Past Science Friday Talks


Become a Public Health Hero: Gateway to an Exciting Career in the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS)

Dr. Rena Fukunaga, Epidemic Intelligence Officer, Field Support Branch, Division of Reproductive Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the nation’s public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has long been known for its Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers, also known as disease detectives. When disease outbreaks or other threats emerge, officers are on the scene providing rapid, creative and effective solutions to public health problems. EIS officers support more than 100 public health investigations each year in the U.S. and worldwide. 

EIS officers are comprised of physicians, veterinarians, doctoral scientists and other health professionals, who learn to apply epidemiology to solve public health problems through a two-year, on-the-job training and service fellowship. As an EIS officer, you can make a difference by serving on the front lines of public health. Come learn more about how to make EIS your gateway to an exciting and rewarding career in public health.

Dr. Fukunaga is an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer on the Global Reproductive Health Evidence for Action Team (GREAT) in the Division of Reproductive Health at the CDC. Dr. Fukunaga holds a dual-PhD degree in Neuroscience and Clinical Science from Indiana University and a Master’s degree in East Asian Studies from the University of Michigan. 

She completed her psychology internship at the University of Washington School of Medicine and subsequently worked as a research postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School. Prior to joining EIS, Dr. Fukunaga’s research focused on examining the underlying neural correlates of cognitive control, specifically identifying the brain regions involved in risk/reward processing using neuroeconomic paradigms in both healthy and clinical populations. After a decade of conducting neuroimaging research, Dr. Fukunaga began a new career at the CDC by learning to apply the science of epidemiology (e.g. surveillance methods) to solve public health problems. 

As the EIS officer for the GREAT team, Dr. Fukunaga designs, conducts, monitors and evaluates programs and studies in global maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) in international settings with the aims to reduce child and maternal mortality, improve maternal health and progress toward sustainable development goals. Dr. Fukunaga is excited to share her own life-changing career experiences since joining the CDC and in the process hopes to encourage you to consider joining EIS and become a public health hero! 

Tissues in Motion: The Dynamics of Early Cardiac Morphogenesis

Brenda Rongish, PhD, Associate Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology, KU Medical Center, Kansas City, Mo., Associate Director of the MDPHD Physician Scientist Training Program

The focus of her current research is early avian cardiovascular morphogenesis. Her group uses time-lapse imaging and cell/ECM labeling approaches to follow cardiac progenitor cells (myocardial and endocardial) through space and over time to determine how their behavior and motility influence formation of the tubular heart at pre-circulation stages.
She is also interested in the relative roles of migration versus collective cellular (tissue) motion in cardiac development. One area of current investigation relates to the role of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) signaling during cardiovascular development. Gross cardiac phenotypes result from experimental manipulation of VEGF signaling, and indicate the importance of VEGF in both myocardial and endocardial tube formation.
Circulation stage defects have been observed following perturbed VEGF signaling, which are similar to those observed in humans. A recent focus is on the role of scaRNAs in cardiovascular morphogenesis, through a collaboration with Dr. Doug Bittel at CMH. scaRNAs are a subset of small nucleolar RNAs that are essential for the biochemical modification and maturation of small nuclear RNAs (spliceosomal RNAs).
scaRNAs appear to have a role in spliceosomal stability and function and there is a relationship between altered scaRNAs and the congenital heart defect, Tetralogy of Fallot. The quail embryo serves as a model in which to knockdown scaRNAs and observe dynamic changes in cellular behavior, tissue formation and organogenesis.

The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases: What Can You And I Do About It?

Dr. Marco Brotto, George W. and Hazel M. Jay Endowed Professor, Director of Bone-Muscle Collaborative Sciences, Director of the PhD in Nursing Program in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington

In 2012, Burden of Disease Report by the World Health Organization revealed that 1.7 billion humans suffer from musculoskeletal (MSK) diseases. In the U.S. alone, 54 percent of people older than 18 years suffer from at least one MSK condition. One in three older adults falls every year in the U.S. alone.

Costs of osteoporosis and sarcopenia are in the hundreds of billions of dollars and the health and social consequences are astounding; in our country alone, the cost of MSKs is close to one trillion dollars.

Therefore, our goal is to combine state-of-the-art complementary approaches ranging from basic to translational and clinical to contribute with both new mechanistic insights into MSK diseases, but also with new ways to diagnose and treat these devastating conditions.

What else can we do? What could you as medical and masters students be doing? What can us as citizens be doing to improve these scenarios? Are we just part of the problem or agents of solutions.

Prions Propagate Innate Immune Signaling

Dr. Randal Halfman, Assistant Investigator, Stowers Institute for Medical Research

Dr. Halfmann discussed recent developments in the field of prions (protein-based genetic elements), including recent work from his lab identifying essential roles for functional prions in human inflammatory signaling.

Glucocorticoids in the Prenatal Brain: Friend or Foe?

Dr. Paula Monaghan-Nichols, Associate Dean for Research, Professor Biomedical Sciences, UMKC School of Medicine

Pre-term labor is a significant health concern occurring in approximately 12% of pregnancies. Fortunately, the life threatening, emotional and economic burdens of premature birth have been greatly alleviated by antenatal treatment with synthetic glucocorticoids (sGCs).

While antenatal sGCs reduce respiratory distress syndrome, intraventricular hemorrhage and necrotizing enterocolitis in premature infants, they can affect developmental processes in the brain and trigger adverse behavioral and metabolic outcomes later in life. Furthermore, there are significant sex and racial differences in morbidity and mortality in response to antenatal sGCs that remain unexplained, suggesting that for some infants, exposure is substandard while in others there may be overexposure.

Therefore, there is an unmet clinical need to understand the mechanistic basis for sex- and race-specific effects of sGCs on the fetal brain and develop newer antenatal sGC therapies to reduce their potential adverse neurodevelopmental effects.

We have examined the consequences of prenatal GC exposure on the developing mouse brain. Our approach includes molecular and behavioral studies, genome wide assessment of GR target genes and histological analysis of cerebral cortical development in a unique knock-in mouse model.

This talk outlined the anatomical, molecular, biochemical and behavioral alterations that result from prenatal GC exposure. We have identified a novel GC pathway that impacts proliferation of embryonic neural stem/progenitor cells and propose to use these findings to determine if they identify a genetic fingerprint for disease susceptibility in humans.

Stress-caused Mess in Aged Hearts

Dr. Xun Ai, Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biophysics and Physiology, Rush University Medical Center

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common sustained arrhythmia and a major public health problem that currently lacks adequate therapies. AF increases morbidity and mortality, in part by raising heart failure and stroke propensity. Advanced age is the major risk factor for AF. Consequently, the burden of AF is growing exponentially as the mean age of many populations around the world increases.
By using systematic electrophysiological and biochemical approaches, we recently discovered and reported for the first time that activated JNK is critical in AF development in the aged heart. Results of our research have filled this important knowledge gap by identifying stress- response JNK as an important regulator in age-related AF genesis.
Currently, we are further delineating the electrophysiological and molecular mechanism underlying JNK2 control of the CaMKII-AF relationship and explore the translation of this new target into potential clinical applications.

MiR-290 Cluster is an Effective Oct4 Substitute for Reprogramming Skeletal Myoblasts

Dr. Yi‐Gang Wang, Director, Regenerative Medicine Research; Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Cincinnati

Talk Summary - Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have emerged as a promising resource for autologous cell-based treatments. However, widespread clinical applications are still limited by the source of somatic cells and low reprogramming efficiency. Skeletal myoblasts (SkM) have arisen as an ideal candidate somatic cell for reprogramming due to its inherited myogenic properties and the associated expression pattern of endogenous pluripotent gene programming.

Reprogramming of SkMs through introduction of the miR-290 cluster is an efficient means of promoting iPS cell production. Moreover, this miRNA cluster can replace the reprogramming master gene Oct4 to initiate somatic cell reprogramming. These results demonstrate that both miR-291a-5p and miR-291b-5p can directly target Pax7 (a myogenic marker) to enhance the iPSC generation.

Given the two roles of this miRNA cluster in somatic cell reprogramming and iPS cell pre-differentiation, the miR-290-295 derived SiPSC could be an important regulator to manipulate cardiomyocyte generation. These discoveries will facilitate elucidation of the molecular mechanisms that underlie the reprogramming process and has potential therapeutic use in the fields of biomedical research and regenerative medicine.

TDP-43: A Potential Blood-based Biomarker for Neurodegenerative Disease

Dr. Abdulbaki Agbas, Associate Professor, Division of Basic Sciences, KCU

It is estimated that about 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The estimated national tab for caring for individuals with AD will reach to $1.3 trillion by 2030. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease calls for preventing and effectively treating AD by 2025.

The only available diagnosis is through clinical testing and FDA-approved brain scans. It is essential to develop an effective biomarker that is easy to analyze, safe and less invasive to the patients, and affordable. The earlier an accurate diagnosis of "probable" AD is made, the easier it is to manage symptoms and plan for the future.

Testing for disease modifying therapies will require proven biomarker to test for appropriate population. Current biomarkers are invasive, costly, and unproven. We have a proof of concept that a platelet-derived biomarker can distinguish AD from control and other neurodegenerative disease that can be developed for community testing.

A Journey of Discovery and Development in Cancer Therapeutics and Prevention

Dr. Jonathan White, Principal Investigator, MRIGlobal

Research in drug discovery and development is being pursued to increase throughput, decrease cost and develop medicine that demonstrates better efficacy, with greater safety margins.

Work in our lab, and at MRIGlobal, is being performed in pursuit of this goal and it covers a broad spectrum of discovery and developmental areas ranging from early discovery to preclinical investigations and onward through support of early phase clinical trials.

The TGF-beta Pathway Mediates Vascular Damage by Doxorubicin

Dr. Eugene Konorev, Associate Professor, Division of Basic Sciences, Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences

Recent advances in anticancer therapy improved the prognosis and survival of cancer patients. Many anticancer drugs however exhibit serious cardiovascular complications. This talk focuses on doxorubicin, an anticancer anthracycline antibiotic that is known to cause cardiomyopathy in treated patients.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Gene Therapy

Dr. Dongsheng Duan, Margaret Proctor Mulligan Professor in Medical Research, Molecular Microbiology & Immunology-University of Missouri School of Medicine, Columbia, MO

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is the most common lethal muscle disease. DMD is caused by dystrophin deficiency. Restoration of dystrophin expression will address the fundamental problem in DMD. In this seminar, Dr. Duan will discuss the latest development in DMD gene therapy, in particular, novel adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated micro- and mini-dystrophin therapy in rodent and large animal models.


Exploring Vitamin D/Vitamin D Receptor and Microbiota in Chronic Inflammation: Push the Envelope

Dr. Jun Sun, Tenured Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr. Sun discussed non-classical functions of vitamin D and VDR as well as her recent findings on VDR regulation of microbiome and innate immunity in the context of health and inflammation. She addressed mechanistic concepts that underlie inflammation and cancer; and the potential therapeutic strategies to manipulate microbiota in IBD and cancer.

Contributions of Mitochondrial Polymorphisms to Cancer Metastasis

Danny Welch, PhD, Associate Director of Basic Sciences, University of Kansas Cancer Center; Founding Director of the Department of Cancer Biology and Director for National Foundation for Cancer Research Center for Metastasis Research, The University of Kansas Medical Center; Chair and professor of Cancer Biology, The University of Kansas School of Medicine; Kansas Bioscience Authority Eminent Scholar

The focus of Dr. Welch’s research is on the science of tumor progression and the regulation of cancer metastasis. His lab has developed and characterized many widely used metastasis models, discovering six of the 30 known metastasis suppressors. Dr. Welch presented published and unpublished data showing how polymorphisms in mitochondrial DNA exert pro- and anti-metastatic effects on tumor cells.

Imaging Brain Function and Metabolism In Vivo

In-Young Choi,PhD, Associate Professor of Neurology and Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology and Director of Magnetic Resonance Science, Hoglund Brain Imaging Center at University of Kansas Medical Center

Dr. Choi's research focuses on the identification of quantitative, objective biomarkers of aging and a variety of neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, stroke, and Alzheimer disease, primarily utilizing advanced noninvasive in vivo magnetic resonance techniques that her team has developed.

Testing Tularemia Countermeasures

Dr. Carl Gelhaus, Director of Bacterial Programs at MRIGlobal

F. Tularnesis is a highly infectious bacteria of increased interest due to its potential to use a biological/bioterror weapon. Tularemia, the disease caused by F. tularensis, can result in severe morbidity and mortality. As such, therapeutics and vaccines are needed. Dr. Carl Gelhaus has developed well characterized animal models of tularemia which closely resemble human tularemia. Dr. Gelhaus is actively testing therapeutics and vaccines and presented a recent example.

Mitochondrial Permeability Transition Pore as a Therapeutic Target of Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Shirley ShiDu Yan, Howard Mossberg Distinguished Professor, University of Kansas—Lawrence, KS

Mitochondria dysfunction, one of the early pathological features in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), is directly links to synaptic injury and cognitive decline. The underlying mechanisms and strategies to rescue mitochondrial and synaptic injury remain largely unknown. Her study explores the role of cyclophilin D-dependent mPTP in amyloid beta (Aβ)-induced mitochondrial and synaptic perturbation relevant to the pathogenesis of AD.