Firefly Frontiers Grant Winners

The June 2013 Firefly Frontiers Grant winners have been announced! The Firefly Frontiers Grant is an opportunity for researchers to work closely with the Firefly BioWorks team and use the Firefly™ microRNA Assay to scale their microRNA research from discovery to validation. The Firefly™ microRNA Assay is a cost-effective multiplexed assay that allows up to 68 user-selected microRNA targets to be analyzed simultaneously across a 96-well plate of samples.

Firefly BioWorks will continue to profile the winning applications in the coming months.

Christopher J. Cheng, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow working jointly in the Slack, Engelman, and Saltzman Labs in the MCDB, MB&B and Biomedical Engineering Departments at Yale University. Chris studies a process called "oncomiR addiction" where tumors are initiated by, and become dependent upon, the continued expression and activity of a specific microRNA. He will use the Firefly Frontiers Grant to examine alterations in miRNA expression during tumor induction and regression in lymphoma using transgenic knock-in mouse models.

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Samarjit (Sam) Das, PhD, is a research associate at the Department of Pathology at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Das’ Frontiers Grant will be used to explore the use of circulating microRNAs as a diagnostic signature for diabetes.

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Kevin Elias, MD, is a Clinical Fellow in Gynecologic Oncology and Critical Care Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. Elias will use his Firefly Frontiers grant to identify changes in miRNA expression induced by the surgical stress of exploratory laparotomy in ovarian cancer patients and to predict miRNA targets to improve outcomes for ovarian cancer therapy.

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Elena Flowers, RN, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiological Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco. Prof. Flowers received her nursing credential in 2004 and went on to pursue a career in research investigating genetic and lifestyle factors that influence chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

In her most recent study, supported by the Firefly Frontiers grant, Prof. Flowers will examine how microRNA expression levels differ between individuals with and without insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, and how these levels may predict treatment response.

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Dr. Matthias Hackl is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biotechnology at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria. Dr. Hackl completed his doctoral thesis in 2012 on microRNAs in CHO cell culture technology. According to Dr. Hackl, CHO cells are a critical cell line in the production of biological therapeutics, and microRNAs are promising targets for genetic improvement and characterization of this cell line.

Dr. Hackl’s Firefly Frontiers grant will fund research to identify microRNAs that can be used as control parameters in large-scale modern bioprocesses.

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Ciria C. Hernandez, MD, PhD, is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Hernandez will use her Firefly Frontiers grant to identify changes in expression levels of brain-specific miRNAs as novel elements that participate in the onset of epilepsy and as therapeutic targets. 

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Andrew Hoss is a graduate student in the Genetics and Genomics department at the Boston University Medical Center working with Dr. Richard H. Myers. Mr. Hoss will use his Firefly Frontiers Grant to study the regulatory effects of microRNAs on both the age of onset and neuronal degradation patterns in Huntington's Disease with the goal of deciphering critical pathways.

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Kevin Kim, PhD, is a research fellow in the Perrimon lab at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Kim is interested in understanding the function of microRNAs in angiogenesis in order to prevent tumor blood vessel formation and enhance circulation to ischemic tissues. Dr. Kim will use his Firefly Frontiers Grant to screen for microRNAs that act as feedback modulators in signaling networks.

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Maureen E. Lane, PhD, is an Assistant Professor and the Director of the Clinical Translational Core Laboratory within the division of Hematology and Medical Oncology and The Leukemia Biorepository and Personalized Medicine Center at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University. Her passion is to improve cancer treatment by developing and validating targeted treatment combinations and identifying circulating biomarkers of response and resistance to targeted treatment. She will use her Firefly Frontiers Grant to identify novel markers of early lung cancer that will lead to efficacious targets for non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis and treatment.

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Steve McClellan is manager of the Flow Cytometry and Imaging Core Lab of the Mitchell Cancer Institute at the University of South Alabama. Mr. McClellan’s research interests include cancer stem cell isolation and culture, targeted cancer stem cell therapies, and high throughput screening of cancer stem cells. The Firefly Frontiers grant will support Mr. McClellan’s research on cancer stem cell monitoring in cell culture.

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Dr. Sukhinder Sandhu, PhD, was a post doctoral fellow with Dr. Carlo Croce at The Ohio State University Medical Center. In Dr. Croce’s lab, Dr. Sandhu studied role of microRNAs (miRs) in cancers, mainly B cell lymphomas. She used her Firefly Frontiers Grant to characterize the genetic profile and heterogeneity of tumors caused by overexpression of the miR-17-92 microRNA cluster. Dr. Sandhu is now a Scientist at Swift BioSciences. Ann Arbor, MI.

Check out the publication from this work in PNAS here.

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Charles R. Vanderburg, PhD (Chuck) is Director of the Advanced Tissue Resource Center at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease.

Dr. Vanderburg has published on a wide range of neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, autism, and bipolar disorder. His current research focus is on the microgenomic and microproteomic profiling of human neuropathological tissue specimens and their derivatives, including microRNAs and exosomes. With a focus on developing artifact-control methodologies for such specimens, his lab is actively investigating novel bioinformatic strategies and technologies.

Dr. Vanderburg's Firefly Frontiers Grant project will focus on the profiling of microRNAs as biomarkers of neurodegenerative disorders.

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