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Prestigious Fellowship to Support Drexel Biology PhD Student in Taking on Cancer

Eva Karasmanis

March 3, 2017

Fourth year PhD student Eva Karasmanis’ fascination with cell biology began as soon as she started studying the subject, and eventually inspired her decision to join Drexel’s biology program and the Spiliotis Lab.

Armed with the faculty mentorship and state-of-the-art lab space to match her passion and knowledge within the field, Karasmanis recently earned the National Institute for Health’s Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, a prestigious fellowship supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“The fellowship program supports promising researchers at the beginning stages of their careers, building a diverse and highly-trained pool of scientific experts to address critical health-related research needs,” said Meredith Wooten, PhD, director of the Center for Scholar Development. “Eva’s fellowship falls under the umbrella of the NCI, which funded less than one third of all applications it reviewed.”

With the fellowship in hand, Karasmanis' research project exploring “the role of septins in cytokinetic abscission” will be funded by the nation’s primary government agency for cancer research and training.

The task is as complex as it sounds. Karasmanis is working to uncover how cells function, an endeavor vital to better understanding and treating cancer, infectious and neurodegenerative diseases.

“Discoveries in cell biology have revolutionized our approach to medicine,” she described. “Not unlike the laws of physics, cells abide to a set of rules, whether they reside in a dish or within an organism.”

Papadakis Integrated Science Center Biowall

For instance, to prevent the development of cancer, “cells have in place cell division checkpoints,” Karasmanis explained. “My research aims to understand how septins function in the last step and checkpoint of cell division, and therefore will shed new insights into the cause of cancer and how septins can be targeted for cancer therapies.”

According to Karasmanis’ faculty advisor, Elias Spiliotis, PhD, associate professor of biology and director of Drexel’s Cell Imaging Center, their research focuses on septins, a complex family of proteins, because they function as the “chief architects, directing molecular and cellular asymmetry by positioning certain proteins in the right places at the right time.”

In addition to Karasmanis’ research plan and productivity fitting seamlessly with the mission of the NCI, the access she has to advanced facilities such as the Cell Imaging Center, mentorship from Spiliotis, and collaborations with other prominent researchers, were also key to being competitive for the national award.

In fact, though these types of funding opportunities are rare, Karasmanis is the second student Spiliotis has supported in receiving the honor. Another esteemed student, Lee Dolat, who is now a post-doctoral scholar at Duke University, received the same fellowship in 2014.

In describing the unique culture of the Spiliotis Lab, Karasmanis said, “I was particularly drawn to the lab because of their mechanistic ‘looking under the cell’s hood’ approach and their commitment to understanding the molecular and cellular cause of diseases.”

The three-year fellowship supports Karasmanis in learning novel research techniques, exploring new cancer therapies, and ultimately prepares her for a career focused on cancer research. It also empowers her in contributing to important conferences and workshops, and in connecting with leaders within the field.

“Receiving the National Research Service Award fellowship is an impressive achievement and provides national recognition of Eva’s potential as a researcher and the importance of her project,” Wooten said.

Already equipped with “the tools for a very successful and fun graduate school experience,” Karasmanis is now taking her knowledge and research to the next level.

“This fellowship is an excellent step for a long-term career in advancing our understanding of cell biology in health and disease,” she said.