As the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) continues to attract top scientists through its new recruitment initiative (“STRAP”), some of its young scientists are receiving major awards as “rising stars” in the biomedical research community.
In particular, two scientists in the UM SOM Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, under the leadership of Michael Shipley, PhD, the Donald E. Wilson, MD, MACP, Distinguished Professor and Chair, have recently been awarded prestigious honors for their outstanding scientific leadership.
Donna Calu, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, was selected by the Maryland Science Center as the 2016 recipient of the award for Outstanding Young Scientist, Academic Track. The award was presented at the Science Center at the end of 2016. She is only the second SOM faculty member to receive the award (Andrea Meredith, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology, received the award in 2008.)
Dr. Calu was awarded for her cutting-edge neurobiological approaches to investigate behaviors relevant to reward learning, stress and addiction, and her design of an implantable, drivable optical fiber, allowing recording of brain activity during optical stimulation and inhibition in laboratory animals.
The Outstanding Young Scientist (OYS)award program, sponsored by the Maryland Science Center, was established in 1959 to recognize and celebrate extraordinary contributions of young Maryland scientists. The award was endowed in 2011 by a generous gift to the Maryland Academy of Sciences by Reverend Frank R. Haig, S.J., Ph.D., past chairman of our Scientific Council, from the estate of his brother, Alexander M. Haig, Jr. Haig was a West Point graduate and four-star general, with a keen interest in applied science. The award is given in General Haig’s name.
A graduate in Biology from the University of Maryland, College Park, Dr. Calu completed her PhD degree at the SOM, studying the role of amygdala neural activity in attention and associative learning processes. As an Early Independent Scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the NIH, she examined the validity of the food relapse model and, established a research program aimed at exploring the neural correlates and brain reward mechanisms underlying individual differences in addiction vulnerability. Dr. Calu was recuited to her current faculty position in 2015.
She was also recently awarded a prestigious grant from the McKnight Foundation, the first ever McKnight Memory and Cognitive Disorders award to a SOM faculty member. These awards support innovative efforts to solve the problems of neurological and psychiatric diseases, especially those related to memory and cognition.
Dr. Lobo was recognized for her research examining transcriptional mechanisms occurring in specific neuron subtypes in the brain in cocaine abuse. This research will determine the neural circuit and molecular signaling mechanisms that underlie these transcriptional alterations and further probe these transcriptional mechanisms in animal models of addiction. Ultimately this research can uncover novel molecular mechanisms occurring in precise cell subtypes in psychostimulant abuse and potentially lead to novel therapeutic targeting for effective treatment of addiction.
Established in 1996 and awarded each year, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) are intended to recognize some of the finest scientists and engineers who, while early in their research careers, show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge during the twenty-first century. The Awards foster innovative and far-reaching developments in science and technology, increase awareness of careers in science and engineering, give recognition to the scientific missions of participating agencies, enhance connections between fundamental research and national goals, and highlight the importance of science and technology for the nation's future.
Dr. Lobo was also recently awarded a One Mind Institute/ Janssen Rising Star Translational Research Award for her work examining novel molecular therapeutic targeting in vulnerable neuron populations in depression. This award funds research toward novel therapies for psychiatric illness with the objective to advance the translation of scientific knowledge of underlying psychiatric disease mechanisms.
Dr. Lobo obtained her PhD Degree in Neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her doctoral work involved pioneering a new methodology to isolate the two main striatal projection neuron subtypes for gene expression profiling and uncovered many new genes enriched in these two neuron subtypes. Her Postdoctoral studies were performed at University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, TX and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, NY. She built upon her scientific foundations in striatal circuit genetics and function to continue studying these circuits in drug addiction. Her work demonstrated distinct molecular and functional roles in the two ventral striatal (nucleus accumbens- NAc) projection neurons in the rewarding effects of cocaine and morphine. Her lab continues to study these neuron subtypes and their circuitry in addiction, depression, and stereotypy disorders.
For years, scientists have known that mitochondria—the power source of cells—play a role in brain disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and stress responses. But recently scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) have identified significant mitochondrial changes in brain cells that take place in cocaine addiction, and they have been able to block them.
Globally, depression affects more than 300 million people annually. Nearly 800,000 die from suicide every year – it is the second-leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 to 29. Beyond that, depression destroys quality for life for tens of millions of patients and their families. Although environmental factors play a role in many cases of depression, genetics are also crucially important.