New Award for Postdocs Encourages Innovative, Independent Research

By Robin Hindery

Patricia Calarco

UCSF’s Graduate Division has awarded its first-ever Postdoctoral Scholar Research Awards to three individuals whose projects explore the transport of drugs in and out of cells, the regions of the brain that control reading ability, and how songbirds learn to sing.

The winners — Mimi Kao, PhD, Jed Lampe, PhD, and Stephen M. Wilson, PhD — will each receive $5,000 to put toward their research expenses.

The Postdoctoral Scholar Research Award was created to allow the University’s postdocs the opportunity to pursue areas of research for which there is no current lab funding and to begin to establish their independence as researchers, said Graduate Division Dean Patricia Calarco, PhD.

“The hope is that, with the help of this award, postdocs will develop research that they can take with them when they eventually leave UCSF,” she said. “We are excited about recognizing new work that will help make the award recipients more competitive for academic and/or industrial positions.”

This year’s winning projects are:

Mimi Kao, Department of Physiology: “Contributions of the cerebellum to the production of learned vocalizations in songbirds.”

Like humans, songbirds learn to produce their vocalizations by hearing both other birds and themselves. Earlier research in humans has suggested a link between the brain’s cerebellum and vocal learning. By selectively inactivating certain areas within the cerebellum, Kao will investigate its role in both song learning and song production in songbirds.

Jed Lampe, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry: “Understanding ligand binding dynamics in the OCT1 drug transporter using 2D NMR with unnatural amino acids.”

Organic cation transporter 1 (OCT1) is an important drug transporter in the human body, but little is known about its structure and how it functions. Lampe will use nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging techniques to examine how OCT1 transports drugs in and out of human cells and how mutations in the transporter may affect those processes. This information could ultimately lead to the creation of safer and more effective medications, Lampe said.

Stephen M. Wilson, Memory and Aging Center: “Functional neuroimaging of lexical and sublexical processes in reading.”

The deterioration of reading ability can be an early warning sign of primary progressive aphasia, a rare neurological syndrome that impairs language ability. Wilson will use functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how primary progressive aphasia alters the brain regions associated with reading. A better understanding of these regions could enable earlier diagnosis of conditions characterized by abnormal reading function, Wilson said.

Applications for the UCSF Postdoctoral Scholar Research Award will be accepted twice a year. The next deadline is Nov. 1, 2009. Additional information and application forms can be found on the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs website.

Related Link:

UCSF Graduate Division