Three PhD candidates receive 2011 Vertex Scholarships

The School of Medicine has awarded its 2011 Vertex Scholars Scholarships to three exceptional PhD candidates: Sushma Kommineni , Jenna Ramaker, and Jean Summerton. The scholarship pays for their stipend for a year and also provides funds to travel to a conference, and to travel to one of the Vertex facilities. Scholars also meet with visiting Vertex Pharmaceuticals Scientists once a year on ‘Vertex Day’ when scholars have the opportunity to present their research and engage in conversations with scientists in industry. These provide students with a valuable opportunity to learn about research career options outside of academia and have their research discussed by scholars outside their own research field.

“These student scholars were chosen based upon academic excellence and demonstrated commitment to scientific research,” said Allison Fryer, PhD, Professor, Department of Medicine and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. Vertex originally set up the OHSU Scholarship for a finite period of time and over the past 3 years funded 11 scholars. Impressed with the outstanding quality of our graduate students, Vertex recently agreed to continue funding Scholars at OHSU indefinitely, and expanded the scholarship to include travel funds. Our three new scholars are the first to have additional travel funds included in their scholarship, and each will be invited to a Vertex facility to spend a few days interacting with scientists there.

To be eligible for the Vertex scholarship, students must have passed the qualifying exam and advanced to candidacy in a PhD program at the OHSU School of Medicine; and be considered by school faculty to be an exceptional student who exhibits a potential for excellence. The final selections are made by an Awards Committee composed of selected members of the School of Medicine Graduate Faculty.































sushmaSushma Kommineni
Sushma is a 3rd year graduate student in the Division of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems. She works in the Nakano lab, which focuses on Anearobic gene regulation in gram positive bacteria, Bacillus subtilis. The goal of her research is to elucidate the mechanism of the nitric-oxide sensitive NsrR repressor that controls anaerobic gene regulation.

“My research excites me always by elevating my curiosity to know how complex the gene regulation is built in a very simple unicellular organism like bacteria,” said Sushma. The genetic approaches in which Sushma is trained in Dr.Nakano's lab helps her to understand the operation of signalling pathways and proteins, which in-turn inspired her to know more about the inside details of sensing, adaptation and survival mechanism of bacteria in response to different environmental conditions.

“Apart from my focus on the research, I would like to contribute her time to community services and for social causes,” she said.

jenna Jenna Ramaker
Jenna is a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program. Working in the Copenhaver lab, her research is focused on the physiological role of the Amyloid Precursor Protein, which is the precursor to the amyloid fragments that accumulate in Alzheimer’s disease. Her lab uses the Manduca Sexta embryo as well as Drosophila to investigate the role of this protein in neuronal migration.

“This research is particularly interesting to me because Alzheimer’s disease is so prevalent, yet so little is known about the basic biology of the proteins involved,” said Jenna. Investigating the role of this protein in neurodevelopment has the potential to add understanding to the causes of this devastating disease.

Jenna’s research has supported the provocative hypothesis that the Amyloid Precursor Protein functions as a G protein-associated receptor, an interaction appropriate for regulating neuronal migration and potentially disrupted in Alzheimer’s Disease. “I have presented these findings at the Annual Society for Neuroscience Meetings, the NW Developmental Meetings, and OHSU’s Student Research Forum” she said.

Jean Summerton
Jean is a 4th year PMCB (Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology) graduate student in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department. She conducts her research in the Chapman Lab, utilizing computers with experimental work to understand how enzymes drive chemical reactions. Her lab has identified and characterized one of the missing factors in the reactions of high energy molecules that provide energy to the heart and other cells. “These details are needed to understand how genetic defects can affect reactions critical to normal heart and nerve function,” said Jean. “It lays the foundation for diagnostic tests and markers for enzyme function and potentially for therapies to restore normal function.”

Jean says it’s important to become familiar with a number of different experimental techniques, even if she doesn’t specialize in them, because it allows her to come at problems from different perspectives.

“The techniques that I will have learned in my PhD are applicable to a wide array of research,” she said. “I want to eventually go into the field of drug discovery and the time I have spent in a basic science lab will provide me with a good foundation for that career."