MD/PhD student receives fellowship from Autism Speaks

SUNY Upstate autism research

Dan Tylee, an MD/PhD student at Upstate, received a two-year, pre-doctoral fellowship from Autism Speaks to further research into Autism Spectrum Disorder. The fellowship is worth $30,000 annually.

Dan Tylee is clear on why he enrolled in Upstate’s MD/PhD program.

“I came here because I’m interested in mental health and human development,” he said. “I wanted to be as close to human subjects and applied translational research as possible.”

Dan recently received a two-year, pre-doctoral fellowship from Autism Speaks that carries an annual $30,000 award covering his stipend and additional expenses.

Autism, and Autism Spectrum Disorder, are terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development, according to Autism Speaks. The disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication, and by repetitive behaviors.

“Different sets of genetic factors may contribute to autism in different individuals,” Dan said. “Yet very few studies actually attempt to identify or model genetic subgroups within autism. I think what made my proposal stand out was the design, which explicitly seeks to identify and model these subgroups.”

Dan is beginning his fourth year at Upstate and is a student in the lab of Stephen Glatt, PhD, associate professor of Neuroscience & Physiology, and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.

His interest in mental health and the link between biology and psychology intensified when he volunteered at a psychiatric clinic near his home on Long Island. Dan noticed that patients under treatment for mental illness might be prescribed different medications over the course of three or four visits.

“I shadowed a psychiatrist, and I wondered why a certain medication might help one person, but might provide no benefit for another person,” he said. Rather than rely on trial and error, Dan believes “a biologically based diagnosis can shorten the gap to effective treatment.”

SUNY Upstate autism

Dan Tylee in Upstate's Neuroscience Research Building.

That shadowing experience, and the questions it raised, brought him to Upstate. “From psychology to biology, should I study it or treat it?” Dan said of his post-graduate path. “I decided to do both if I could.”

The MD/PhD program, which trains students for careers as physician-scientists who blend clinical practice with research, was a perfect fit.

The majority of Dan’s work in Dr. Glatt’s lab will involve autism, but he’ll also contribute to studies of post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is one of six major mental illnesses his lab is investigating, and many of these disorders appear to share common genetic risk factors, Dan said. The others are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

“We’re looking at all these disorders to try to identify genetic factors associated with resilience,” Dan said. “Other researchers have shown these disorders share a portion of genetic liability. We’ll look at healthy people with the high-risk genetic factor and try to see how they keep from developing symptoms.

“In the future it’s going to be important to move past a categorical understanding of these disorders, in order to study core symptoms,” Dan said, noting that some types of symptoms, like impulsivity, are a prominent feature of several different disorders.

The Autism Speaks fellowship will allow Dan to pursue three major aims:

1. Identify genetically based subgroups in Autism Spectrum Disorder, using computers to find clustering that best fits the data set.

2. Develop classifiers from genetic data to distinguish people with autism from those who don’t. (Knowing that early intervention programs help those diagnosed on the spectrum, a genetic test might help diagnose quicker and close the gap to treatment.)

3. Identify genetic factors that might protect against the development of autism in individuals with “high genetic loading.”

“This is a really cool time to be in psychiatry,” Dan said. “In the next 20 years, I think we will see new treatments that seek to augment the body’s immune and inflammatory responses in ways to improve symptoms and alter the disease course.”

Six things to know about Dan Tylee:

  • He listens to music while exercising, working in the lab and to elevate his mood – he prefers instrumental numbers. “Words get in the way,” he said. “The emotion comes across in the music.”
  • He coordinated and spoke at a 2012 TEDx community-building event in Rochester.
  • He helped run a neuro-anatomy lab at the University of Rochester Medical Center for two years.
  • His interests include Eastern religion, mindfulness and the writings of spiritualist Eckhart Tolle; he hopes to incorporate those into his clinical practice.
  • He’s from Long Island, and graduated from SUNY Geneseo in 2010 with a degree in psychology.
  • He’s very happy at Upstate. “I love what I’m doing here,” he said.
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Upstate student part of unique approach to cancer research

SUNY Upstate cancer research

Adam Blanden, an Upstate MD/PhD student in the lab of Stewart Loh, PhD, is among researchers involved in a "fundamentally new way" of approaching a potential treatment for cancer.

Anyone watching Adam Blanden during his presentation at Upstate’s Student Research Day 2015 knew he had so much more to say than he could squeeze into his allotted 15 minutes.

Even with that time limit, Adam made it clear he’s working on some exciting cancer research.

He’s a fourth-year MD/PhD student in his second year in the lab of Principal Investigator Stewart Loh, PhD, professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Loh’s lab is working on a unique approach to cancer research, one that involves exploring mutations in the protein p53 – a tumor suppressor that, when mutated, is implicated in about half of human cancers.

“We work with a particular class of p53 mutations,” Adam said. “There are lots of ways p53 can go wrong, and one way is the loss of zinc.”

Adam’s work involves restoring proper zinc binding to several zinc-impaired mutations in p53, including the most common mutation that leads to cancers.

“This is a fundamentally new way to approach the problem,” Adam said. “We’re trying to change the environment of the cell so that even if p53 is defective, it can still function. It’s a complete end-around.”

The traditional approach, Adam said, has been to try to find molecular compounds that restore the activity of the mutated p53 by binding to it and “fixing” it. Those attempts have been unsuccessful.

For decades, cancer researchers have focused on the tissue of origin, such as the breast, lung, brain, skin, etc. “Now we are learning it’s not so much where the cancer comes from, but the mutations that cause each individual to develop cancer, and allow that cancer to progress,” Adam said.

Upstate’s Dr. Loh and his collaborators at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey have discovered a new class of experimental cancer drugs that can reactivate mutant p53.

The research has potential widespread clinical application for many forms of cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates 1.65 million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and 589,000 people will die of the disease.

Adam estimates a treatment that emerges from this research could work for as many as 100,000 cancer patients per year.

Here’s how treatment could proceed, if the Loh lab’s research leads to an approved protocol after the required clinical trials:

A patient who is diagnosed with cancer undergoes a biopsy; genetic sequencing is done on the patient’s p53 protein to determine if the p53 has mutated, and how; if the particular mutation is one that can be reactivated by restoring zinc binding, treatment begins.

A safe and effective treatment is likely still a decade away, but Adam is optimistic.

“We know from our internal, unpublished work that our pre-clinical data look pretty solid,” he said.

SUNY Upstate p53 cancer research

Upstate student Adam Blanden

Six things to know about Adam Blanden:

* He’s from Truxton, New York, south of Syracuse.

* He finished his undergraduate requirements at Binghamton University in three years, then did independent study (of photodynamic therapy cancer treatment) at Harvard Medical School.

* At Binghamton, he was awarded a prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship for math, science and engineering students.

* He met his wife, Melanie, at Harvard; they’ve been married almost four years.

* He and Melanie, a PhD student in chemistry at Syracuse University, are expecting their first child.

* He was awarded the College of Graduate Studies’ “Oral Presentation Award” for 2015.

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Upstate DPT students speak at national conference

SUNY Upstate DPT

Upstate DPT students Cara Corasaniti, Kelly Brunscheen, associate professor Carol Recker-Hughes, PhD, and DPT student Lauren Shirley at the APTA meeting in Indianapolis.

Three Upstate Doctor of Physical Therapy students took to the national stage to talk up the after-school fitness mentoring program they developed in Syracuse schools.

Kelly Brunscheen, Cara Corasaniti and Lauren Shirley were among the presenters at the American Physical Therapy Association’s 2015 Combined Sections Meeting in Indianapolis.

The DPT students created CHAMP, a program that encourages children of varying ages and abilities to get exercise and learn healthy living habits. Kelly, Cara, Lauren and other DPT students met weekly after school with children at the Northside CYO; they also conducted the program at the Southwest Community Center.

“Creating and implementing CHAMP was a rewarding, and at times challenging, experience,” Kelly said. “Our team designed stations based on New York State standards of fitness while also encouraging a fun atmosphere. With the wide range of ages it was definitely a challenge at times to meet each activity level of the kids!”

Kelly commended Lauren for initiating CHAMP (Children’s After-School Mentoring Program) and for submitting an application to the APTA conference. Kelly said CHAMP also benefited from Cara’s insights and skills, and the guidance of their advisor, associate professor Carol Recker-Hughes, PhD.

SUNY Upstate DPT

Upstate DPT students Kelly Brunscheen, Cara Corasaniti and Lauren Shirley enjoy the exhibitors' expo during the APTA gathering in Indianapolis.

“The program facilitated my growth not only as a future health care professional, but on a personal level,” Cara said. “It allowed for opportunities to build relationships and to share varying knowledge, culture and experience between the children and the volunteers.”

Lauren said being able to speak at the APTA gathering was an honor.

“The conference gave us the opportunity to share CHAMP with other professionals and students in hopes they too would want to start a program like CHAMP at their university or in their community,” she said. “We had a blast and got a lot of nice feedback. CHAMP is taking off, and it’s great that it’s getting such positive support.”

Lauren is about to begin her third and final year in the DPT program; Cara and Kelly graduate in May. CHAMP may resume in the fall semester.

“I felt that we were able to take areas of what we have learned in our DPT classes at Upstate to the kids at CHAMP,” Kelly said. “This experience has helped me to see that we have been given the foundation and tools to make a difference in whatever community our DPT careers take us.”

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Second annual Upstate student art show a success

SUNY Upstate Art Club

Upstate medical student Noella Richman, a participating artist in the second annual Student Art Show, looks at artwork with David Snyder of Syracuse. The show continues through April in Weiskotten Hall's Health Sciences Library.

The SUNY Upstate Student Art Club’s second annual show is winding down, and the artists celebrated with a reception Wednesday in the Health Sciences Library.

Club president Karen Howard, an MD/PhD student, said 18 artists showed 80 pieces, almost twice as many as last year. The show runs through April in the library.

“The gala was a huge success!” Karen said. “Upstate students, faculty and employees have been tremendously helpful and supportive of the club.”

Works included ceramics, acrylics, watercolors, oil paints, pastels, photography, mixed media, LEDs and graphite. The club is already making plans for a third annual show in April 2016.

“Quite a few visitors remarked to me that they were surprised at the artistic talent of Upstate students,” Karen said. “But I hope from now on, no one is surprised — only proud of what the students here have accomplished in addition to their studies.”

Some pieces are for sale. All the artwork is on display in the library, on the first floor of Weiskotten Hall. (Ask at the service desk about contacting artists for pricing information).

Here is a list of students who participated in the show:

Jane Akhuetie; Jeff Bilharz; Solomon Bisangwa; Nicole Cifra; Abigail Franco; Karen Howard; Sarah Idris;

Aleksandr Kruglov; Dawn Lammert; Bridget Lenkiewicz; Dipmoy Nath; Wale Odulate-Williams; Christina Persaud;

Mary Powers; Carey Quinn; Jennifer Rahman; Noella Richman, and Brittany Sprague.

Any student interested in joining the club should contact Karen at howardka@upstate.edu. Or check it out on Facebook.

SUNY Upstate Art Show

Guests and artists at the reception for Upstate's second annual Student Art Show in the Health Sciences Library.

 

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‘Docs for Tots’ medical students plant Pinwheels for Prevention

SUNY Upstate

Upstate students in the "Docs for Tots" group planted pinwheels in the Weiskotten courtyard to raise awareness of child abuse prevention and to benefit the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse. (L-R): Danielle Davis, Victoria Fairchild, Gabriella Izzo, Katie McGregor and Emily Hensler.

The hundreds of blue and silver pinwheels gracing Upstate’s Weiskotten courtyard this week are courtesy of medical students in the “Docs for Tots” group.

The “Pinwheels for Prevention” are there to raise awareness of child abuse and to let people in Central New York know about the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center, said “Docs for Tots” president Victoria Fairchild, a first-year medical student.

“McMahon/Ryan is an important resource for the community,” Victoria said. “We’re trying to raise awareness for child abuse prevention, and to let people know this resource does exist.”

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This is the third year Upstate students have planted pinwheels in the courtyard, and the collection has grown to more than 600. Contributors donate $1 for a pinwheel, with proceeds going to McMahon/Ryan.

Students on the Syracuse campus sold 120 this year, while students at the Binghamton Clinical Campus sold 110. Pinwheels will remain in the Weiskotten courtyard until April 27.

That day, students in the “Docs for Tots” group will hear a presentation from graduating medical student Meghan Jacobs about her clinical experiences at McMahon/Ryan. Meghan will begin her pediatrics residency at Upstate this sumer.

“Docs for Tots” also will take any interested Upstate students on a tour of the agency April 29, said Victoria.

“It’s important to be aware, especially as doctors, that patients may present with abuse,” she said. “You have to keep it in your head at all times.”

The executive board of Docs for Tots:

Victoria Fairchild, president; Emily Hensler, vice-president; Brandon Rosenberg, treasurer; Aneesa Thannickal, secretary; Danielle Davis, shadowing coordinator; Katie McGregor and Gabriella Izzo, communications co-chairs; Mehek Mehta, events coordinator.

Ann Botash MD, professor of pediatrics and medical director at McMahon/Ryan, is the group’s advisor.

SUNY Upstate

Upstate medical student Victoria Fairchild plants Pinwheels for Prevention in the Weiskotten courtyard.

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