Columbia University Medical Center


Report on the Summer 2015 Activities of SPURS:
A Biomedical Research Program


With funding from the National Institutes of health (NIH) and other generous private donations, the SPURS program was able to accommodate 16 fellows: 7 females and 9 males; 8 African–Americans, 5 Latino-Americans, 2 Asian-Americans and 1 Caucasian. In addition to the CUNY students from Hunter (5) and New York City College of Technology (1), we had two students from Columbia University, one student from Barnard, two students from New York University and one student from Pace University. In addition, from outside of New York City, we had one student from Rochester Institute of Technology, one from University of California at Berkley, one from University of North Florida and one from Amherst College. As the reputation of the program continues to grow we unfortunately must turn down qualified students due to funding constraints. We received a record number of 91 applications this academic year.

The 2015 participants are: Jack Jnani, Mariella Romero, Demelio Urbano, Alex Pennachio, Felix Alcantara, Lucia Duenas-Bianchi, Kenya Velez, Danielle Georges, Hugo Camarena, Abigail Demsas, Alemante Tedla, Emmanuel Coulanges, Alexander Shields, Nicole Bae, Mindy Kim and K. Piere.

The participants are listed below along with the title of their research project and mentor’s name.

1) Hugo Camerna
University of California – Berkeley
Mentor: Dr. Joseph Gogos
Role of MIRTA22 Within the 22q11.2 Micro-deletion Genetic Background


2) Alex Pennachio
Rochester Institute of Technology
Mentor: Dr. Kimara Targoff
Isolation of crip2 and fbln2 Mutants Using CRISPR/Cas9 Technology in the Zebrafish Embryo


3) Mindy Kim testimonial
Amherst College
Mentor: Dr. Andrew Marks
Understanding the Role of Endothelial IP3R1 in Regulating Blood Pressure


4) K. Piere
University of North Florida
Mentor: Dr. Andrew Marks
The Role of Leaky UNC-68 Channels in Age-Dependent Muscle Function Loss


5) Kenya Valez
Hunter College
Mentor: Dr. Virginia Cornish
“Programmable Probiotic Bacteria for Reulation of Hormones Through Secretion of Neuropeptides”


6) Felix Alcantara
Hunter College
Mentor: Dr. Filipo Mancia
“A Structural Genomic Approach for the Determination of Membrane Proteins”


7) Demelio Urbano
Hunter College
Mentor: Dr. Wes Gruber
“The Role of Interneurons in Nociceptive Transduction and Mechanosensory Integration in Drosophila”


8) Mariella Rivera
Hunter College
Mentor: Dr. Laurence Ring
“A Mouse Model of Ventilator Associated Lung Injury in Pregnancy”


9) Alex Shields
Columbia University
Mentor: Jeanine D’Armiento
“Inhalation of Cigarette Smoke Induces MMP1 Using Clotrimazole”


10) Jack Jnani
Hunter College
Mentor: Dr. Rocky Kass
“Characterizing PAH-associated V221L TASK1 Mutation in Heterozygous Conditions”


11) Nicole Bae
New York University
Mentor: Dr. Monica Goldklang
“In Vivo Imaging of Lung Apoptosis in Acute Lung Injury”


12) Abigail Demsas
Barnard College
Mentor: Dr. Joseph Gordon
“VTA-Nucleus Accumbens GABAergic Projections May Mediate a Depression-Predicting Signal”


13) Alemante Tedla
Columbia Univeristy
Mentor: Dr. Henry Colecraft
“Elucidating Interaction Sites on Cav1.2 α1 Subunits for BIN1 and Caveolin3”


14) Emmanuel Coulanges
New York City College of Technology
Mentor: Dr. Edward Owusu-Ansah
“Studying Mitochondrial Function with Blue Native PAGE in Drosophila”


15) Lucia Duenas-Bianchi
New York University
Mentor: Dr. Ellen Lumpkin
“Mapping Touch Receptors in Mouse Oral Cavity Model: A Merkel Cell Study”


16) Danielle Georges
New York University
Mentor: Dr. Stavroula Kousteni
“How does lipocalin 2 regulate food intake and body weight in mice?”


The program began on Monday, June 1, 2015 with an orientation led by Mr. Michael Holsey and Dr. Monica Goldklang. The students were given an overview of the program and were informed as to what is expected of them for the summer. In addition, administrative details were addressed including stipend disbursement dates, identification card issuance, and schedule of training sessions. All students received instruction in Laboratory and Research Safety from the CUMC Environmental Health and Safety Department. This comprehensive seminar educated incoming students on how to maintain a safe environment through hazardous waste management, industrial hygiene, asbestos and lead management, biological safety, fire safety, the use of personal protective equipment and chemical tracking/safety.

The special seminar series of the SPURS program met on a weekly basis, on Wednesdays, throughout the summer during which speakers were brought in to serve as role models and to provide insight into the students’ career development regarding medical/PhD programs, their medical school years and the important aspects on which to focus to ensure a successful academic experience.

The panel of speakers included Former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, Dr. Lee Goldman, Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine and Chief Executive of Columbia University Medical Center, and Dr. Roy Vagelos (Chairman of the Board of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Retired Chairman of the Board and CEO of Merck & Co., Inc.). Seminars were also given by Drs. Hilda Hutcherson, Jaime Rubin, Henry Colecraft, Anne Taylor, Jose Moron-Concepcion, Steve Siegelbaum and Jeanine D’Armiento. The Wednesday sessions were also a time for the director of the program to monitor the students’ growth during the summer and address any issues or concerns. On Tuesday, July 28 Drs. Marks, D’Armiento, Goldklang and Mr. Michael Holsey met with all of the students each of whom gave an oral presentation of their project. Extensive feedback to each SPURS student was provided with guidance on the scientific content as well as techniques of oral presentation. In addition, students participated in an expanded mentoring session with students from Columbia’s Medical and Graduate schools – MD, PhD, and MD.PhD candidates, and they attended a “How to Present” session given by Dr. D’Armiento.

There were a series of social/recreational activities including:

• Field trip to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals

• New York Philharmonic concert in Central Park

• Classical Theatre of Harlem production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Romeo and Juliet

• New York Yankees vs. Philadelphia Phillies Baseball Game (tickets donated by the New York Yankees)

• A tour of the New York Structural Biology Center by Dr. Wayne Hendrickson, Scientific Director of the NYSBC and University Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Columbia University

• A farewell dinner

The 2015 program culminated on Thursday, July 30, 2015, when each of the students presented their research in a poster session. This session was attended by mentors, post-docs, faculty, graduate students and family members. The poster session served as an excellent tool to help the students synthesize their 8 weeks of intense research. Uniformly, each of the students expressed their gratitude for the learning experience and opportunities offered by the SPURS program. On Friday, July 31, 2015 each of the students returned to their laboratories to finish the program and thank their laboratories for the rich learning experiences this summer.


Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R25NS076445. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.