Bankoti and Tsai win 2013 Malaniak Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research

The 6th annual Malaniak Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research was presented Jan. 30 to Cedars-Sinai researchers Rashmi Bankoti, PhD, and Yu-Chun Tsai, PhD, in a ceremony in Harvey Morse Auditorium. The winners each received an award plaque, a certificate and a $3,000 cash prize.

An expert panel, chaired by Brian Kan, MD, Clinical and Translational Science Institute research subject advocate, received seven submissions for the award, which is designed to encourage basic and laboratory-based translational research by postdoctoral researchers and fellows. The four finalists, who were selected to present their work at the ceremony, were:

  • Bankoti, "Blimp-1 Contributes to Regulatory T Cell Phenotypic Identity by Repressing the Production of Inflammatory Cytokines";
  • Tsai, "Ocular Changes in a Rat Model of Alzheimer’s Disease";
  • Angelo Torrente, PhD, "Sino-Atrial Node Pacemaker Activity in Atrial-Specific Sodium Calcium Exchange Knockout Mice";
  • Jessica Sims, PhD, "Treating Trastuzumab - Resistant HER2 HER3 -Targeted Nanoparticle."

The panel judged each finalist on scientific content, originality and clarity of oral presentation, and then made its decision on the winners.

Bankoti is a postdoctoral researcher in the Martins laboratory at the Cedars-Sinai F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute. Her winning study focused on the role of B-lymphocyte induced maturation protein-1 (Blimp-1) in controlling the behavior of specific subsets of T lymphocytes, which play crucial roles in chronic inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).

Mice engineered without Blimp-1 in their T cells spontaneously developed intestinal inflammation that resembled human inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Bankoti found that the lack of Blimp-1 in the T cells results in the alteration of pathways that control the expression of inflammatory genes which expression is usually associated with development of IBD, indicating that Blimp-1 may help prevent chronic inflammatory conditions. This observation is in line with recent data that show an association between certain variations of the PRDM1 gene, which encodes Blimp-1, and development of chronic inflammatory conditions such as IBD, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematous.

By understanding how Blimp-1 may help prevent these diseases, researchers may be able to find new approaches to treat these and other chronic inflammatory conditions.

In her winning submission, Tsai and her team investigated changes in the choroid (vascular membrane) and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) in the eyes of rats that were engineered to model Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia, which gradually gets worse over time.

The team found that, as compared with age-matched controls, the engineered rats had less visual acuity and contrast sensitivity and a thinner ocular choroidal plexus. Hypertrophic RPE cells also were observed more frequently in the engineered rats. Their retinas displayed other typical features of Alzheimer’s pathology, including amyloid beta plaque depositions and recruitment of macrophages and activation of complement.

Tsai’s studies suggest that non-invasive eye examinations may provide critical information to help detect Alzheimer’s and aid in early intervention.

The next Malaniak Award program will be in January 2014. Other upcoming awards include the Clinical Fellows Research Award on May 16 and the Rubenstein Prize for Excellence in Resident Research on June 5. For more information about these awards, please contact Kan at