after labor about their feelings about the baby, expectations of the pregnancy and labor, lifestyle, and any lifestyle changes after childbirth. Kelly helps translate these conversations from Spanish to English. Kelly notes that the time commitment of 6 hours a week flies by since she enjoys the challenge of translating in Spanish with a different set of vocabulary such as health care terms like pregnancy, emotions, and mental health.

In the Health Education Outreach Program (HEOP), Kelly is among 3 members who teach health topics at a home for homeless families called Stepping Stones in Rockville, MD. She emphasized that the home is unique, where each family shares a giant house with rooms divided for every family. Stepping Stones houses a unique population made up of mostly young women in their twenties who have infants and/or young children.

Managing work in her research group, NIH Academy, a social life, and her other volunteer commitment, Kelly says she has no problem fitting 3.5 hours every other week on Tuesday nights to volunteer with HEOP: 1 hour doing research about health topic, 1 hour prepping together with her group, and 1.5 hours at the shelter. "I'm (just) really grateful to have this experience of interacting with such a unique, young population in the homeless community."

When asked about what she has learned from volunteering, she stated, "I think both experiences have helped me put a lot of things in perspective. It makes you realize what you have and what you can give to other people. I also really enjoy spending time with the babies; I love them. They're really cute."

Interested in getting involved in your community that is not too far from the NIH?
Check out Montgomery County Volunteer Center*: **
Main Phone: 240-777-2600
Fax: 240-777-2601
Address: 12900 Middlebrook Road, Suite 1600, Germantown, MD 20874

Their mission is to link people and groups interested in volunteering with nonprofits and government agencies that need volunteers. The Center, under the County government, promotes community service and recognizes exemplary volunteer service in addition to helping nonprofits effectively utilize and retain volunteers. They have a database of volunteer opportunities where you can search by keyword, zipcode, and or interest area!

*Disclaimer: This information is provided for reader's benefit and does not reflect an endorsement or affiliation with this organization.
**NIH is not responsible for the content posted on this website.

When seeking a volunteer opportunity, keep in mind:
~ Keep in mind that volunteering and outreach are valuable components of professional development and also help strengthen the scientific community. Scholars should weigh the importance of this specific activity in their overall career development. If the event falls on a weekday and requires you to leave the NIH during normal working hours, participation depends on permission from your supervisor.
~ As an UGSP scholar and full time employee of the NIH, you cannot represent the NIH or be affiliated with the NIH in any form during your service hours.
~ Some organizations are very organized about their volunteer opportunities and responsibilities. Some are less organized, so be flexible!
~ Take into consideration the time of your commute to the organization as a longer commute can potentially keep you from a long-term commitment.


Scholar Highlights - Life in Graduate / Professional School
Zak Beach

Zak Beach
B.S., Bioengineering, University of Missouri
UGSP Scholar: 2014-2015
Research at NIH: Summer 2015

Zak is beginning his second semester in the Bioengineering Ph.D. program at the University of Pennsylvania. After lab rotations first semester, Zak decided to join the laboratory of Louis J. Soslowsky in the McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory located in Penn's School of Medicine. The lab focuses on biomechanics, with an emphasis on tendon biomechanics. He is currently working on two projects; one that's looking at the effects of exercise on inflammation of the supraspinatus muscle and another that examines the mechanisms of joint damage after tendon injury. Zak also assists other lab members on projects discovering the effects of different treatment modalities on Achilles tendon healing and biomechanics.


Charlesice Hawkins

Charlesice Hawkins

B.S., Cognitive Science and Human Biology, University of California, Merced
UGSP Scholar: 2014-2015
Research at NIH: Summer 2015

Charlesice is in the first year of her Ph.D. in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program (INP) at the University of California, Irvine. The INP is a gateway program where the first year is dedicated to core neuroscience coursework and laboratory rotations. After the first year she will transfer into one of six biology departments based on a chosen thesis laboratory.

Charlesice completed her first rotation in Dr. Diane O'Dowd's lab characterizing the electrophysiological properties of human-induced pluripotent stem cell derived GABA forebrain interneurons. The goal of the project was to determine if the age of the fibroblast donor could be a possible confounding factor in the future. She differentiated and characterized a cell line derived from a 3-year old donor and compared it to cell lines previously characterized in the lab that were derived from middle aged donors. Although more data is needed to draw any reliable conclusions, no dramatic differences were observed in the cell lines, with respect to the donor's age. These cells will serve as control and background lines for introducing various epilepsy mutations using CRISPR/CAS9 system. This work would be paralleled by examining similar mutations in drosophila.

Charlesice is currently rotating in Dr. Thomas Schilling's laboratory and working to establish transgenic lines of zebrafish that allow visualization of transcription through a new technique using bacterial RNA hairpins and fluorescently labeled coat proteins. This system will be used to explore how noise impacts retinoic acid signaling and transcription and how this contributes to segmentation of the hindbrain during zebrafish development.


Scholar Research Highlight - Joshua McCausland
Josh McCausland

"Back to Bacteria"
Joshua McCausland
B.S., Biology, University of North Georgia
UGSP Scholar: 2014-2015
Research at NIH: Summer 2015, Current UGSP payback

Joshua currently works in Dr. Michael Otto's lab in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) studying the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. He first grew interested in bacteria while working as a student at the University of North Georgia (UNG) with Dr. Paul Johnson in the Department of Biology on the effects of serial antibiotic treatment on S. aureus persisters, a subpopulation unaffected by, although sensitive to, antibiotic therapy due to low metabolic activity. This project ultimately taught Joshua the skills and techniques necessary for bacteriology.

Dr. Otto's primary interest focuses on the molecular mechanisms used by staphylococci to subvert the human immune response. According to the CDC, 11,000 people die every year from drug-resistant S. aureus in the United States, more than HIV. Doctors need a new treatment, and current research in microbial pathogenesis aims to blunt virulence. Specifically, when S. aureus infects, the innate immune system responds through neutrophils. They phagocytize invading bacteria and lyse them with reactive oxygen species and antimicrobial peptides (AMPs).

Joshua studies the phenol-soluble modulin (PSM) transporter (PMT). Previous work described PMT as the primary transporter for the PSM toxins, which lyse neutrophils. If PMT is disabled or knocked out, these PSMS become trapped intracellularly, killing S. aureus. AMPs have a similar structure to PSMs, so we believe that this transporter may export them and provide a key role in S. aureus survival from the innate immune system. Targeting PMT would prevent both PSM excretion and neutrophil escape, blunting virulence and notably reducing the severity of infection.

With this ongoing project, he has performed assays showing PMT's contribution to survival in human whole blood and neutrophils, and have shown this transporter's key role in colonization and infection in mouse models. Joshua still has to perform many more mouse experiments and molecular biology to clarify PMT's function.

So far, Joshua has interviews with multiple Ph.D. programs this spring, including Yale, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins. He will apply the biochemistry and molecular biology he has learned in Dr. Otto's lab to further study host-pathogen interactions.


Conferences and Presentations
Joel Adu-Brimpong attended the 2015 Annual Biomedical Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) on a travel award he received from the Office of Intramural Training and Education. He was most excited about being exposed to a diverse group of students and professionals conducting high-level, impactful research. It was a unique avenue for Joel to witness and learn about the different thought process, questions, and strategies being explored by minorities in research. It also provided him with the platform to informally share his lab's work at NIH and the opportunity to encourage other students interested in social and biomedical research.

Kevin McPherson attended the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Annual National conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Washington, DC. Kevin presented work from his summer at the National Institutes of Health from the lab of Dr. Hari Shroff in the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB). His poster was entitled "Tracking the Worm Head: Examining the Genetics of Behavior in the Developing Embryo of Caenorhabditis." Kevin enjoyed the conference and appreciated the opportunity to connect and collaborate with Native Americans in science.


UGSP Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Andre Kydd and Dr. Yessenia Ibarra

Andre Kydd, M.D., Ph.D. was a UGSP scholar in 2002-2003. He completed his undergraduate degree at Harvard University and received his M.D. and Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Currently, he is doing his residency at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL, while his wife (a fellow UGSP scholar who he met at the NIH during the summer internship) is nearing the completion of her M.D./Ph.D. training at Johns Hopkins as well.

Here are the Q&A from his interview:

What motivated you to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. program?
I was motivated to pursue the M.D./Ph.D. program for the long-term goal of integrating research and clinical practice. The background in research training through a Ph.D. gives one a unique perspective, depth of knowledge, and some level of expertise in basic research that is not easily obtained during shorter periods of medical training (in my opinion). Personally, the prospect of conducting research that can ultimately improve patient care has always been a motivating factor. Therefore, I want(ed) the training of taking care of cancer patients; clinical practice provides a very clear understanding of the successes, nuances, and challenges/limitations of current therapies in the field (not to mention the possibility of unexpected insights).

How have your medical science interests evolved over the years?
I have a longstanding interest in cancer, mainly given so many cancers that still hold such a poor prognosis. While a summer intern at UGSP in the summers of 2003 and 2004, I worked with Dr. Ira Pastan, looking at unique antigens that are present on testicular and prostate cancers. At Harvard, I worked on viral oncology (HTLV-1 and Acute T-cell Leukemia) as a part of my senior research thesis. This early experience lead towards exploring cancer epigenetics in greater depth in my Ph.D. research (Dr. Stephen Baylin).

Looking forward, I am excited about translating the advances for targeting the epigenetic changes in cancer. While a handful of therapies that target epigenetic changes are well established, many more therapies are actively in development. As this field evolves and grows, I would like to be able to use all this knowledge to benefit cancer patients.

Have you kept any consistent hobbies throughout your time in academia and do you think they have helped you in any way?
Any given hobbies can be another source of balance through your toughest times going through research, medicine, or combined training. These unique skills, hobbies, and outsides can sometime provide unique insights into your work, or can simply be an outlet from careers demands. Both my wife and I enjoy dancing and bicycling, which we try to do as much as possible (a bit more difficult while apart). Any healthy and sustainable practice, hobby, or activity that can provide that balance to life (in my case, almost any activity with my wife!) can make you more successful in what you do.

How do you balance your time between work and family?
Given that (my wife and I) both have interest in medicine and research, there is an ongoing support and in-depth knowledge not just of the demands of training but goals of improving patient care through research. It also makes us work extra hard to enjoy quality time together as much as possible, which we value now more than ever since we are far apart- as well as lots of communication (telephone, Skype) for topics large and small.

We don't have children, so I can't comment on that from personal experience. However, support, understanding, generosity and flexibility/creativity in juggling busy schedules/careers that is such a valuable part of our relationship and the balance that we try to achieve becoming that much more important.

What was the most important thing you learned through your time at NIH?
Having a supportive community and the major role of mentorship were some of the greatest things that I learned at my time in the NIH, and in retrospect, is by far one of the greatest lessons to hold onto throughout one's career. Such mentors include not only the PI with which someone learns, but also your fellow NIH researchers and UGSP scholars. They can be a wealth of information- in my case, about the role of the M.D./Ph.D. program.


Yessenia Ibarra
Yessenia Ibarra, Ph.D.
was a UGSP scholar from 2005-2006. She grew up in the Bay Area in northern California. After high school, she enlisted in the Marine Corps and then worked full-time while attending community college part-time. She eventually transferred to San Diego State University and graduated with a B.S. in Molecular Biology. Dr. Ibarra stated that she was encouraged to apply to the UGSP program by her mentors (who are now her friends) while she was a MARC scholar at SDSU. After she graduated in 2006, Dr. Ibarra was accepted into a Neuroscience Ph.D. program at Harvard. She decided to finish her payback year after she graduated from Harvard in 2013. Dr. Ibarra wasn't certain that working full-time as a bench researcher was right for her so with guidance and encouragement from the UGSP staff, she was able to explore the administrative side of research in NHGRI. Dr. Ibarra enjoyed doing research experiments in the lab, but was more interested in working with others. Thus, she made the career shift into public health, since it is a field that requires daily interactions with a variety of people who have a common interest.

Here are the Q&A from her interview:

How did you find out about your CDC fellowship?
Towards the end of my payback period, I saw a job announcement on USAJOBS about a fellowship program offered by CDC. This fellowship offers on-the-job training to recent graduates and allows fellows to explore different topics in public health. I basically liked what I read, applied for the program and took a chance at starting over.

You get to travel a lot for your fellowship; how is that like and what are your day to day responsibilities?
I am temporarily working at Boston University School of Public Health. I am helping to create online training for people who are already working in the public health field in the New England region. Getting the content for writing these courses involves communicating with a lot of subject matter experts. I am also learning about different aspects of Public Health Emergency Preparedness. During the summer of 2015, the CDC was asking for volunteers, with laboratory experience, to deploy to West Africa for the Ebola response efforts. I was lucky enough to be qualified to go. I was sent to the Ebola-free country of Guinea-Bissau to help with their preparedness plans that were specific to laboratory testing and training for the new Ebola test kits.

What are your plans for your career pathway/after your fellowship?
After my fellowship is over, I plan to move to Atlanta, GA and continue to work with CDC as a Public Health Advisor.

What was the most important thing you learned through your time at the NIH?
While working at NIH, I learned a lot about myself and what I need in my life to be happy. Thinking about switching careers after already finishing a Ph.D. in a hard science was not an easy decision. I met a lot of passionate scientists and clinicians while I was in Bethesda and I wanted to feel that same passion in my work life as well.