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Department of Pharmacology & Physiology 2023 News Archive

December 2023

Department Retreat 2023

Department Retreat 2023

Thanks to everyone who attended and participated in our 2023 department retreat at Drexel’s new Health Sciences Building! The event featured speakers geared toward scientific excellence and trainee career development, in addition to breakout groups aimed to “transform” the department towards broader, high-impact programmatic initiatives. The event concluded by recognizing our trainees with the annual Pharmacology department awards:

Ben Weiss Scholar Award:

  • Xuan Luo (Ajit lab)

Chair’s Awards:
*For unique achievements in research and service*

  • Katelyn Reeb (A. Mortensen lab)
  • Jason Wickman (Ajit lab)

Mary Hoffman Shaw Travel Awards:

  • Qiaowei Xie (Barker lab)
  • Olivia El Naggar (Romano lab)
  • Ruxu Zhai (Fatatis lab)

Students Earn Dean’s Travel Awards

Congrats to Breana Channer (Gaskill lab) and Qiaowei Xie (Barker lab) for earning Dean’s Graduate Student Travel Awards! These awards are provided by Drexel’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies to support trainees attending a scientific meeting.

November 2023

Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting

Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting

Our trainees continued the tradition of presenting their research at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, held from November 11-15 in Washington D.C. The department also co-sponsored a SfN alumni event with over 60 people in attendance.

Chun-Ta Ho and Elena Irollo at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting

Poster presentations:

  • The chemokine CXCL12 tunes cortical dendritic spine dynamics
    Chun-Ta Ho (Meucci lab)
  • Adult human brain tissue cultures to study neuroHIV
    Elena Irollo (Meucci lab)
  • Local and Systemic T Cell Dysfunction in the Tibia Fracture Model of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
    Jason Wickman (Ajit lab)
  • Immune regulation by small extracellular vesicles in attenuating inflammatory pain
    Xuan Luo (Ajit lab)
  • Characterization of calcium clearance dynamics in hippocampal ex-vivo cultures
    Geena John (Jackson lab)

Discovery Day 2023

Department trainees contributed 36 posters and 2 platform presentations to this year’s Discovery Day, held at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Our trainees were also recognized for scientific excellence with several awards, including the esteemed Bondi Fellowship.

Discovery Day 2023

Awardees from our department:

  • Xuan Luo (Ajit lab) – Bondi Fellowship
  • Katelyn Reeb (A. Mortensen lab) – 1st place, Outstanding Senior Graduate Student Poster
  • Rohan Dasari (Barker lab) – 2nd place, Outstanding Undergraduate Poster

Platform presentations:

  • “Exploiting ferroptosis in mutant BAP1 uveal melanoma liver metastases”
    Camille Cunanan (Hartsough lab)
  • “Local and systemic T cell dysfunction in the tibia fracture model of complex regional pain syndrome”
    Jason Wickman (Ajit lab)

Poster presentations:

  • “Generation and characterization of murine bone marrow-derived macrophages and their small extracellular vesicles”
    Jason DaCunza (Ajit lab)
  • “Immune regulation by small extracellular vesicles in attenuating inflammatory pain”
    Xuan Luo (Ajit lab)
  • “Morphine induced hyperalgesia in mice induces differential packaging of miRNAs into small extracellular vesicles to attenuate inflammatory pain”
    Deepa Reddy (Ajit lab)
  • “Sex differences in the effects of chronic low-dose ethanol exposure on behavioral response to changes in reward value”
    Christina Curran-Alfaro (Barker lab)
  • “Altered cocaine-seeking behavior and corticolimbic circuit activation in EcoHIV infected mice”
    Rohan Dasari (Barker lab)
  • “Effect of EcoHIV infection on cocaine-induced ΔfosB expression in the NAc”
    Ashly Reyes (Barker lab)
  • “Spared nerve injury alters ethanol reward seeking and prefrontal cortex cFos induction by painful stimulation in female mice”
    Christine Side (Barker lab)
  • “Astrocytic regulation of cocaine locomotor sensitization in EcoHIV infected mice”
    Qiaowei Xie (Barker lab)
  • “Inverse correlation between AR expression/activity and IL-1β secretion and clinical implications for bone metastatic prostate cancer”
    Yetunde Oyende (Fatatis lab)
  • “Examining the impact of microenvironment on dopaminergic immunomodulation in human macrophages”
    Breana Channer (Gaskill lab)
  • “Dopamine-mediated regulation of inflammasome formation and activation in human monocyte-derived macrophages”
    Marzieh Daniali (Gaskill lab)
  • “Cocaine enhances HIV-infection of human iPSC-derived microglia and monocyte-derived macrophages via sigma-1”
    Oluwatofunmi Oteju (Gaskill lab)
  • “The role of ST8SIA2 & ST8SIA4 in melanoma progression and metastasis”
    Amirali Amirfallah (Hartsough lab)
  • “Exploiting pyroptosis in melanoma brain metastases”
    Maria Cavallo (Hartsough lab)
  • “Exploiting the selenoproteome in metastatic uveal melanoma”
    Alyssa Sanders (Hartsough lab)
  • “Astrocyte reactivity in mediating melanoma brain metastases”
    Julia Farnan (Jackson lab)
  • “Disentangling the role of the CAMKK/CAMKIV/CREB signaling pathway in organotypic hippocampal astrocyte cultures following oxygen-glucose deprivation”
    Taylor Gardner (Jackson lab)
  • “Modulating impaired calcium clearance in astrocytes after ischemic stroke regulates CREB activation”
    Geena John (Jackson lab)
  • “Three-dimensional co-culture model of melanoma & astrocytes”
    Steve Rutledge (Jackson lab)
  • “A protocol for adult mice brain slice dissociation and analysis of uninfected EcoHIV CNS cells through flow cytometry”
    Hanna Banta (Klase lab)
  • “A novel method of characterizing cells from ex vivo mammalian brain tissue to study HIV infection of the central nervous system”
    Zachary Capriotti (Klase lab)
  • “HIV-1 infection of monocyte derived macrophages alters miRNA expression targeting β-catenin-TEF/LEF signaling”
    Erick O’Brien (Klase lab)
  • “Exploring benzodiazepine mediated epigenetic regulation of transcriptional control in HIV-1 infected hMDMs”
    Courtney Wallace (Klase lab)
  • “Decoding the CXCL12 effect on dendritic spine dynamics: from turnover to maturation and clustering”
    Chun-Ta Ho (Meucci lab)
  • “Optimization of organotypic human brain slice cultures to study neuroHIV”
    James Johnson (Meucci lab)
  • “Regulatory mechanisms of EAAT2 following ischemic insult”
    Simran Gill (A. Mortensen lab)
  • “EAATs for stroke: to modulate or not to modulate”
    Katelyn Reeb (A. Mortensen lab)
  • “Development of glutamate transporter modulators as a novel, non-opioid treatment for neuropathic pain”
    Rhea Temmermand (A. Mortensen lab)
  • “Bidirectional ERK1/2 modulation in dopaminergic neurons regulates DAT trafficking and function”
    Christina Besada (O. Mortensen lab)
  • “Gender differences in acute cocaine response: exploring DAT regulation through MKP3 overexpression in rats”
    Rashmi Tantri (O. Mortensen lab)
  • “Screening for novel allosteric modulators of human dopamine transporter”
    Adele Yang (O. Mortensen lab)
  • “Harnessing histone deacetylase 6 inhibition: a breakthrough therapy for spastic paraplegia 4”
    Neha Mohan (Qiang lab)
  • “MDSC-mediated immune suppression as a driver of HIV and Melanoma co-morbidity”
    Lindsay Barger (Romano lab)
  • “Novel targeted therapeutic approaches for NF1-mutant ovarian carcinoma”
    Olivia El Naggar (Romano lab)
  • “NMDA receptor-dependent mechanisms controlling NMDA receptor subsynaptic localization”
    Wesley Corey (Sanz-Clemente lab)
  • “Modulating synaptic/extrasynaptic NMDAR trafficking in ischemia-induced glutamate excitotoxicity”
    Sanjita Subramanian (Sanz-Clemente lab)

October 2023

Barker Lab Awarded New Grants

Congrats to Dr. Barker and her PhD student Christina Curran-Alfaro for each earning new funding from NIAAA. Dr. Barker earned a new R21 award for “Prelimbic cortex contribution to ethanol seeking in chronic neuropathic pain” and Christina earned a F31 award for “The effects of low-dose ethanol on reward-value decision making and the basolateral amygdala.”

September 2023

Pharmacology & Physiology Fall Graduates

The department had an additional cohort of students who completed their graduate programs in the fall semester.

PhD graduates:

  • Xiaonan Liu, PhD (Pharmacology & Physiology)
    “Dissecting the molecular and cellular mechanisms of neuronal morphogenesis in mouse cortical neurons”
    Advisor: Kazuhito Toyooka, PhD
  • Teresa LuPone, PhD (Microbiology & Immunology)
    “Development of a High Throughput High Content Imaging Viral Titer Assay to Investigate the Effect of Substance Misuse on HIV-1 Replicative Dynamics in hMDMs”
    Advisor: Peter Gaskill, PhD

MS graduates:

  • James Johnson, MS (Microbiology & Immunology)
    “Optimization of Human Organotypic Brain Slice Cultures for Use as a Novel Model of NeuroHIV”
    Advisor: Olimpia Meucci, MD, PhD
  • Jennifer Lynch, MS (Cancer Biology)
    “CX3CR1 Regulation and Signaling During Phenotypic Plasticity of Prostate Cancer Cells”
    Advisor: Alessandro Fatatis, MD, PhD

Medical Cannabis Research Center at Drexel Announces Additional Pilot Study Award for 2023-2024

A new clinical study has been funded by the Medical Cannabis Research Center (MCRC). “Investigating the Analgesic Potential of Cannabidiol Combinations for Chronic Neuropathic Pain,” conducted by Dr. Mitchell Nothem of The Barker Lab will investigate the effects of chronic administration of cannabidiol (CBD) combined with cannabigerol (CBG) and/or cannabichromine (CBC) on chronic neuropathic pain in mice. Read more.

August 2023

New NIH Funding for Dr. Reyes

Dr. Beverly Reyes was awarded a R21 grant from the NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). This collaborative grant with co-investigators Dr. Jacqueline Barker and Dr. Jessica Barson will fund the project: Alcohol-induced changes in stress-related neuropeptide circuitry.

Faculty Awarded CURE Formula Grants

Dr. Andréia Mortensen earned a 2022 Formula CURE Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The grant features Dr. Seena Ajit as a co-investigator and will fund the project: Sex Differences in Neuropathic Pain: The Role of Glutamate Transporters.

Katie Bryant Featured in eNeuro Blog

Recent PhD graduate Katie Bryant from the Barker lab was featured in eNeuro’s Beyond the Paper series, which interviews the authors of recent work published in the journal. Katie talked about her studies on how low-dose alcohol changed reward seeking behavior and discussed her experiences in the lab and future plans. The interview is available in full on eNeuro’s website.

Xuan Luo Earns Dean’s Fellowship

Pharmacology and Physiology senior graduate student Xuan Luo earned a Dean’s Fellowship for Excellence in Collaborative or Themed Research from the Graduate School. The funds will support her innovative research in the Ajit lab on how small extracellular vesicles resolve pain via epigenetic mechanisms.

MOTOR Center Writing Retreat

The MOTOR Center will host an all-day Writing Retreat on Tuesday, August 15 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. All trainees are welcome to participate and work on scientific writing tasks. The event will feature goal setting and sharing, structured writing time and time for reflection. Check the MOTOR center site for a detailed agenda and other info.

July 2023

New Teaching Faculty Appointment

Welcome to Brian Murphy, PhD, who joined the department in a teaching role as Professor of Pharmacology. Dr. Murphy has been a longtime adjunct professor in the department who contributed to courses in the Drug Discovery & Development program. He brings significant experience from the pharmaceutical industry, having spent more than 20 years of his career in this capacity. Dr. Murphy will serve as the Pharmacology Thread Leader at Drexel’s Health Sciences Building.

Dr. Romano Earns New ACS Grant

Dr. Romano earned a new Discovery Boost Grant from the American Cancer Society (ACS), his second grant from the institution. The grant will support Dr. Romano’s project: Adjuvant CCL5/CCR5 axis inhibition for the treatment of BRAF-mutant melanoma.

Summer Seminar Series

The department began a new initiative to host trainee-led seminars in a Summer Seminar Series. The inaugural series featured seminars from four senior PhD students in the department who shared progress on their research projects. See the events page for info on the speakers and topics discussed.

Open Writing Hours Events

The MOTOR Center and Office of Scientific Communications hosted several Open Writing Hours sessions for departmental trainees which provided uninterrupted writing time for a variety of projects. All trainees are welcome to use the hours to work on manuscripts, grant proposals, dissertations, qualifying/preliminary exams and other scientific writing tasks. Additional open writing sessions are coming soon.

June 2023

College of Medicine Faculty Awards

Pharmacology & Physiology faculty members received numerous awards at the annual Faculty Professional Development Day and Awards Ceremony, hosted by the College of Medicine’s Office of Faculty.

  • Daniel V. Schidlow, MD, Transformational Leadership Award
    Olimpia Meucci, MD, PhD
  • Angelo Pinto Educator Award
    Joanne Mathiasen, PhD
  • Diversity and Inclusion Impact Award
    Priscila Sato, PhD
  • Early Career Basic Science Investigator Award
    Joshua Jackson, PhD
  • Early Career Mentoring Award for Basic Science Faculty
    Jacqueline Barker, PhD

Several of our educational faculty were also honored with Golden Apple Awards from medical students for outstanding service to the school and the student body:

  • Bob Rosenberg, PhD
  • Joel Horwitz, PhD
  • Michael White, PhD

Dr. Gaskill Receives R61 Grant From NIDA

Congrats to Dr. Peter Gaskill for earning a new R61 grant from the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse. The grant will support a collaborative project titled “Defining molecular mechanisms by which stimulant evoked dopamine drives inflammation and neuronal dysfunction in neuroHIV” with colleagues from Drexel, University of Florida and University of Nebraska Medical Center.

May 2023

Dr. Matt Receives K01 and Travel Awards

Congratulations to Dr. Stephanie Matt, a postdoctoral fellow in the Gaskill lab, for earning a K01 Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institute on Mental Health. The award will support Dr. Matt’s research project “The role of antidepressants in central and peripheral myeloid HIV persistence and inflammation.” Dr. Matt also received a Daniel T. O'Connor Young Investigator Travel Award from The Catecholamine Society, which provides funding to attend the 2023 meeting of American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET).

Barker Lab Publication Featured in eNeuro

The Barker lab recently published a research article in eNeuro that was chosen for the journal’s featured research spotlight. The article is titled “A history of low-dose ethanol shifts the role of ventral hippocampus during reward seeking in male mice” and features a project driven by recently graduated first-author, Dr. Kathleen Bryant.

Katelyn Reeb Earns Dean's Poster Award for Best Research Poster

Katelyn Reeb, PhD student in the A. Mortensen lab, was awarded the Dean’s Award for Best Research Poster Presentation at Drexel’s Emerging Graduate Scholars Conference. Katelyn’s award-winning poster was titled “Positive allosteric modulation of glutamate transporter EAAT2 as a novel therapeutic approach for neurological disorders.”

Pharmacology & Physiology 2023 Graduates

Our graduates were honored at the Drexel University College of Medicine 2023 commencement, held at The Kimmel Center for Performing Arts in Center City, Philadelphia. To top off a strong class of graduates, Kathleen Bryant, PhD was awarded the College’s Amedeo Bondi, PhD Endowed Graduate Award, which recognizes one graduating student for excellence in research performance during the training experience.

PhD graduates:

  • Kathleen G. Bryant, PhD
    “A History of Low-Dose Ethanol Alters Behavioral Strategy Selection and Ventral Hippocampus Function”
    Advisor: Jacqueline Barker, PhD
    PhD, Neuroscience
    *Amedeo Bondi, PhD Endowed Graduate Award winner
  • Jared Luchetta, PhD
    “Investigating How the Chemokine CXCL12 Impacts Neuronal Network Function and Structural Plasticity: The Modulatory Role of Inhibitory Neurons”
    Advisor: Olimpia Meucci, MD, PhD
    PhD, Pharmacology & Physiology
  • Richa Pande, PhD
    “Role of Macrophage Derived Small Extracellular Vesicles in Regulation of T Cell Mediated Resolution of Inflammatory Pain”
    Advisor: Seena Ajit, PhD
    PhD, Microbiology & Immunology
  • Jonathan Snyder, PhD
    “Pancreatic Islet GRK2 Regulates Insulin Secretion and Glycemic Control by Regulating Metabolism and GPCR Sensitivity in Type 2 Diabetes Model”
    Advisor: Priscila Sato, PhD
    PhD, Pharmacology & Physiology

MS graduates, Pharmacology & Physiology:

  • Mohammed Sani Alhassan
    “The Evaluation of CD137 as a Costimulatory Receptor in Multiple Myeloma Therapy”
    Advisors: Alessandro Fatatis, MD, PhD, Bradley Heidrich, PhD (Janssen), and Dara Reeves, PhD (Janssen)
    *Janssen-Drexel 4D Fellow
  • Celina N. Guzman
    “Evaluation of Functional Performance of KLK2 Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T Cell Designs”
    Advisors: Alessandro Fatatis, MD, PhD and Szeman Ruby Chan, PhD (Janssen)
    *Janssen-Drexel 4D Fellow
  • Deepa Reddy
    *Transitioning to Pharmacology & Physiology PhD program
    Advisor: Seena Ajit, PhD
  • Dayna Robinson
    *Summer thesis defense
    Advisor: Peter Gaskill, PhD

MS graduates, Drug Discovery & Development (in person program):

  • Rohail Bhatti
    *Summer thesis defense
    Advisor: Priscila Sato, PhD
  • Rohan Gupta
    “Machine Learning Models in Drug Discovery and Development”
    Advisor: Ahmet Sacan, PhD
  • Desmond J. Lewis
    “Development of a Prostate 3D Spheroid Model for Assessing Tumor Uptake of Different Antibody Designs”
    Advisors: Alessandro Fatatis, MD, PhD, Theresa McDevitt, PhD (Janssen), and Fei Shen, PhD (Janssen)
    *Janssen-Drexel 4D Fellow
  • Laura Merja
    “Pharmacological CURE Strategy via Targeting the Human Transcription Factor RUNX1 for Latent HIV Reactivation and Immune Stimulation”
    Advisor: Zachary Klase, PhD
  • Ria Patel
  • Victoria J. Perre
  • Yagni Keyur Shah
  • Atif Asad Siddiqui
  • Suhani Mahesh Suthar

April 2023

Dr. Ajit Gives Invited Seminars

Dr. Seena Ajit gave two invited seminars this month, one at the US Association for the Study of Pain (USASP) annual meeting and another at Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine. Her talk at USASP in the symposium on non-coding RNAs, potential biomarkers and targets for chronic pain and itch was titled “Female cell-specific regulation of inflammatory pain by long noncoding RNA Xist.” Her second talk at Temple’s Center for Substance Abuse Research was titled “Attenuation of inflammatory pain by macrophage derived small extracellular vesicles.”

Dr. Jackson Receives His First R01

Dr. Josh Jackson received his first NIH R01 award as a faculty member at Drexel. The award is through the National Institute on Aging, which will support Dr. Jackson’s work on glutamate transporter-dependent neuromuscular coupling in Alzheimer’s disease. This is one of several recent awards for Dr. Jackson, including a new collaborative R21, a DoD Idea Award and other foundation awards. Congratulations and well done, Josh.

Jason Wickman Earns Dean’s Travel Award

Jason Wickman, a PhD student in the Ajit lab, was a recipient of a spring 2023 Dean’s Travel Award from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies.

March 2023

Dr. Matt Awarded Pilot Grant

Dr. Stephanie Matt received a pilot grant from Temple University’s Center for NeuroHIV Research. The grant will fund a new research project: Examining the impact of depression and in vitro antidepressants on macrophage viral dynamics.

New R21 Supports TRaCES Project

Congratulations to the multi-PI team of Drs. Meucci, Jackson and Klase for receiving a new R21 award from NIDA. Funding from this award will support an ongoing project in our TRaCES facility, titled “Adult human brain tissue cultures to study neuroHIV.” The project also features a collaboration with co-investigators Drs. Alessandro Fatatis and Atom Sarkar of the Global Neurosciences Institute.

Department Faculty Receive DoD Idea Awards

Congratulations to Drs. Josh Jackson and Gabriele Romano for each receiving a Melanoma Research Program Idea Award from the Department of Defense. Dr. Jackson’s award will support a collaborative project with Dr. Hartsough, titled “Role of Perilesional Reactive Astrocytosis in Melanoma Brain Metastases.” Dr. Romano’s award will support his project “Biomimetic Nanoparticle-Mediated Delivery of Immunomodulating Nucleic Acids as a Strategy to Anticipate Melanoma Drug Resistance.”

Romano Lab Student Earns Research Mini Grant

Pearl Diabene, an undergraduate student from the Romano lab, earned an Undergraduate Research Mini Grant from Drexel’s Undergraduate Research and Enrichment Programs. The award supports Perl’s work in the Romano lab for the winter term.

February 2023

Romano Lab News

Dr. Gabriele Romano published his first manuscript as a Drexel PI. His collaborative study, titled “Microparticle-delivered Cxcl9 prolongs Braf inhibitor efficacy in melanoma” was published in Cancer Immunological Research this month. Congrats to the Romano Lab. Dr. Romano was also invited to participate in the NIH study section: “Mechanisms of Cancer Therapeutics A” [MCTA], and he has also become a co-director of Drexel’s Responsible Conduct of Research course. Well done, Dr. Romano.

Dr. Sanz-Clemente Nominated to Leadership Position in PCSfN

Congrats to Dr. Antonio Sanz-Clemente for being nominated as the next vice president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience (PCSfN). The annual PCSfN meeting will be held March 13, 2023, at Temple University. Please see here for additional details.

Dr. Klase Presents at AAAS Meeting

Dr. Zachary Klase gave an invited talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting. Dr. Klase discussed his work in a talk titled “The effect of benzodiazepines on HIV epigenetics in the CNS and beyond.”

January 2023

Dr. Ajit and Dr. A. Mortensen Give Invited Seminars

Dr. Seena Ajit was invited to give a talk titled “The role of small extracellular vesicles in pain” to the pain interest group meeting hosted by the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Anesthesiology. Dr. Andréia Mortensen was invited to give a talk titled “Allosteric Modulation of Glutamate Transporters: A Possible Avenue for Neuropsychiatric Therapies” to the Drexel’s School of BioMedical Engineering.

Dr. Jackson Receives W.W. Smith Grant

Congratulations to Dr. Josh Jackson for receiving a new grant from the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust. The funds will support Dr. Jackson’s project, “Astrocytic mitochondria control neurovascular coupling.” This is Dr. Jackson’s third W.W. Smith-funded project, including one collaborative grant with Dr. Hartsough.

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