Three P&S Researchers Named 2013 Schaefer Scholars

Three P&S researchers—Francesca Bartolini, Qing Fan, and Julien Zuber—have been named 2013 Schaefer Research Scholars.

The Schaefer Research Scholars Program at P&S supports research scientists who focus on human physiology. The program has been made possible through a generous endowment from the Dr. Ludwig Schaefer Fund.

The 2013 Schaefer Research Scholars and their projects are:

Francesca Bartolini, PhD Assistant Professor of Clinical Pathology and Cell Biology Project: Regulation of microtubule stability by amyloid abeta peptide

In neurons affected by Alzheimer’s, an increase in the level of amyloid-beta peptide and amyloid plaques is accompanied by an increase in tangles composed of tau, a protein involved in the regulation of the neuronal microtubule cytoskeleton. Many researchers think that amyloid-beta peptides produce changes in tau that then lead to neuronal death. But the molecular pathways that connect amyloid-beta and tau have yet to be identified.

Bartolini hypothesizes that amyloid-beta overproduction induces changes in the stability and post-translational modifications of the microtubule cytoskeleton, which then trigger changes in tau leading to progressive cytoskeleton disruption. Unraveling the connections among amyloid-beta, tau, and the cytoskeleton may lead to ways to block the neurotoxic effects of amyloid and tau.

Bartolini has been at P&S since 2004, beginning as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Gregg Gunderson, PhD, professor of pathology & cell biology. She received her PhD from New York University.

Qing R. Fan, PhD Assistant Professor, Pharmacology and Pathology & Cell Biology Project: Structural studies of human extracellular calcium-sensing receptor

Uncovering the structures of the body’s molecules often aids in the design of drugs, but many important human molecules are difficult to reveal with x-ray crystallography. Fan recently developed methods to uncover important structures of a GABA receptor—which is involved in epilepsy and chronic pain—revealing how other molecules activate the receptor.

She is now applying these methods to a similar receptor, extracellular calcium sensing receptor (CaSR), which controls circulating calcium levels and the parathyroid hormone production.

Fan was appointed assistant professor at Columbia in 2007. Previously, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Wayne Hendrickson, PhD, University Professor, and at Harvard, where she earned her PhD in chemistry.

Julien Zuber, MD, PhD Associate Professor, Dept. of Renal Transplantation, Necker Hospital, Paris Visiting Scholar, Columbia Center for Translational Immunology

Graft rejection limits the long-term success of intestinal transplants, which have only a 50 percent success rate after five years. But when intestinal transplantation is accompanied by liver transplantation, rejection is significantly lower.

The large amount of lymphoid tissue contained in the small intestine may explain the difference in rejection rate, and during his time at Columbia, Zuber will examine this hypothesis in patients. His study should provide clues to new ways to prevent rejection of intestinal transplants.

Zuber received his medical degree from Paris Descartes University and was awarded a PhD degree in immunology from Pierre et Marie Curie University. A Fulbright Fellowship made it possible for Zuber to join the Columbia Center for Translational Immunology last year.