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Meet the 2021 Recipients of the Distinguished Research Trainee Awards
shafere1 [at] chop.edu (By Emily Shafer)
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute is home to many trainees who make valuable contributions to their labs while gaining experience to reach their personal and professional goals. Whether it’s preparing a paper for journal submission or re-trying an experiment, research trainees cultivate a diverse skill set alongside their mentors — even if it was from six feet apart or virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, research mentors nominated 14 exemplary trainees across a variety of disciplines for the Distinguished Research Trainee Awards (DRTA). Learn more about the five award winners and their research endeavors:
Amelia Van Pelt, graduate student, Epidemiology
Research Mentor: Elizabeth Lowenthal, MD, MSCE
Van Pelt is dedicated to improving the health of children and families through epidemiology, and she is actively involved in campus and city-wide initiatives. She has conducted internationally based research, despite complications from the COVID-19 pandemic, by pivoting to remote data collection.
Her research is focused on supporting children affected by HIV in high-prevalence and resource-limited settings. She is the first author on four published or under-review papers related to her PhD research. Van Pelt also contributed to a paper highlighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was related to modeling strategies for safe return to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. She played a significant role with the Philadelphia Department of Health’s pandemic response.
“I have no doubt that Ms. Van Pelt will make important contributions to global health after her graduation this spring,” Dr. Lowenthal wrote in the nomination. “She has the aptitude and drive to succeed in academia and applied public health.”
Glendon Wu, PhD, graduate student, Immunology
Research Mentor: Craig Bassing, PhD
Dr. Wu’s thesis research discovered and demonstrated the only two known mechanisms that control sequential V rearrangement between alleles. This work, published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will result in “revisions of immunology textbooks,” according to his mentor, Dr. Craig Bassing.
Throughout his studies, Dr. Wu proved to be a great mentor and trainer to younger graduate students and lab technicians. He excelled at presenting seminars and tailoring them to his audiences, and he worked diligently to become a strong writer. Dr. Wu defended his thesis in December and is now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School.
“The training that Glendon received through the Penn Immunology graduate program and earning a PhD in my lab has allowed him to build on his previous strengths, turn his weaknesses into strengths, and build a solid foundation of knowledge and publications, all of which will provide him with strong potential for success in achieving his career goal,” Dr. Bassing wrote in the nomination.
Alex Price, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Research Mentor: Matthew Weitzman, PhD
Dr. Price is “poised to overturn the dogma about double-stranded RNA during infection with DNA viruses,” according to his mentor, Dr. Matthew Weitzman. Throughout his postdoc, he pursued new areas of research and answered long-standing questions in the field. His unique scientific direction has led to presentations at prestigious conferences, several papers, and multiple awards. He also has obtained funding support for almost the entirety of his training.
Dr. Price has a gift for collaboration, having sought out other experienced investigators for his training and mentorship. He also has shown leadership in the lab, and he has served as a mentor to younger students and technicians.
“Alex has been an exemplary lab member,” Dr. Weitzman wrote in his nomination. “He has become a leader as the most senior postdoc in the lab, and he is now on a trajectory to become a successful and productive independent investigator.”
Amaliris Guerra, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, Hematology
Research Mentor: Stefano Rivella, PhD
Dr. Guerra overcame many challenges to get to where she is today, and “possesses rare perseverance as a young scientist,” according to her mentor, Dr. Stefano Rivella. She is dedicated to mentoring and has demonstrated passion for teaching. Her dedication to diversity and increasing minority participation in biomedical sciences is steadfast, demonstrated by her involvement as chair of the CHOP Postdocs for Diversity in Science, as well as co-chair of the Diversity Committee for the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council.
She has published three papers, including a paper in Blood on which she is the first author. Her work focuses on biological questions in iron metabolism for hemoglobinopathies, with the goal of discovering therapeutics that may help improve symptoms of beta-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia, and she is leading several projects in this area.
“Dr. Guerra is a true inspiration for any postdoctoral trainee starting in a new area of investigation,” Dr. Rivella wrote in his nomination. “I believe she will become a strong research scientist who will contribute immensely to pediatric hematology research.”
Sarah Coggins, MD, physician fellow, Neonatology
Research Mentor: Lakshmi Srinivasan, MBBS, MTR
Dr. Coggins’ clinical research has provided important preliminary data to develop larger projects to understand sepsis phenotypes and to improve early recognition of neonatal sepsis. She is moving forward with projects to determine outcomes related to cardiac and respiratory dysfunction in neonatal sepsis.
In medical school, Dr. Coggins published first and second authored publications on the topic. As a fellow at CHOP, she continued with an excellent track record of publications on her research, and she successfully manages research, quality improvement, and clinical and administrative tasks on her plate, particularly as a chief fellow physician this year.
“Sarah Coggins is quite simply a stellar neonatal fellow who is well on the way to becoming an accomplished clinician researcher,” Dr. Srinivasan wrote. “I truly believe we have a ‘superstar’ in the making.”