Miller School Postdoctoral Fellows Research Day Gains Momentum

A vast array of the Miller School’s research projects by a record-breaking 46 postdoctoral fellows – a 35 percent increase from last year’s turnout – were on display September 18 at the annual Postdoctoral Fellows Research Day.

The event, which marked the end of Postdoctoral Appreciation Week, brought dozens of staffers and students to the courtyard outside the Lois Pope LIFE Center to peruse posters and connect with researchers from other departments. Nearly 50 faculty members served as judges for the poster competition.

“I participated in the Annual Postdoctoral Fellows Research Day because I wanted to share my results with UM colleagues and receive feedback from experts in different fields,” said Joana Almaca, Ph.D., a postdoc in the lab of Per-Olof Berggren, Ph.D., adjunct professor of surgery, who won first place in the poster competition for her research on Imaging of Insulin Exocytosis in Human Pancreatic Islets. “Although it is an honor to win, most of all, it was very motivating.”

Almaca, who for this project was mentored and supervised by Alejandro Caicedo, Ph.D., research associate professor of medicine and an expert in the physiology of human islet cells, says figuring out how insulin is released from beta cells is crucial to understanding diabetes. She hopes her research will help develop new therapeutic targets to improve insulin secretion and is currently developing a method to visualize insulin exocytosis from single beta cells in real time.

“I was excited to show my data to UM professors and colleagues and receive feedback from people in the field,” said Danusa Menegaz, Ph.D., another postdoc in Caicedo’s lab, who won second place for her research Coordination of Insulin Secretion In Pancreatic Islets By Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid is Disrupted In Diabetes. “I’ve got many good ideas that will help continue my work.”

In her research, Menegaz demonstrated for the first time that GABA secretion is pulsatile, just like human pancreatic hormone secretions. In people with type 2 diabetes, insulin secretion no longer pulsates, which contributes to insulin resistance. Since GABA coordinates insulin secretion and is disrupted in type 2 diabetes, she concluded that disrupted GABA signaling leads to irregular insulin secretion.

Andrew Darr, Ph.D., postdoc in the lab of Pantelis Tsoulfas, Ph.D., associate professor of neurological surgery and cell biology, won third place for his research Members of a Unique Class of Zinc-finger Transcription Factors Play Essential Roles in Development of the Vertebrate CNS.

“The annual Postdoctoral Fellows Research Day was a great opportunity, not only to present my own work and receive invaluable feedback, but to learn about all the great science that other postdocs at UM are working on as well,” Darr said.

The event was organized by the Postdoctoral Programs Office under the leadership of Wasif N. Khan, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology and Director of Postdoctoral Programs, and Zafar Nawaz, Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, who organized the poster session and planned a social event for the same day.

“The purpose of the event was to celebrate and appreciate the important research contributions our postdocs make to the success of various research projects at the University of Miami,” said Khan. “The event also allowed postdocs to initiate interdisciplinary collaborations, which will lead to publication of research in high impact journals and help raise the stature of UM among academic research institutes nationally.”

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