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Meet the 2020 Distinguished Research Trainee Award Recipients

Published on February 11, 2021 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 4 months 4 weeks ago


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Four CHOP trainees earned 2020 Distinguished Research Trainee Awards.

Each year, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute recognizes the talents and accomplishments of several trainees across diverse disciplines nominated by their research mentors. In 2020, the Distinguished Research Trainee Awards attracted 17 nominations in three trainee categories: graduate student, postdoctoral fellow, and physician fellow. Read on to learn about the four Distinguished Research Trainee Award recipients. Their hard work is inspiration for research mentors to nominate candidates for the 2021 Distinguished Research Trainee Awards. The deadline for nominations is Feb. 17, 2021.

Colleen T. Harrington, PhD

Trainee type: Graduate student, Department of Cell and Molecular Biology

Research Mentor: Andrei Thomas-Tikhonenko, PhD

In her inaugural rotation in Dr. Thomas-Tikhonenko’s lab, Dr. Harrington made an integral finding that contradicted “the central dogma of molecular biology,” and led to the discovery of alternative splicing of CD19 RNA. After joining Dr. Thomas-Tikhonenko’s lab, she studied whether boosting the MYC oncoprotein in Burkitt’s lymphoma makes these fast-growing tumors more vulnerable to chemotherapy. Her preliminary data led to securing R21 funding to continue the studies; at the same time, Dr. Harrington was appointed to the T32 “Training Program in Cell and Molecular Biology.” This research lead to a pivotal paper that appeared in the journal Leukemia in 2019.

“I couldn’t be happier for Colleen, because her hard work finally came to fruition,” Dr. Thomas-Tikhonenko said in his nomination. “More importantly, this outcome revealed her core strengths: persistence, resourcefulness, ingenuity, and the drive to succeed.”

Michael Gonzalez, PhD

Trainee Type: Postdoctoral fellow, Center for Applied Genomics (CAG)

Research Mentor: Hakon Hakonarson, MD, PhD

Dr. Gonzalez’s strong background in bioinformatics, genomics, and immunology allowed him to contribute to a number of projects. He started in CAG investigating genetic risk factors of amplified musculoskeletal pain syndromes (AMPS), and he has submitted his work on this topic in the journal PAIN. His work also has been presented at the American Society for Human Genetics conference, and he won a top poster award at CHOP Research Day. He received his own funding and played a major role in forming and writing a number of grants. Dr. Gonzalez is now a bioinformatic scientist at CHOP.

“Dr. Gonzalez is deeply committed to a research career in human biology and genetic analyses of disease mechanisms,” Dr. Hakonarson said in his nomination. “He has worked hard to grow and foster his bioinformatic skill set to allow him to pursue many different projects and collaborations.”

Alexandra Psihogios, PhD

Trainee Type: Psychology postdoctoral fellow

Research Mentor: Lamia P. Barakat, PhD

Dr. Psihogios, who is now a psychologist at CHOP, quickly initiated research in behavioral oncology at the beginning of her postdoctoral research career at CHOP. She received a K08 grant from the National Cancer Institute to study contextual real-time variables that influence adherence among adolescents and young adults with leukemia. Her research focuses on applying theory and digital technologies to assess and enhance adherence. She has a strong history of publications and presenting at national meeting. Dr. Psihogios also is the recipient of several awards, including the Society of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics Research Scholar award, and the Society of Pediatric Psychology Poster and Travel awards.

“I am highly confident that the research and training program outline in the [K08 grant proposal] will advance Dr. Psihogios’s career as a clinical researcher and academic leader, enhancing her competencies in statistical approaches, innovative methods, and mHealth interventions integral to her proposed program of research,” Dr. Barakat said in her nomination.

Christopher Thom, MD, PhD

Trainee type: Physician fellow in Neonatology

Research Mentor: Benjamin Voight, PhD

Dr. Thom has a unique skill set in computational and molecular biology. One of his accomplishments is using machine learning techniques to create a model that discriminates genomic sites suspected to influence platelet traits. This work led to the discovery of novel genomic loci that could enhance early hematopoiesis. His goal is to generate blood products from reprogrammed stem cells to eliminate complications from donor-derived platelets that are received via transfusion. He is the first author on several recent papers, and he also has submitted for K08 and Burroughs Wellcome Foundation grants.

“Chris is nothing short of exceptional,” Dr. Voight said in his nomination. “His innovative work has turned heads in our institutional scientific community, with remarkable achievements in his early career. Chris seems destined to be a leader in academic medicine.”