A few minutes to change the world

Western postdoctoral scholars put their research on the clock during a 3 Minute Research (3MR) Competition, hosted as part of the 2015 Postdoctoral Research Forum May 7 in the Great Hall, Somerville House.

The competition is a research communication exercise where postdoctoral scholars had three minutes or less to present their work and its impact to a diverse group of audience members. Cash prizes were given to assist winners in attending conferences to promote their research and further their career network.

Hosted by the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (SGPS) and the Postdoctoral Association at Western (PAW), the competition was part of the 2015 Postdoctoral Research Forum, where more than 80 postdoctoral scholars took part in a day-long agenda, covering a wide range of topics.

The forum concluded with the granting of a number of awards, including Daniel Ansari, Psychology professor and Brain and Mind Institute, named Supervisor of the Year; Helen Kerr, Occupational Therapy’s administrative assistant, with Administrative Excellence; and Aydin Behnad, Electrical and Computer Engineering, named Postdoctoral Scholar of the Year.

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Lauren Solomon, First place
Microbiology and Immunology
Shooting the Messenger: Targeting Transcription in Cancer

Solomon’s research focuses on leukemia and lymphoma, both blood cancers caused by genetic mutations that alter the program of gene expression in developing blood cells through many different types of mechanisms.

Spi-B is a protein located in the nucleus of developing blood cells that can turn genes ‘on’ or ‘off.’ Spi-B levels are often reduced in a type of blood cancer called B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In contrast, Spi-B levels are often increased in a type of blood cancer called B cell lymphoma.

Solomon’s research has two major goals. First, she aims to understand how Spi-B levels are affected by the type of mutations that occurs in leukemia and lymphoma. Second, she wants to understand how altered levels of Spi-B contribute to causing leukemia and lymphoma. The long-term goal of this work is to identify molecular-targeted therapies for B cell leukemia and lymphoma.

Nina Weishaupt, Second place Anatomy and Cell Biology The Quest to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease: A Molecular Imaging Approach

Nina Weishaupt, Second place
Anatomy and Cell Biology
The Quest to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease: A Molecular Imaging Approach

If you have a stroke, you are more than twice as likely to develop dementia later on. Weishaupt’s research aims to find out why cardiovascular conditions, such as stroke, make the brain more vulnerable to dementia. To study this, her lab induces stroke in transgenic rats that will develop signs of Alzheimer’s disease months after the stroke. This provides a window to study what cellular changes occur during the progression from stroke to an Alzheimer’s-like brain state. The research focuses on the cell membrane, which contains different lipids (fats). Among those lipids, the gangliosides are most interesting, because changes in ganglioside expression go hand in hand with changes in cellular vulnerability to stressors. The only downside is, gangliosides are hard to measure with traditional histological methods.

This is why Weishaupt’s lab is using a new molecular imaging approach, shining a laser beam on a tiny spot of a rat brain section, which makes molecules detach from the section and fly down a vacuum tube in a mass spectrometer. The instrument then creates a mass spectrum, in which different gangliosides are represented as individual peaks, with peak height showing how much of that ganglioside was in that tissue spot. If software treats laser spot as a pixel, researchers can observe changes in ganglioside expression within anatomical context in an entire brain section. The hope is this approach will bring us one step further towards preventing, or at least slowing down the progression from stroke to dementia.

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Tobias Morat, Third place
Kinesiology
To Fall or Not To Fall: Finding the Right Training Program for Older Adults

With increasing age, individuals experience a number of physiological, biochemical, psychological and sociological changes, and, as a consequence, problems in movements of everyday life occur (such as climbing stairs, rising from a chair, walking, and activities of daily living like hygienic activities and managing housework). This can lead to decreased mobility.

Morat’s research focuses on the mobility of older adults and creating both a new test to assess mobility and a comprehensive systematic training program with three relevant components (resistance and balance exercises combined with movements and surfaces of everyday life) within each training session, to positively influence the mobility and muscular strength of older adults.Bottom of Form