MD/PhD student wins fellowship for her autism research

SUNY Upstate MD/PhD fellowship winner

Dawn Lammert, a student in Upstate's MD/PhD program, with her research poster at the annual MD/PhD conference in Keystone, Colo.

Upstate MD/PhD student Dawn Lammert has received a three-year pre-doctoral fellowship for her research on autism.

Dawn, who’s in the second year of the PhD phase of the MD/PhD program, was awarded the fellowship – worth $32,615 per year — this summer from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Dawn and her Principal Investigator, Brian Howell PhD, are exploring four mutations in the protein Reelin to determine their role in autism, which affects an estimated 1 of every 88 children. People with autism have reduced levels of Reelin, which is important for proper brain development and function.

“The mutations look like they may all cause the same problem,” Dawn said. “Ultimately we hope to understand how the mutations contribute to autism. They might explain some aspect of it.”

Working mainly with HeLa cells, Dawn has identified a dramatic decrease in the amount of Reelin in transfected cells, suggesting a defect in cell secretion. Impaired secretion may lead to potential developmental and postnatal problems.

Dawn and the rest of the Howell lab are collaborating on the project with the labs of Upstate researchers Eric Olson, PhD, and Mary Lou Vallano, PhD, as well as with the Broad Institute of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Thanks to her research, Dawn’s been on a whirlwind schedule of late – she’s already attended meetings and academic conferences in Boston, Colorado, Buffalo and Philadelphia, and is scheduled for another in San Diego.

Dawn also trained for and ran the Wineglass Marathon Oct. 6, finishing in 131st place out of 1,683 finishers. She ran the 26.2 miles in 3 hours, 25 minutes and 39 seconds – a pace of about 7 minutes, 50 seconds per mile. Another marathon in the spring is a possibility.

SUNY Upstate Paws in Motion

Upstate MD/PhD student Dawn Lammert with one of the dogs in the "Paws in Motion" program at the Central New York SPCA. Dawn and other volunteers take the shelter dogs out running to give them much-needed exercise and improve their chances of being adopted.

In her spare time, Dawn’s a coordinator of the Central New York SPCA’s “Paws in Motion” program, which pairs volunteers – including many students from Upstate, Syracuse University and SUNY ESF — who like to run with shelter dogs that need exercise.

Dawn’s career plan after her projected graduation from our MD/PhD program in 2018 is pediatric neurology, which combines her interest in working with children and conducting research. “There’s a lot in pediatric neurology that’s unknown,” she said.

Dawn also has been shadowing Upstate pediatric neurologist Klaus Werner, MD PhD, on his rounds at Upstate Health Care Center, and is impressed by the children being seen at the clinic. “Kids are so resilient,” she said.


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