Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute announces medical research scholar awards

Medical Research Scholars for 2014

By David Hungate


Tina Li, Carly Winton, Sharon George, Katherine Degen, and Aboozar Monavarfeshani are the 2014 Medical Research Scholars. _(Not pictured: Vanessa Brown)_

Six doctoral students conducting research in laboratories at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute were recently named as medical research scholars. They will each receive a fellowship to support their research for the 2014–15 academic year.

“It was a difficult evaluation and selection process,” said Michael Friedlander, the institute’s executive director. “There were more qualified candidates than award support.”

The students include Vanessa Brown, who holds a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota. Brown is earning her doctorate in psychology, and she studies the neurological underpinnings of reward and punishment learning in people who suffer from major depression. She works with Pearl Chiu, an assistant professor at the institute and an assistant professor of psychology in Virginia Tech’s College of Science.

Katherine Degen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering from the University of Virginia, is working toward a doctorate degree at the Virginia Tech–Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. She studies tissue scarring and repair in breast reconstruction in the laboratory of Robert Gourdie, a professor at the institute, director of the institute’s Center for Heart and Regenerative Medicine Research, and a professor in the Virginia Tech–Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

Sharon George holds a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Anna University in Chennai, India. She is also a doctoral student at the Virginia Tech–Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. George researches cardiac arrhythmias and potential therapies in Steven Poelzing’s laboratory. Poelzing is an associate professor at the institute and in the Virginia Tech–Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

Tina Li, who holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Hebei University of Science and Technology in China, is researching how to develop diagnostic and therapeutic uses for metallofullerene agents – chemical cages capable of transporting medicine directly to sick cells without damaging healthy ones. She is earning her doctorate in chemistry under Harry Dorn, a professor at the institute and a professor of chemistry at the College of Science at Virginia Tech.

Aboozar Monavarfeshani earned a master’s degree in molecular biology from the University of Tehran in Iran. He is now working toward a doctorate in biological sciences with research into how nerves from the eye learn where to form and how to mature in the brain. He works with Michael Fox, an associate professor at the institute and an associate professor of biological sciences in Virginia Tech’s College of Science.

Carly Winton earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. She is now a doctoral student at the Virginia Tech–Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, studying how the BRCA1 gene deregulates its cellular replication and how DNA damage is repaired in breast cancer. She works with Deborah Kelly, an assistant professor at the institute and an assistant professor of biological sciences in Virginia Tech’s College of Science.

Each scholar participates in the seminars held at the institute, and they contribute to a journal club run through the institute. The students act as ambassadors for the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and will continue to do so as they progress in their careers.

“These students are all accomplished researchers. All of them have published – or are in the process of publishing – scholarly papers,” Friedlander said. “We’re proud to call them Medical Research Scholars at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. The institute, the community, and their future colleagues and society will all reap the rewards of their scientific contributions.”

Written by Ashley WennersHerron