NURTURING THE SPARK: HOPKINS RECOGNIZES YOUNG INVESTIGATORS

April 7, 1994
Media Contact: Joann Rodgers
Phone: (410) 955-8659
E-mail:
JRodgers@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu

Science is the current that energizes the lives of 16 young researchers at Johns Hopkins. That energy, plus talent and the rare good fortune to land in a world-respected laboratory has resulted in, for many of them their first award winning research.

Every year, Hopkins' School of Medicine singles out a day to pay tribute to its scientists who are "the yeomen of the whole research enterprise," according to Paul Talalay, M.D., who heads review committees for the 17th Annual Young Investigators' Day Awards. Winners of the Young Investigators' Day Awards are pre- and postdoctoral students of exceptional promise working at the leading edge of basic and clinical science.

The top prize this year, the Michael A. Shanoff Research Award, goes to Ph.D. candidate Tsung-Yu Chen, whose work centers on the way vision and olfactory nerves respond, on the most basic cell level, to light or odors.

By subtly changing combinations of molecules that form tiny channels in odor-sensing nerve cells, Chen has shown what probably happens during adaptation - what occurs when you stop smelling an odor after a short time, even though it's still present.

The David Israel Macht Memorial Prize is given to M.D./Ph.D. candidate Craig D. Blackstone. Like Chen, Blackstone is studying channels in nerve cells, but his focus is on cells in the brain, and on ways the makeup of the channels can change when brain nerve cells need to adapt to new conditions, as could happen in long-term memory. Working with neuroscientist Richard Huganir, Ph.D., Blackstone has also pinpointed a site on the channels where nerve cells can fine-tune their activity from within - a sort of internal response system.

The Martin and Carol Macht Research Prize will go to Jeffrey Boyington, a doctoral candidate in biophysics, for describing the three-dimensional structure of a soybean enzyme.

The School of Medicine Award for Postdoctoral Investigation in clinical science is shared by Tony Ho, M.D. and Yuri Lazebnik, Ph.D., who studied programmed cell death in a living organism. The equivalent award in the basic sciences goes to Michael K Lee, Ph.D., for.his work clarifying neurofilament structure - part of the cell's "skeleton' -and for discovering an altered neurofilament gene that mimics effects of major human neurological diseases in mice.

The four Ehrlich award winners are Scott A. Hammond, Fang-Tsyr, Kathleen M.C, Sullivan and Hanlee Ji. Dorothy Sears, Kelly Smith, James Stivers, Ph.D., Albert Torfi, Ph.D., Daniel Wechsler, M.D., Ph.D., and Run-Tao Yan, Ph.D., will receive certificates of merit.

Working in the lab next to world-renowned researchers can be a heady experience for young scientists. Doctoral candidate Kelly Smith, for example, happened to be in the lab headed by molecular biologist Bert Vogelstein, M.D., when the first and then two subsequent genes for familial colon cancer were discovered. "I was really lucky to get into this lab," says Smith, "I've learned faster than I believed was humanly possible." Smith tracked one of the earliest genes to mutate in colon cancer, finding its product linked with parts of cells key to cell growth and division.

Postdoctoral student Tony Ho, M.D., born in Taiwan, found his ability to speak fluent Mandarin a great asset in studies leading to discovery of a new disease. As part of a Hopkins research team in China Ho measured the speed of nerve impulses in Chinese patients stricken with a mysterious paralytic illness. His work helped uncover a previously unknown variant of Guillain-Barre syndrome -- a muscle paralysis that can occur after infections -- and bacteria that may trigger it.

The quality of the research undertaken at Hopkins by our medical students is indicative of their tremendous future," says School of Medicine Dean Michael E. Johns, M.D. "I am enormously proud of the work of these dedicated men and women. They are the future leaders of American medicine."

This year's lectures and awards will be presented on April 14 at 4 p.m in the Preclinical Teaching Building auditorium.


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