Stephanie C. Hicks, Ph.D.

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Stephanie Hicks is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is also a faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Data Science Lab and co-founder of R-Ladies Baltimore, a local chapter of a global organization to promote gender diversity in the R programming community. Her research interests are at the intersection of statistics, genomics, and data science. Broadly, she is focused on two major areas of research: (1) data science education and (2) developing statistical methods, tools, and software for the analysis of genomics data to improve quantification and our understanding of biological variability. In March 2019, she was highlighted in AMSTAT News along with 28 women to celebrate women in Statistics and Data Science for Women’s History Month.

Dr. Hicks grew up in a small town in North Louisiana and received her B.S. in Mathematics from Louisiana State University. Afterwards, she moved to Houston, Texas to complete her M.A. and Ph.D. in the Department of Statistics at Rice University under the direction of Marek Kimmel and Sharon Plon (@splon). She completed her postdoctoral training with Rafael Irizarry (@rafalab) in the Department of Data Sciences at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her postdoctoral work was awarded a K99/R00 grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) (@genome_gov) to develop statistical methods for the normalization and quantification of single-cell RNA-Sequencing data.

Single-cell RNA-Sequencing (scRNA-seq) data has become the most widely used high-throughput method for transcription profiling of individual cells. This technology has created an unprecedented opportunity to investigate important biological questions that can only be answered at the single-cell level. However, this technology also brings new statistical, computational and methodological challenges. To address these challenges, Dr. Hicks develops methods to address technical variability in single-cell data, methods for fast and scalable methods for clustering single-cell data, develops open-source, practical, reproducible, single-cell workflows to help researchers analyze their own data. She actively contributes software packages to the open-source and open-development R/Bioconductor software project and became involved in one of the 85 one-year projects to develop Collaborative Computational Tools partnering between the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) and the Human Cell Atlas (HCA). With other Bioconductor developers, Dr. Hicks will create the infrastructure and tools needed to analyze potentially billions of single cells in the HCA within Bioconductor, which has been highlighted at Rice University and Johns Hopkins.

In addition, Dr. Hicks is passionate about identifying better ways to improve data science education, which she teaches at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and previously taught at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.  An increase in demand for statistics and data science education has led to changes in curricula, specifically an increase in computing. While this has led to more applied courses, students still struggle with effectively deriving knowledge from data and solving real-world problems. To address this, her approach includes not only defining innovative frameworks to teach students to make important connections between the scientific question, data, and statistical concepts that only come from hands-on experience analyzing data, but also how to define the field from first principles, namely the elements and principles of data analysis, based on the activities of people who analyze data with a language and taxonomy for describing a data analysis in a manner spanning disciplines. Finally,  she is building the openDataCases community resource of case studies that educators can use in the classroom to teach students how to effectively derive knowledge from data.

Dr. Hicks is also actively working on creating a children’s book featuring trailblazing women in statistics and data science (stay tuned for updates!). She is most proud of her family — her incredibly supportive husband, Chris, and two beautiful boys. In many talks that she gives, Dr. Hicks talks about non-work–related things, such as her own hobbies or her family, as a way to normalize the stigma of work-life balance in academia. She strives hard every day to find that work-life balance and wants students to know you can absolutely have a great family life and be successful in academia.

You can find out more about the lab (and open postdoctoral scientist positions) at https://www.stephaniehicks.com/join/ and you can follow Dr. Hicks on Twitter @stephaniehicks.

Chiara Manzini, Ph.D.

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Dr. M. Chiara Manzini is an Assistant Professor at the George Washington University in the GW Institute for Neuroscience and the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology. The main goal of her research is to bridge the genetics and mechanisms of disease to identify genes that are essential for human brain function and to define the molecular causes of neurodevelopmental disorders. Her work focuses on how specific perturbations of intracellular signaling regulate neuronal differentiation and circuit formation and how disruption of signaling mechanisms leads to disorders such as intellectual disability (ID) and autism. The Manzini lab combines human genetics with molecular, cellular, and behavioral approaches in murine and zebrafish models to link human genetics to neuronal cell biology and animal behavior.

Dr. Manzini was initially trained in Human Genetics at the University of Pavia in Italy, then received her Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University working with Dr. Carol Mason. Her doctoral studies in neuronal cell biology explored how brain circuits are assembled during development in both normal mice and mouse models of neonatal epilepsy. With this combined expertise, she then joined Dr. Chris Walsh’s group at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School to identify and characterize novel disease genes mutated in brain malformations and ID. Her postdoctoral work focused on highly heterogeneous genetic disorders affecting cognitive function and caused by recessive mutations to discover true loss-of-function phenotypes that could be tractable in animal models.

In her independent research laboratory, Dr. Manzini conducts two major projects stemming for her postdoctoral work. One main area of research is congenital muscular dystrophies (CMDs) associated with ID and brain malformations. CMDs are debilitating pediatric disorders often severely affecting brain development. Understanding the additional role of genes mutated in CMD in the brain is critical for therapy development and for affected families. Severe ID will continue to negatively affect care and quality of life, even when muscle function is improved by new therapeutic approaches. Dr. Manzini has led multiple studies to identify novel genes and mutations for CMD and her group has developed zebrafish models to determine how different mutations affect the brain and muscle. This work has been funded by the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the March of Dimes and pilot projects from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Children’s National.

A second focus of the Manzini lab is the role of intracellular signaling in cognitive function. After identifying mutations in CC2D1A in ID and autism spectrum disorder, she became interested in the function of this gene because of its role in several pathways important for neuronal differentiation. Preliminary studies from her group and others have led to the hypothesis that CC2D1A is a scaffold protein regulating the localization of intracellular signaling to membranes and that it may do so in a sex-specific manner. Mice lacking Cc2d1a show striking male bias in behavioral deficits and male-specific molecular changes, that could inform us of why autism appears to be more prevalent in boys. Understanding how CC2D1A functions may explain how male bias is established in autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental diseases. This project has been funded through a K99/R00 award and an R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Manzini is very excited to be moving to Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine in summer 2019, to expand the lab and develop new projects in neurodevelopmental disorders affecting cognitive function. Her group is looking to welcome students, postdoctoral fellows, and research assistants who like to work in a multidisciplinary environment and are excited about translational research. Dr. Manzini is passionate about trainee career development and has been working with the Society for Neuroscience as a member of the Professional Development Committee to publish multiple resources for students and postdocs to aid career transitions and improve the mentor-mentee relationships.

You can find more about the lab at www.manzinilab.org and follow Dr. Manzini on Twitter at @MChiaraManzini. Also, take a look at some of the career development toolkits Dr. Manzini helped develop at SfN on transitions from PhD to Postdoc and transitioning out of your Postdoc.

Anthony Gitter, Ph.D.

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Dr. Anthony Gitter is an Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an Investigator at the Morgridge Institute for Research. His computationally-focused lab develops network algorithms to model transcriptomic and proteomic data. They apply these methods to study cellular stress responses, viral infection, and viral-induced cancers. In addition, his lab creates machine learning approaches to determine how to prioritize biological experiments, especially chemical screening for drug discovery.

Dr. Gitter received his B.S. in Computer Science from Arizona State University. His first research experience with Dr. Chitta Baral and Dr. Graciela Gonzalez combined text mining and crowdsourcing to extract protein-protein and gene-disease relationships from biomedical abstracts. During his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University with Dr. Ziv Bar-Joseph, he designed computational methods to interpret changes in gene expression and protein activity through biological networks. His postdoctoral position was joint between Dr. Ernest Fraenkel’s lab at MIT and Microsoft Research New England, directed by Dr. Jennifer Chayes. As a postdoc, Dr. Gitter developed new algorithms to detect different genetic mutations in cancer that have unexpectedly similar consequences. He applied these methods to study pediatric cancer with collaborators at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Broad Institute.

In 2014, Dr. Gitter started his independent lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Morgridge Institute for Research. As a member of the Rowe Center for Research in Virology at the Morgridge Institute, he enjoys having his computational lab embedded among those of his wet lab collaborators and values using computational predictions to influence experimental design. Dr. Gitter received an NSF CAREER award in 2016 to develop algorithms that infer network models from signaling and transcriptional data collected over time by tracking which cellular events happen before others. For instance, analyzing the timing of phosphorylation changes during cellular stimulus response can predict the direct targets of kinases and phosphatases, as demonstrated in his lab’s recent publication. Similar time series modeling ideas underlie their preprint about predicting transcriptional regulators from pseudotime-annotated single-cell RNA-sequencing data.

Dr. Gitter also recently returned to his roots in crowdsourcing science by joining Dr. Casey Greene in a collaborative review about deep learning in biology and medicine. In a novel form of scientific writing, the open project was written on GitHub and attracted over 40 contributors, including other members of the New PI Slack community. Dr. Gitter has teamed with Dr. Greene and Dr. Daniel Himmelstein to expand this writing approach into the Manubot platform. Ongoing development will make Manubot manuscripts more interactive and more accessible to a non-technical audience.

To learn more about Dr. Gitter’s research, visit his lab website or read about his work in drug discovery or on collaborative writing with Manubot. You can also find him on Twitter at @anthonygitter.

Medha Pathak, Ph.D.

Dr. Medha Pathak is an Assistant Professor of Physiology & Biophysics at the University of California, Irvine. Research in her lab aims to uncover mechanotransduction events that shape cell behavior and fate in neural systems. Her group’s current research focuses on mechanisms by which the mechanically-activated ion channel Piezo1 drives neural stem cell fate. She was recently awarded the NIH New Innovator award and an R01 grant for her research.

Dr. Pathak grew up in India where she received her B.Sc. and M.Sc degrees in Biochemistry and Neuroscience, respectively. After her Masters, she moved to the US to pursue doctoral work with Dr. Ehud Isacoff at UC Berkeley in Biophysics. During her Ph.D., she used simultaneous electrophysiological and fluorescence measurements to determine how voltage activates an ion channel. As a Helen Hay Whitney postdoctoral fellow she transitioned to studying mechanically-activated ion channels responsible for hearing and balance in Dr. David Corey’s lab at Harvard Medical School. After finding that allergies to furry laboratory animal models impaired her ability work in this field, she returned to working in cellular systems during a second postdoc with Dr. Francesco Tombola at UC Irvine. Here, her work on the mechanically-activated ion channel Piezo1 brought to light the channel’s role in determining neural stem cell fate. She started her own lab at UCI in 2016, which focuses on how Piezo1 shapes neural development and repair at a molecular, cellular, and organismal level.

Dr. Pathak is the recipient of several awards including a Helen Hay Whitney postdoctoral fellowship and the NIH Director’s New Innovator award. Her mentoring efforts as a PI have been recognized through a UCI Chancellor’s award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring. Her work identifying mechanosensitivity of the voltage-gated proton channel, Hv1, was recognized as the outstanding paper of the year by the Journal of General Physiology. She is an active member of the Physiology and Mechanobiology research communities, serving as a member of the Early Careers Committee of the Biophysical Society and is a recent recruit to the Editorial Advisory Board of the Journal of General Physiology. She recently chaired a multidisciplinary conference on Mechanobiology at UC Irvine.

The Pathak lab takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how mechanical forces shape neural events at the molecular, cellular and systems level. Focusing primarily on mechanotransduction through the ion channel Piezo1, the lab develops innovative imaging approaches to follow the channel’s activity in intact cells and tissues over time. Combined with molecular, genetic, and bioengineering techniques in cell culture, mouse models, and human stem cell-derived brain organoids, this approach provides new insights into how cells integrate mechanical information with genetic and chemical cues in development and repair. A recent preprint from the lab uncovered how cell-generated traction forces activate Piezo1 in the absence of external mechanical forces. An unexpected finding in this study is that native Piezo1 channels are mobile, which opens up new mechanisms of Piezo1 mechanotransduction.

The lab welcomes applications for positions at the postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate levels from trainees who want to be part of an interdisciplinary group that enjoys asking complex questions at the interface of fields. A dedicated mentor, Dr. Pathak says “I believe that success in the lab is most likely when we develop an individualized approach for each member. When trainees join the lab, I work closely with them to identify a research question that best aligns with their research interests and long-term career goals, while leveraging their innate strengths and giving them an opportunity to develop new skills. Our shared goal is to generate novel scientific findings that help each trainee successfully transition to their next career stage. As a multidisciplinary and collaborative group, we are able to support a broad range of research interests.”

You can find out more about the Pathak lab and open positions here, learn about Dr. Pathak’s New Innovator award here, and read a recent interview by Suzan Mazur on Dr. Pathak’s efforts in Mechanobiology here.

Cynthia St. Hilaire, Ph.D.

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Dr. St. Hilaire is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh in the Division of Cardiology and the Vascular Medicine Institute. Research in her lab focuses on characterizing the underlying pathobiology of vascular disease, concentrating on mechanisms that drive vascular and valvular calcification and remodeling. Her lab’s long-term goal is to dissect the mechanisms that drive the transformation of a healthy vascular cell into a calcifying cell, in order to identify targets for the development of pharmacological therapies. She was recently awarded an R01 to study the mechanisms driving aortic valve calcification.

Dr. St. Hilaire grew up in New Hampshire and is a first-generation college graduate. As a child aspired to be an astronaut until the research bug bit her in high school; she read the book And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts, which chronicled the discovery of the HIV virus and the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and decided she wanted to swap a spacesuit for a biohazard suit.

She majored in Molecular Genetics at the University of Vermont and worked in the laboratory of Dr. Cardy Raper who studied the sex-type signaling in the fungi S. commune. She was involved in a project that characterized the Bβ2 mating-type locus of this mushroom and spent a lot of time switching out a lysine for a leucine in a G-protein coupled receptor. Believe it or not, it was riveting! In 2001, she graduated from UVM and moved to Boston to work in the laboratory of Dr. Elizabeth C. Engle studying the genetic cause of ocular motor neuron disorder at Children’s Hospital Boston. In 2003, she started her PhD training in Biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine and joined the laboratory of Dr. Katya Ravid where she was first exposed to vascular biology and how adenosine receptor signaling regulates vascular homeostasis. In 2009, she joined the Center for Molecular Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the NIH, under the mentorship of Dr. Manfred Boehm.

At the NHLBI Dr. St. Hilaire and colleagues discovered the genetic cause of the rare disease, Arterial Calcification due to Deficiency of CD73 (ACDC; OMIM #211800), which identified the novel role for the enzyme CD73 and adenosine signaling in vascular calcification. This was the first novel discovery by the nascent Undiagnosed Disease Program, and provided the foundation for her successful application of a K22 NHLBI Career Transition Award. In 2015 Dr. St. Hilaire established her own research group at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology and the Pittsburgh Heart, Lung, and Blood Vascular Medicine Institute.

Dr. St. Hilaire is the recipient of several awards including the Best Peripheral Artery Disease Research Award, NHLBI Director’s Award, and the Orloff Science Award. She is an active member in the Vascular Biology community, serving as an Editorial Board Member of the Journal of the American Heart Association, the co-Chair of the Early Career Committee of the American Heart Association, Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology (ATVB), the co-Chair of the Women’s Leadership Committee of the International Society of Applied Cardiovascular Biology, and is a member of the ATVB Women’s Leadership Committee.

Dr. St. Hilaire is passionate about training the next generation of scientists and even more passionate about breaking down the barriers and biases that have contributed to the gender and racial disparities seen in academic science and medicine. When not in the lab Dr. St. Hilaire enjoys pretending to have a talent for watercolor painting, yoga, dining, travel, and walking the dog.

You can find out more about the St. Hilaire Lab at www.sthilairelab.pitt.edu and find Dr. St. Hilaire’s publications here.

 

Greg Szeto, Ph.D.

Dr. Szeto is an Assistant Professor of Chemical, Biochemical, and Environmental Engineering at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. His lab uses engineering principles to understand the underlying rules of the immune system. Dr. Szeto’s work is currently funded by the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation, Inova Health System, and the Lupus Foundation of America. He is also a 2018 Public Policy Fellow for the American Association of Immunologists.

Dr. Szeto received dual B.S. degrees in Chemical and Biomedical and Health Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. He then received his PhD in the Cellular and Molecular Medicine Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His PhD work focused on the molecular mechanisms of the antibiotic minocycline as an antiviral in HIV infection and latency, and how it alters the molecular biology of T cell signaling. Dr. Szeto moved to MIT for his postdoc with Dr. Darrell Irvine. During his postdoc, Dr. Szeto diversified his research into immune engineering, including publications on developing new single-cell platform technologies, engineering new therapies using biomaterials and devices, and systems biology of cytokine networks in HIV and cancer. He was funded by an F32 postdoctoral fellowship from the NCI, a fellowship from the Ragon Institute, and 2 MIT Frontier awards. His postdoc work also produced 2 issued patents, 1 of which is currently licensed by SQZ Biotech and Roche for cancer vaccines. Dr. Szeto’s microscopy of microparticle drug delivery to lungs won a 2015 Koch Institute Image Award and 2015 Wellcome Image Award. In 2016, Dr. Szeto started his independent group at UMBC. His lab is currently working on new models of the immune response to traumatic brain injury, drug targets to improve immune infiltration into tumors, non-genetic methods for cell engineering, enhanced drug delivery in cancer and lupus, and predictive modeling of immune system responses. The lab was just awarded an inaugural 2018 Inova Translational Research Fund grant to test their new approach to predicting immunotherapy response in melanoma patients.

In addition to research, Dr. Szeto is passionate about mentoring and teaching. He is deeply committed to training the next generation of scientists to be critical thinkers and scientists as well as communicators who can engage with the public about the scientific process and achievements. Dr. Szeto has trained over 50 undergraduates, grad students, and postdocs who have entered diverse careers including venture capitalists, pharmacists and clinicians, R&D in academia and industry, and numerous ventures outside STEM.

You can find out more about the Szeto lab at http://gregoryszeto.com/

Buck S. Samuel, Ph.D.

The featured outstanding New PI for October 2018 is Buck S. Samuel, Ph.D.!

Dr. Samuel is an Assistant Professor of Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX. His lab seeks to understand how gut microbiomes influence host physiology and development. Dr. Samuel’s work is currently funded by a NIH New Innovator Award in which he aims to identify the host genetic pathways that microbes modulate using the simple nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans.

“Interactions with the microbiome impact our health, and if these interactions are disrupted, it can predispose an individual to disease. We want to understand how the microbiome influences health outcomes. By unlocking these genetic pathways we hope to develop strategies for microbiome stewardship that are as individual as we are,” Samuel said.

Dr. Samuel is a first-generation college graduate who received dual B.S. degrees in Microbiology and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from the University of Idaho, followed by a Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis. As a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Jeffrey I. Gordon at Washington University, Dr. Samuel contributed to some of the first studies that characterized the human microbiota and helped establish a link between the microbiome and host metabolism. This work was supported by a NSF graduate fellowship and led to multiple first author and collaborative papers. After receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Samuel pursued postdoctoral work with Dr. Gary Ruvkun at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. In his postdoc, Dr. Samuel was awarded an NRSA from the NIH and a Charles King Trust Fellowship for this work to define the natural microbiome of wild C. elegans, a new paradigm for microbiome research. In 2015, Dr. Samuel started his independent lab at Baylor College of Medicine. The Samuel lab has pioneered the use of C. elegans as a system for host-microbiome interactions and is working with collaborators around the world to develop an extensive set of microbiome resources for the community. You can read more about use of C. elegans in microbiome research here.

In addition to his scientific contributions, Dr. Samuel is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in science. “I believe that truly creative solutions grow from diverse perspectives and worldviews. As a community, our science is better for embracing diversity in all of its forms,” said Samuel. He is currently seeking to bring his passion for advocacy to the national stage as a member of the Genetics Society of America Board of Directors [more info here].

Dr. Samuel is also a proponent of open and interdisciplinary science and is leading an effort to overhaul the Immunology and Microbiology graduate curriculum at Baylor College of Medicine. This new curriculum seeks to shed typical didactic classes in favor of more interactive and integrative course work that prepares students for a wide range of scientific careers.

Learn more about Dr. Samuel’s research and open postdoc positions here.