Two PhD candidates receive 2012 Vertex Scholarships

The School of Medicine has awarded its 2012 Vertex Scholars Scholarships to two exceptional PhD candidates: Asako Itakura and Daniel Yaeger. This award will fund each student's stipend, fees, and research supplies for one year.

"As always, we had an exceptional list of candidates to choose from," said Allison Fryer, PhD, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. "Asako and Daniel are outstanding students who have demonstrated a commitment to scientific research."

The OHSU-Vertex Educational Partnership Program, established in 2007, offers $35,000 scholarships funded by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Mass. The program is an important unencumbered gift to the university and a huge honor for the students who win the awards.

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 faculty to be an exceptional student who exhibits a potential for scientific excellence. The final selections are made by an Awards Committee composed of selected members of the School of Medicine Graduate Faculty. Read about
past scholars.

Awards are effective July 1. The 2012 Awards Committee was chaired by Dr. Monica Hinds and included: Caroline Enns, Deb Finn, Holly Simon, Jackie Shannon, Tom Scanlan, Gary Thomas.


Scholarship Recipients

AsakoAsako Itakura
Mentor: Owen McCarty, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Cell & Developmental Biology

Asako is a
3rd year student in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology. She works in the Owen McCarty Lab, where her research is focused on the elucidation of blood cell biology and fluid dynamics under (patho) physiological conditions.

"My research goal is to identify the molecular and cellular events that mediate a bidirectional relationship between two defense mechanisms: inflammation and coagulation," she said. "In particular, my study is focused on the role of coagulation factor XI in regulation of inflammatory cells under thrombotic settings.

Asako hopes to translate her research discoveries into clinical practice. Her study may provide a rationale for development of therapeutic drugs that can limit both excessive activation of coagulation and dysregulation of inflammation. Successful therapies may regulate these two systems simultaneously leading to decreased clotting and less inflammation in sepsis.

After her PhD, she would like to be involved in the field of drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry. She plans to make a contribution to the prevention and treatment of human diseases.

Dan Yaeger

Mentor: Larry Trussell, PhD, Professor, Department of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery

Dan works in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology through the Program in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences. He is in his third year in the Lawrence Trussell Lab, which focuses on the synaptic and cellular physiology of neurons in brain regions involved in early auditory processing.

His research studies a part of the brain, the dorsal cochlear nucleus, that receives direct innervation from the auditory nerve as well as from nonauditory inputs."Exactly what these nonauditory inputs are doing in an auditory part of the brain is not understood," he said. "I study the cells and synapses that receive this nonauditory input and how the output of these cells is inhibited by other cell types and neuromodulators."

Dan finds synapses, the spaces between two nerve cells, interesting. "Every idea and perception that we have is thought to occur as a result of communication across synapses," he said. "What's exciting is that the output of synapses is not static, but is changed by the recent history of the synapse and of the cell.I am studying how short-term changes in synaptic function contribute to auditory processing."

After Dan gets his PhD, he plans to do a postdoc in a lab that extends and complements the training he has been getting in the Trussell Lab.Ultimately, he would like to have a career in which he can balance research and mentorship/teaching.