May 1, 2015

Cell and Developmental Biology awards for outstanding research achievements by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are given in recognition of outstanding research achievements by a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow. This year's recipients are Emily Poulin (Coffey Lab), Graduate Student of the Year, and Yongliang Huo (Macara Lab) Post Doc of the Year. 


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Emily Poulin

 

 

 

 

Five papers on a variety of related projects and one more in preparation demonstrate Emily's versatility and her ability to work well as a team member:

  • First paper picked up a project mid-stream, and she demonstrated that keratinocyte growth factor increased claudin-2 expression in polarized epithelial cells 
  • She joined the exciting Lrig1 work in the Coffey lab, and was an author on the 2012 Cell paper reporting that Lrig1, a pan-ErbB inhibitor, was a marker of intestinal stem cells and a tumor suppressor.
  • First author paper on different subsets of Lrig1+ cells in the mouse colon, which cleared up a standing controversy in the field because different cells were identified by different Lrig1+ antibodies.  Emily determined that the root cause was that athe antibodies recognized different glycosylated forms of Lrig1.
  • Two more papers on Lrig1 as a tumor suppressor
  • Developed a mouse model of colon cancer by introducing activatable mutant Kras an APC background, using Lrig1-CRE to induce conditional expression (in preparation)
  • She was invited to speak at an international conference on her Lrig1 work, the Midnight Sun Symposium, an intense international meeting focused on Lrig proteins and growth factor signaling in Abisko, Sweden in 2014.  She was mistaken for a senior postdoc at this conference because of her excellent presentation.
  • She graduated this year, receiving an “Exemplary” mark on her thesis, and she has moved on to do a postdoc in the lab of Kevin Hagis at Harvard, to study ras mutations in the pathogenesis of myeloproliferative disease, or cancers of the blood cells. (the lab where Ken Lau did his postdoctoral work).  Chris Wright wrote to Dr. Hagis to say that he should be enormously proud to have Emily join his program, “that she will emerge as a leader and role model.”

From her mentor, Bob Coffey:
“Emily is very smart, and has a knack for explaining the intricacies of experimental approaches and technical details in clear, simple language. She also has a talent for digesting large amounts of material about a particular subject in a short amount of time and has educated me about new topics on numerous occasions…  She is fearless in tackling new problems and acquiring new skills to solve them. [She] is an outstanding writer and editor…[and] has played an active and essential part in writing many of my successfully funded grants and is acknowledged for writing and editing expertise in every manuscript published by the lab.”

From her thesis committee Chair, Chris Wright:  
“Emily made a wide decision…to depart from one or two of her own projects that unfortunately – because of the biology…--could not be moved into a productive phase.  She could then place more emphasis on her other projects…[T]he “sorting out” process that Emily went through was an important learning point, and led to her gaining resilience and flexibility.”

Emily has already moved to Boston, so accepting this award for her is her former lab mate and friend, Alina Starchenko.

 


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Yongliang Huo

 

 

 

 

This year’s CDB postdoc of the year award goes to Dr. Yongliang Huo from Dr. Ian Macara’s lab. Yongliang won the award, in part, for his work on Par3L, a Par3-like protein that is required for mammary stem cell maintenance. Yongliang showed that Par3L binds to the tumor suppressor protein, LKB1, to inhibit its kinase activity and that this inhibition is required for mammary stem cell maintenance. Yongliang’s work was published in the journal Nature Cell Biology and was featured on its cover. Significantly, there were only two authors on the paper – Drs. Huo and Macara.

The annual CDB postdoc award is awarded principally for the quality of scientific accomplishments of the candidate at the time of nomination. The selection committee also takes in consideration the applicant’s potential for a successful career in science. Towards this end, Yongliang has written and received a Department of Defense grant that has funded his work in Dr. Macara’s lab, thereby demonstrating his ability to obtain external support.

In addition, Yongliang has recently performed a novel in vivo screen, which he conceived, in primary mammary cells to identify new tumor suppressor genes. He has been successful in this endeavor, and a manuscript describing the characterization of one of the genes identified in this screen has been recently submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. Several more candidate genes await to be characterized. This innovative screen for tumor suppressors that Yongliang developed has clearly opened the door for new avenues of investigation for his future work. We believe Yongliang’s future as a scientist is bright!