Ben Murray, PhD, whose work focused on enzymes that promote the health of mitochondria in liver cells, and Ritchie Ho, PhD, whose work used RNA sequencing to track the degeneration of motor neurons in patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), were each awarded a $3,000 prize for their work.
The two were among four finalists who presented their studies at the annual event, now in its 11th year, at a packed Harvey Morse Auditorium on Jan. 31. The ceremony, which recognizes basic and translational research by promoting investigative curiosity, is named for Cedars-Sinai's former associate vice president of Academic Affairs, who died in 2013.
"The ongoing support of excellence in our postdoctoral research by the Burns and Allen Research Institute and the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute leads to breakthroughs in medicine," said Odelia Cooper, MD, director of the Clinical Translational Research Center, who moderated the event. "We also appreciate the strong support of Nicole Leonard, our vice president of Research, Dr. Ravi Thadhani, our vice dean for Research and Graduate Research Education, and Dr. Shlomo Melmed, our executive vice president of Medical Affairs and dean of medical faculty."
This year's pool of candidates has seen their work published in top journals and presented in national and international forums.
"While difficult to narrow down to just two winners, our awardees are recognized for the extensive body of work they conducted over the last year that epitomizes Cedars-Sinai's mission to advance the frontiers of medicine and science," Cooper said.
The 12-member panel of judges assessed the presentations based on scientific content, originality and clarity of oral presentation.
Ho's presentation, "Spatial Reconstruction of the Spinal Cord from iPSC Models of ALS with Single Cell RNA-sequencing," presented research utilizing single-cell RNA-sequencing to measure the genes activated in spinal cord cells derived from ALS patients to understand what may cause disease. Using both computational and cell biology research methods, his inquiry is directed toward building a reference map of the human spinal cord that can be used to pinpoint the location where ALS starts, allowing therapies to be directed to those locations in a patient-specific manner. He is a postdoctoral scientist in the lab of Clive Svendsen, PhD, the Kerry and Simone Vickar Family Foundation Distinguished Chair in Regenerative Medicine.
Murray's work, described in his presentation "Methionine Adenosyltransferase α1 Targets Mitochondria to Regulate its Function," examines how Methionine Adenosyltransferase α1, an enzyme, controls the protein CYP2E1. When uncontrolled, CYP2E1 produces increased levels of reactive oxygen species that are able to damage cells. Murray's work is specifically focused on liver cells and is aimed at coming up with strategies to treat alcoholic liver disease, which currently has very few treatment options. His work is being conducted in the lab of Shelly Lu, MD, director of the Division of Gastroenterology.
The other finalists were Jan Kaminski, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neurosurgery, under the mentorship of Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, in Neurosurgery and Janice Yang, PhD, who is doing her postdoctoral research under the supervision of Associate Professor of Medicine Ekihiro Seki, MD, PhD.