Donnelly Centre Trainees Win Inaugural PRiME Fellowships
Donnelly Centre trainees, Jiabao Liu and Yu-Xi Xiao, have won the inaugural PRiME Fellowship Awards for their research with implications for metabolic syndrome and cancer, respectively.
The fellowships are awarded by the University of Toronto’s Precision Medicine Initiative, launched earlier this year to advance the development of targeted treatments through interdisciplinary collaboration. Led by Shana Kelley, University Professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, PRiME bridges research from Pharmacy, the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Arts & Science and the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.
Liu and Xiao are among the 10 awardees who were selected by the Fellowship Committee based on the strength of their research proposals that seek to identify new disease targets, therapies and diagnostics for precision medicine.
As a postdoctoral research fellow in Henry Krause’s lab in the Donnelly Centre, Liu studies nuclear receptor (NR) proteins which play a role in nutrient-sensing and have been implicated in the metabolic syndrome and other diseases. NRs turn genes on and off in response to hormones and other small molecules, some of which are found in food. However, the extent of molecules capable of activating these receptors is not known and this has impeded their study. Collaborating with Carolyn Cummin’s group at Pharmacy, Liu has set out to to identify the small molecules that bind to diverse NRs to better understand their function and to find potential therapeutics. Liu currently also holds the Charles H. Best Fellowship, awarded annually to an outstanding postdoctoral fellow in the Donnelly Centre.
“Ligand identification for human nuclear receptors and characterizing their functions require a combination of analytical chemistry, biochemistry, molecular genetics,and pharmacology,” says Liu. “PRiME provides an excellent platform for me to setup collaboration with scientists from diverse areas, and will boost my project and speedup the research translation.“
Yu-Xi Xiao is a graduate student in Jason Moffat’s lab in the Donnelly Centre where she is developing a new technology for studying how different genes contribute to cancer. Like other common diseases, cancer is caused by variants in multiple genes, but how these interact is still unclear. Genome editing tool CRISPR has allowed scientists to combine multiple genetic defects in cells and measure their outcome and the Moffat lab has made leading contributions in this area. Xiao’s project brings the CRISPR system together with a microfluidics platform, which allows more efficient handling of the cells and was developed by the Kelley lab at Pharmacy, in a new high-throughput pipeline that will allow her to study how multiple genes affect cell proliferation and changes in cell-surface proteins that are important in cancer.
“Not only does this award fund the development of a powerful genome perturbation tools that allow alterations of more than one gene at a time, it also provides a great platform for collaborating with researchers that devote themselves to precision medicine, which can be valuable for the project and my personal development in academia,” says Xiao.
“One of the initial focuses of PRiME is to build a strong program for our trainees, including resources and support for both internal and external funding opportunities,” said Kelley. “Building a strong community of translational trainees will provide an excellent foundation for the initiative as we pursue a presence in the international research landscape.”
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