Graduate Research Symposium

Cedars-Sinai graduate student Hannah Park discusses her research poster at the Third Inter-Institutional Graduate Research Symposium. Park helped organize the Oct. 2 event.

More participants. More speakers. More networking. By nearly every metric, the Third Inter-Institutional Graduate Research Symposium at Cedars-Sinai on Oct. 2 reached new levels. But some of the best moments couldn't be quantified. Ask Hannah Park.

The day before the event, Park and fellow graduate students took visiting Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher David Sabatini, MD, PhD, the closing keynote speaker, out for ice cream in Westwood and paddle boarding in Marina del Rey.

"We get to know the speakers," said Park, a member of the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Student Association committee that organized the symposium. "It's nice to build a relationship." To that end, speakers for the first time were invited to the networking event that capped the conference, said student Tom Thomas, who led the committee.

There was plenty of science at the symposium, which provided a forum for students to share ideas and research and glean career advice. Besides two keynote speeches, the agenda included expert panels, two poster sessions and several student presentations. Awards were given for the best student research. (See the box on the bottom of this page.)

In opening remarks in Harvey Morse Auditorium, Shlomo Melmed, MD, Cedars-Sinai senior vice president of Academic Affairs, dean of the medical faculty and professor of Medicine, urged students to eschew "easy, facile" online data searches and instead seek out the original studies. "Set yourself a goal of medical literacy," he said. "Read the original articles and also those outside your field."

Students learned first-hand about groundbreaking science from Howard A. Fine, MD, director of the Brain Tumor Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. In his opening keynote address, Fine detailed his decade-long quest to solve a mystery involving glioblastoma, a highly malignant type of brain tumor that is usually fatal. Why weren't investigators able to find the infiltrating, tumor-initiating stem cells that actually killed patients?

Tipped off by a postdoctoral scientist on his team, Fine found the answer in the sampling method. Standard rodent models, when injected with cancerous cells grown in blood-serum media, failed to display the crucial stem cells. When Fine changed the media, the cells appeared. At last, they could be studied.

What Fine then discovered was sobering. Within the same patient sample, glioma stem cells varied wildly in their malignancy level and molecular pathways. "It was like they came from different patients," he said. He added that despite the challenges, he believes these cells eventually can be treatment targets. But first they must be better understood.

In that effort, Fine cited the significant contribution of Lincoln Edwards, PhD, project scientist in the Cedars-Sinai Department of Neurosurgery. As a postdoc working with Fine at the National Cancer Institute a few years ago, Edwards discovered the central role of TrkA, a type of tyrosine kinase receptor, in promoting glioma invasion. "We showed that this was a potential target for therapy for this type of brain cancer," Edwards said in an interview.

Sabatini, the closing keynoter, discussed his pioneering studies on the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) enzyme, which he has identified as one of the master regulators of growth signaling in cells. In recent work, he found amino-acid-sensing receptors that are crucial to mTOR functioning. Sabatini is a professor of biology at MIT, member of the MIT Whitehead Institute and investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

More than 100 people attended the all-day symposium, which was sponsored by the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Program in Biomedical Science and Translational Medicine. They represented 10 institutions, four more than last year: Cedars-Sinai; California Institute of Technology in Pasadena; California State University, Los Angeles; Cal Poly Pomona; City of Hope in Duarte, California; Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, California; Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla; the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla; UCLA; and University of California, Irvine.

"We're always looking to expand upon the scope and breadth of the symposium and reach more institutions," Thomas said.

Cedars-Sinai Shines in Poster and Presentation Contests

Two Cedars-Sinai graduate students, Aslam Akhtar and Marissa Paterson, tied for the top prize of $100 for best research poster at the Third Inter-Institutional Graduate Research Symposium at Cedars-Sinai on Oct. 2. Akhtar's study was on quiescent tumor cell populations, and Paterson's was on adaptive immune responses. The runner-ups were Wesley McKeithan, from Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, California, and Rebecca Miller, from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, who each received $50. More than 40 posters were displayed.

Janet Markman of Cedars-Sinai won the top prize of $100 for her research presentation, "Role of Innate Immunity and Gender in Melanoma Metastasis." She was one of four graduate students chosen to deliver 10-minutes talks about their studies.