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CHOP Research Institute Highlights Emerging Leaders in Research

Published on
November 30, 2021
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Emerging Innovators

Four “Emerging Innovators” presented their research in October and November.

The Emerging Innovators in Collaborative Research program, organized by the Office of Academic Training and Outreach Programs (ATOP), recognizes exceptional non-faculty researchers-in-training and research staff who have contributed significantly to a collaborative project, producing high impact research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. All speakers for the series received nominations by their department chair, division chief or faculty mentor, and they represent a variety of scientific disciplines and research areas. Here, we highlight the four speakers who presented their work at the first two sessions in October and November. Be sure to tune into the next three sessions, in January, February, and April 2022.

Suraiya Haroon, PhD

Suraiya Haroon, PhD
Research Assistant Professor
Division of Human Genetics

Nominated by: Marni Falk, MD

Presentation title: Developing multi-species OPA1 disease models in order to exploit mitophagy modulation for therapy development

Dr. Haroon and her team are developing worm, zebrafish and patient fibroblast models of OPA1 disease to identify novel therapies. OPA1 dysfunction leads to increased mitochondrial stress and mitophagy, and the team postulates that modulating mitophagy may rescue some OPA1 disease symptoms.

“Given the pleiotropic nature of the etiology and the manifestation of mitochondrial diseases, it has been difficult to generate FDA-approved therapies for any mitochondrial disease,” Dr. Haroon said. “I am excited to dissect the role mitophagy, a highly regulated cellular mechanism for mitochondrial degradation, plays in mitochondrial DNA homeostasis, and exploit this pathway for therapy development.”

Amalia Berna, PhD

Amalia Berna PhD
Research Scientist
Division of Infectious Diseases

Nominated by: Audrey R. Odom John, MD, PhD

Presentation Title: Reproducible breath metabolite changes in children with SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Dr. Berna and her team are working to develop a “COVID-19 breathalyzer” test for children that would test for SARS-CoV-2 infection in children without using uncomfortable nasal swabs. The team identified odor molecules using mass spectrometry that are found at higher levels in the breath of children with COVID-19.

“What excites me about the future of this research is that if we are able to develop this breathalyzer, testing could be so fast and easy that children could be screened on the way into school, or teens screened prior to a sports game,” Dr. Berna said. “Moreover, this method could also be used to develop diagnostic tools for other infectious diseases that affect children.”

Ceylan Tanes, PhD

Ceylan Tanes, PhD
Research Scientist
Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition

Nominated by: Kyle Bittinger, PhD

Presentation Title: Role of dietary fiber in the recovery of the human gut microbiome and its metabolome.

In their study, Dr. Tanes and her team characterized the effect of omnivore, vegan, and enteral nutrition diets on the human gut microbiome and its associate metabolome. They found that dietary fiber plays a key role in gut microbiome reconstitution following antibiotic use, and then determined the consequences for microbial metabolite production in the gut.

“Our gut harbors a large reservoir of bacterial genes that utilize the nutrients we consume, especially fiber,” Dr. Tanes said. “This study enabled us to understand the greater impact of fiber on the development of the microbiome. It highlights the fact that the lack of one group of nutrients may cascade to loss of other functions of the bacterial gene pool.”

Yang Ding, MD

Yang Ding, MD
Instructor
Division of Oncology

Nominated by: Kai Tan, PhD

Presentation Title: Novel targets for rational combination therapy in Philadelphia chromosome-like ALL

Dr. Ding aims to identify new therapy targets in Philadelphia chromosome-like B-acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Ph-like ALL). With her collaborators, she analyzed large-scale primary patient genomic and transcriptomic datasets, and identified unrecognized synergies in Ph-like ALL that can inform therapy approaches and potentially overcome therapy resistance.

“My research focuses on harnessing the power of ‘omics’ data for improved precision medicine for children with cancer,” Dr. Ding said. “This project leverages publicly available patient omics data to prioritize key oncogenic dependencies to overcome leukemia resistance in a data-driven way that can be broadly applicable to other cancer types.”