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International Symposium on Molecular Medicine & Infectious Disease Prize Winners

The following leaders in the field of molecular medicine and infectious diseases received prizes and gave talks during the 2016 International Symposium.

View the Agenda [PDF]

Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS: Drexel Prize in Cancer Biology

Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS, is president, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center; senior vice president for cancer services, UCSF Health; professor of medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Medicine; and E. Dixon Heise Distinguished Professor in Oncology.

One of Dr. Ashworth’s major contributions to cancer research has been his work on genes involved in cancer risk. He was a key part of the team that in 1995 discovered the gene BRCA2, which is linked to an increased risk of some types of cancers. Ten years later, Ashworth identified a way to exploit genetic weaknesses in cancer cells including mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2, leading to a new approach to cancer treatment, which is now approved for clinical use. His current research reflects his passion for the development of personalized cancer medicine, translating laboratory studies into improvements in patient care.

Dr. Ashworth is an elected member of EMBO, a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a fellow of the Royal Society. He has been the recipient of a number of scientific prizes and awards, including the European Society of Medical Oncology Lifetime Achievement Award, the David T. Workman Memorial Award of the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, the Meyenburg Foundation’s Cancer Research Award, the inaugural winner of the Basser Global Prize and the Genetics Society Medal.

Jonathan Karn, PhD: Drexel Prize in Translational Medicine

Jonathan Karn, PhD, is an internationally recognized virologist who has made seminal contributions to the study of transcriptional control in HIV. From 2002 to the present, Dr. Karn has been working on epigenetic control mechanisms that regulate HIV transcription and latency. The Karn laboratory has established new model systems for studying HIV latency and identified novel pathways leading to proviral reactivation and silencing – key insights that support current efforts at HIV eradication and cure. Additional projects include harnessing NK cells to eradicate the latent HIV reservoir and studies of HIV infection and latency in microglial cells.

Between 1989 and 1993, Dr. Karn made the important discovery that the HIV regulatory proteins Tat and Rev are RNA binding proteins, mapped their recognition sites, and demonstrated how this binding activity was essential for their biological activities. Between 1976 and 1983, Dr. Karn worked with Dr. Sydney Brenner at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, U.K. Together with Dr. Brenner, Dr. Karn cloned and sequenced the myosin genes from C. elegans, one of the earliest examples of using genetics to drive gene discovery. Another significant outcome of this work was the development of physical mapping techniques for studying large genomes in collaboration with Dr. John Sulston, co-winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize with Dr. Brenner.

As chairman of the Department of Molecular Biology, he oversaw a period of dramatic enhancement of the research portfolio, increasing the NIH funding base over four-fold between 2002 and the present during a period of overall contraction for U.S. research funding. Dr. Karn has mentored eight graduate students, 32 postdoctoral fellows, and two research associates since 1980. The laboratory currently has two graduate students, two postdoctoral scholars, five research associates and two research assistants.

In 2007, Dr. Karn received the CWRU Outstanding Mentor Award. His current research program is supported by $1.97 million in grants annually (excluding the CFAR and training grants). He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2011. He is the author of 75 primary research papers, 41 reviews and 23 patents.

Satya Dandekar, PhD: Drexel Prize in Immunology

Satya Dandekar, PhD, is a professor and chair of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the School of Medicine, University of California, Davis. She received her PhD in microbiology from M.S. University of Baroda, India, and her postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health.

Her research focuses on the mucosal immunology of HIV infection, with a specific emphasis on the host-pathogen interactions at the mucosal interface, microbiota, mucosal innate defenses and gut healing.  Her studies developed the SIV model of HIV enteropathogenesis and identified the role of gut epithelial damage in early HIV and SIV infections. Current studies apply immunologic and genomic methodologies to investigate the impact of HIV on the gut mucosal sensing and response to pathogens and microbiota. Dr. Dandekar has mentored junior researchers and faculty. She has served on the review panels and advisory committees at the NIH and non-federal agencies.

Harris A Gelbard, MD, PhD: Drexel's Hilary Koprowski Prize in Neurovirology

Harris A. (Handy) Gelbard, a native of Louisville, K.Y., entered the Honors Program in Medical Education at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1972, where he received his BS, MS, MD and PhD, graduating in 1983. He continued his medical training in pediatrics with a residency at Children’s Memorial Hospital at Northwestern from 1983 through 1985, followed by a pediatric neurology residency at Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Gelbard then accepted a faculty appointment as an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. He was promoted to associate professor in 1995 and, in 2000, achieved the rank of tenured professor in the Departments of Neurology, Pediatrics, and Microbiology and Immunology, and most recently, Neuroscience in the Del Monte Institute. In 2008, he was appointed the director of the newly created Center for Neural Development and Disease, now renamed as the Center for NeuroTherapeutics Discovery, and was reappointed in 2013 for an additional five-year term.

During his residency, Dr. Gelbard was the recipient of a Dana Foundation Fellowship in the Neurosciences while working in the laboratory of Ross Baldessarini and Martin Teicher at the Mailman Research Institute at McLean Hospital. With the continued support of the Dana Foundation and an NIH-funded R29 First Award, he established his independent research program on investigating the effects of early brain injury on dopaminergic neurotransmitter systems. This work earned him the Wyeth-Ayerst First Prize in New Psychiatric Research at the VIII World Congress of Psychiatry in 1989 and the Child Neurology Young Investigator Award in 1990.

In 1992, inspired and motivated by a friend and colleague who succumbed to HIV-1-associated dementia, Dr. Gelbard shifted his research focus to identify molecular mechanisms relevant to the neuropathogenesis of HIV-1-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). He initiated scientific collaborations with Leon Epstein, David Volsky and Howard Gendelman, and a clinical collaboration with Karl Kieburtz. He began a research program initially dedicated to repurposing FDA-approved drugs for the adjunctive treatment of HAND.

Frustrated with the inability of these agents to modify the course of HAND, he continued his NIMH-funded work with several collaborators as well as a number of industry partners, including BioFocus Discovery and Califia Bio, to design a new class of small molecule therapeutic agents targeting mixed lineage kinases (MLKs) that were subsequently patented nationally and internationally (2014-2016). Because MLKs control neuroinflammatory responses that occur during HIV-1 infection of the central nervous system, and are amenable to small molecule inhibition without directly affecting cell fate, they represent a highly compelling target for intervention in the pathogenesis of HAND, as well as other neurodegenerative diseases, both acute and chronic, including post-operative cognitive dysfunction (POCD), multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Following a successful preclinical program supported by a Developmental Center for AIDS Research and then CFAR (led by Stephen Dewhurst), NIMH, and NINDS SBIR grants to validate these agents, he was able to garner support from UR Ventures, the technology transfer arm of URMC, to initiate IND-enabling studies for the development compound URMC-099, a selectively non-selective MLK3 inhibitor. This work, in turn, led to the founding of WavoDyne Therapeutics, Inc., a Rochester-based biotech company dedicated to bringing URMC-099 into clinical trials for HAND and POCD. Dr.

Gelbard serves as the leader of the scientific advisory board for Camber NeuroTherapeutics, while retaining a full time appointment at URMC.

Rita Colwell, PhD: Drexel Prize in Infectious Disease

Rita R. Colwell, PhD, is Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, and chairman and chief science officer, CosmosID, Inc.. Her interests are focused on genomics, biodiversity, and molecular microbial systematics and ecology. Dr. Colwell is an honorary member of the microbiological societies of the U.K., Australia, France, Israel, Bangladesh, India and the U.S. She served as the 11th director of the National Science Foundation from 1998 to 2004. She has authored/co-authored 19 books and over 700 scientific publications. She is a member of the National Academy of Science and has been awarded the Stockholm Water Prize, Order of the Rising Sun, Japan, and the U.S. National Medal of Science.

Students walking down the hall at the Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease at Drexel University College of Medicine.