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July 7, 2007

Third Annual Postdoctoral Fellows Poster Competition

On June 29, the day that Sharon Krag retired from the Bloomberg School as Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research, she announced the winners of the School’s Third Annual Poster Competition for Postdoctoral Fellows, an event that held special significance for her.

The competition grew out of Krag’s efforts to build a “community” among the School’s postdoctoral fellows. “In many ways they’re orphans because they come not to a department, but to an individual mentor,” she said.

“This is a chance to talk to and learn from some of the top postdoctoral fellows in the School,” said Krag, whose career at the School spanned more than three decades. “Going from poster to poster, you can see the strength and diversity of the work here.”

Since the poster competition began three years ago, Krag said that participation in the event and in the quality of the entries has increased.

“They’re learning how to present in this format, to talk about the science and they’re getting better at it,” she said.

Awaiting Krag’s announcement, the young scientists lined the perimeter of Feinstone Hall, stationed in front of the three- by four-foot posters that illustratred the results of two years of work.

This year, Krag explained, the poster judges chose a first- and second-place winner in two categories: lab-based research and qualitative/quantitative work.

First prize recipients received $1,500 each, and the runners-up received awards of $1,000— “reasonable money,” Krag noted.

Lab-Based Winners

allary

First Place:

Marina Allary, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Deciphering an Essential Pathway Required for the Survival of Plasmodium falciparum, the Agent of Human Malaria.

Allary investigated unexplored metabolic pathways of the protozoan parasite Plasmodium falciparum, the agent of human malaria. One such pathway is the attachment of a fatty acid-derived compound, lipoate. Lipoate scavenging is essential for the survival of Plasmodium falciparum within the host erythrocytes. Experiments are currently underway to further understand the metabolic map of the parasite with the goal of identifying new drug targets to fight malaria.

Second Place

Janet Zang, Environmental Health Sciences, Effects of Environmental Estrogen Mixtures in the Absence and Presence of Estradiol on Genomic and Non-Genomic Actions of the Estrogen Receptor.

While research has shown that endogenous estrogen is a risk factor for hormonal-related breast cancer, little is known about the role of environmental estrogens in promoting cancer cell growth. Working with human cells from breast tumors, Zang examined the impacts of different combinations of environmental agents and estrogen on cell growth. Her findings indicate that estrogen levels are a factor in the cellular response to environmental estrogens. For example, women with low estrogen levels may be more sensitive to heavy metal estrogens in terms of cell proliferation.

Qualitative/Quantitative Winners

shafi

First Place:

Tariq Shafi, Epidemiology, Chlorthalidone-Associated Diabetes May be Mediated by Potassium Depletion: An Application of the Systolic Hypertension in Elderly Program (SHEP) Limited Data Set.

Shafi conducted an analysis of non-diabetic patients in the Systolic Hypertension in Elderly Program (SHEP), a randomized trial of more than 4,700 patients conducted from 1985 to 1991. He sought to determine if diabetes occurs more frequently in hypertensive patients treated with thiazides than with other medications. Shafi’s findings are consistent with prior studies and suggest that thiazides-induced potassium depletion is associated with diabetes. He recommends that strategies to prevent the disease by avoiding and treating potassium depletion should be tested in a clinical trial.

Second Place

Mary Mitchell, Mental Health, Gender Differences in Perceived Vulnerability to HIV Infection.

Mitchell compared male and female injection drug users and their levels of perceived risk for contracting HIV in relation to high-risk drug use and sexual behaviors. She found that men and women differed in their risk perceptions of certain behaviors. For example, females perceived a greater risk of HIV infection from casual sex, while males perceived a high risk of transmission from sharing drug injection paraphernalia. Mitchell reports that the findings suggest that HIV education messages directed towards injection drug users should take gender differences into account, based on differing risk perceptions among men and women.—Jackie Powder