Stephen Shinsky, a second-year Upstate PhD student, won a Best Poster award (out of 90 entries) at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s annual meeting last month in Boston.
Stephen’s poster outlining his research into a rare genetic disorder known as Kabuki Syndrome earned him a $500 prize in the Mechanisms of Gene Transcription and Regulation category.
Not only was his poster accepted, Stephen received a $1,000 travel award from the organization, which allowed him to go to Boston two days early for a series of workshops. (This was at the same time authorities were searching for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects).
For the poster session, Stephen stood for two hours answering questions from scientists and academics who stopped by. He didn’t know it at the time, but some of them were the judges. They clearly were impressed by what they saw and heard.
Stephen’s work is part of the Cosgrove lab’s research into the characterization of the Mixed Lineage Leukemia (MLL) family of enzymes. Mutations of these enzymes are associated with leukemias, solid tumors and developmental abnormalities, including Kabuki Syndrome.
Stephen said there are two novel aspects to his research: It’s the first biochemical characterization of these Kabuki syndrome mutations, and it furthered the understanding of the protein-protein interactions this enzyme requires for function — important because these proteins are involved in several forms of cancer.
“As a lab, we do a lot of different projects, but we work with a family of proteins that are so important to organismal development and are relevant to diseases,” Stephen said. “There’s a lot of interest in how these proteins work. They’re ‘developmental regulators’ that are critical. If a mutation affects development, it likely has clinical implications.”
The study of gene regulation and epigenetics is a very popular topic among researchers, Stephen said, including faculty, post-docs and PhD students in Upstate’s Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Department.
“Biomedical research at Upstate is top-notch,” Stephen said. “The approach in our lab is more reductionist. We study purified proteins in the most controlled environments we can make. It allows us to ask important questions and complements other research.”
The Cosgrove lab and others at Upstate utilize lab core facilities at nearby SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) and at Cornell University in Ithaca, Stephen said. Because of the different techniques and facilities at each institution, he said, “You can always find new techniques to work with.”