On Thursday, more than 450 scientists, trainees, students and faculty presented posters and abstracts at Feinberg’s 15th Annual Lewis Landsberg Research Day, with record-setting participation and attendance.
One scientist, Vishal Kothari, PhD, research assistant professor of Urology, analyzed gene transcriptomes from nearly 20,000 prostate cancer patients, identifying a new class of prostate cancer characterized by unusually low androgen activity.
“We are not only providing the proof of concept for a new class of prostate cancer, but also showing a robust biomarker that can help clinical decision-making,” said Kothrari, whose poster won the first-place prize in the Clinical Research category. “This helps address one of the most baffling problems in prostate cancer treatment: how to differentiate between aggressive and indolent disease, and how to predict responses to drugs.”
The synthesis between laboratory and clinic was on full display — something touched on by Rex Chisholm, PhD, vice dean for Scientific Affairs and Graduate Education, as he welcomed attendees to the event and presented the Medical Faculty Council Mentors of the Year and Tripartite Legacy Faculty Prize awards.
“Research Day is one of my favorite days of the year, a chance for all of us to share the science that we do and the important discoveries we make,” said Chisholm, who is also the Adam and Richard T. Lind Professor of Medical Genetics and a professor of Cell and Molecular Biology and Surgery. “It’s a really exciting time to be part of the Feinberg research enterprise, with really terrific discoveries and new breakthroughs in both basic science and clinical care.”
After an introduction from Chisholm, Barbara Meyer, PhD, investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, delivered a keynote address on modeling X chromosomes.
“As you know, chromosomes are not random pieces of DNA or spaghetti inside the cell,” said Meyer, who is also a professor of Genetics, Genomics, and Development in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. “The three-dimensionality and packing of the chromosomes within that cell are extremely important for functions like replication or transcription — all of the things that are required for life.”
After the keynote, attendees spread out across several exhibition spaces throughout the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, perusing hundreds of scientific posters and chatting with investigators like Vania Vidimar, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow.
Vidimar discovered a toxin that physically cleaves the RAS protein — a protein implicated in as many as 30 percent of cancers — and showed delivering this toxin to cancer cells could curb tumor growth.
“This toxin is from a bacteria — we didn’t have to make it, it already exists in nature,” said Vidimar, whose poster won the first-place prize in the Basic Science category. “Our study shows we should further develop this molecule for future anti-cancer therapies.”
Of course, not all scientific investigation occurs in basic science laboratories. Jordan Sell, a second-year medical student, repurposed a decidedly low-tech instrument to improve IV placements in the clinic.
“Placing IVs is critical for patient care in the hospital, but lots of patients have difficult placements, which can lead to delays in care and increased costs,” said Sell, who won the second-place prize in the Education Research category. “We designed a simulation-based mastery curriculum to train nurses to use ultrasound-guided IV, and we saw high improvement in skills and an increased utilization of bedside ultrasound, showing an improved efficiency of care.”
Other investigators looked at problems with broad impact, such as Sadiya Khan, ‘09 MD, ’14 MSc, ’10 ’12 ’16 ’17 GME, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology and of Preventive Medicine.
While cardiovascular death rates in the United States have decreased since the 1970s, that trend has reversed and is now creeping back upward, according to Khan. She and her colleagues examined population health data to diagnose the current state of affairs and predict what the current trajectory would produce in 10 or 30 years.
“Even though the overall trends are getting worse, we’ve made good progress and a greater proportion of the population is in the ideal category for cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking — a reflection of our public health efforts around those measures,” Khan said.
Instead, the primary driver of the current slump is diet, Khan explained, and targeting diet, physical activity and glucose intake should be priorities for public health programs.
“A lot of it is going to start earlier in life,” Khan said. “We’ve seen a lot of good things in primary prevention with cholesterol or blood pressure, but these risk factors require primordial intervention, before those risk factors turn into bigger problems.”
This Year’s Winners
- Basic Science
- First place: Vania Vidimar, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, “RAS processing as a strategy to inhibit RAS-driven tumors.”
- Second place: Jack Shireman, research associate, “Single Cell Nucleosome Occupancy and RNA Sequencing on recurrent GBM.”
- Third place: Yaqi Zhang, a second-year student in the Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences (DGP), “DOT1L, a New Target in Ovarian Cancer Stem Cells.”
- Clinical Research
- First place: Vishal Kothari, PhD, research assistant professor of Urology, “Investigating a novel class of aggressive, low AR active Pca.”
- Second place: Yinan Zheng, ’17 PhD, research assistant professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, “Elevated Cumulative Blood Pressure May Lead to Irreversible Epigenetic Aging.”
- Third place: Patrick Campbell, MD, a second-year resident in internal medicine, “Association between Plasminogen Activator Inhibitor-1 and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.”
- Public Health & Social Sciences Research
- First place: Sadiya Khan, ‘09 MD, ’14 MSc, ’10 ’12 ’16 ’17 GME, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology and of Preventive Medicine, “Cardiovascular Health Trends (1999 to 2014) and Projections to 2050.”
- Second place: Tami Bartell, MPH, research coordinator, “Elder Suicides in Illinois, 2015: Illinois Violent Death Reporting System.”
- Third place: Leah Rethy, visiting scholar, “Racial Disparities in Heart Failure Prevalence in US Adults: 1999-2016.”
- Education Research
- First place: Rhami Khorfan, MD, a second-year fellow in the Surgical Outcomes and Quality Improvement Center (SOQIC), “Long-term Effects of Flexible Duty Hour Policies on Surgery Residents.”
- Second place: Jordan Sell, a second-year medical student, “Implementing an Ultrasound Guided IV Training Curriculum for Hospital Nurses.”
- Third place: Blair Golden, MD, instructor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, “Continuity Improves Primary Care Training and Mitigates Burnout.”
- Medical Women Faculty Organization Founders Award
- Basic Science: Farners Amargant, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, “The ovarian hyaluronan network is dysregulated with advanced reproductive age.”
- Clinical, Public Health and Education: Yulia Lagoutina, graduate student, “Cortical atrophy as predictor of recall change in aging women.”
- ARCC Community-Engaged Research Partnership Award: Building Capacity for a Community-Based Research Partnership to Optimize Physical Activity in Lung Cancer Survivors (Be-Lung). Be-Lung is an intervention to increase physical activity among lung cancer survivors in Chicago. It is a partnership between Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and Gilda’s Club Chicago, a community organization that supports individuals and their families and friends whose lives have been impacted by cancer.
- Tripartite Legacy Faculty Prize: Kathleen Green, PhD, the Joseph L. Mayberry, Sr., Professor of Pathology and Toxicology, associate director of Basic Science Research at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and a professor of Dermatology.
- Medical Faculty Council Mentors of the Year: Tamara Isakova, MD, MMSc, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension and director of the Center for Translational Metabolism and Health within the Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM), and John Varga, MD, director of the Northwestern Scleroderma Program and the John and Nancy Hughes Distinguished Professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology.