Research Day Draws Record Posters, Big Crowd

Postdoctoral scientist Uthra Rajamani, PhD, looks over the Research Day poster of project scientist Robert J. Barrett, PhD, right.

Cedars-Sinai Research Day VI, celebrating the institution's scientific endeavors, drew a record 145 research posters and a crowd of more than 250 to Harvey Morse Auditorium, where keynote speaker James Spudich, PhD, outlined his decades-long quest to understand the molecular engines of muscle motion.

Visiting the campus for the first time, Spudich, professor of biochemistry at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California, expressed admiration for Cedars-Sinai's "really excellent academic enterprise." He added: "I've made many important connections here this morning."

Connecting with other scientists is a key goal of the annual gathering, according to Helen Goodridge, PhD, a research scientist at the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute who helped organize the Feb. 6 event.

"Today, we are celebrating the research that happens here at Cedars-Sinai," Goodridge, an assistant professor of medicine and biomedical sciences, said in opening remarks. "We hope there is an opportunity to establish collaborations."

In his speech, Spudich traced the long road that led to his co-winning the renowned Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 2012. The award honors scientists whose investigations have contributed to the elimination of major causes of disability and death. Spudich's prize-winning discoveries involved cytoskeletal motor proteins.

A major focus for Spudich has been the role of one motor protein family, myosin, in the contraction of cells that make the heart beat. He hopes his research will help explain how certain genetic mutations may cause cardiomyopathy, a category of sometimes fatal cardiac diseases in which the heart muscle is enlarged or thicker and more rigid than normal. One type, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, is the most common genetic heart disease in the U.S., affecting an estimated 1 in 500 people, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Keynote speaker James Spudich, PhD

In the 1980s, Spudich and Stanford colleague Stephen Kron developed a novel assay to demonstrate how cardiac myosin works its magic. Using fluorescent tagging, the assay showed that cardiac myosin interacts with another protein, actin, causing the two proteins, which are in the form of filaments, to slide past each other. The effect is to shorten a muscular structure known as the sarcomere, causing the muscle to contract and produce the heartbeat.

Beatrice Knudsen, MD, PhD, left, medical director of the Cedars-Sinai Biobank and Translational Research Core and director of translational pathology, at the poster session with postdoctoral scientist Benjamin Bakondi, PhD.

Spudich's laboratory further elucidated this process by devising a "laser trap" in the 1990s to capture the effect of a single myosin molecule on an actin filament. In recent years, he has pinpointed the region of the myosin molecule that is critical to movement.

Relating his basic research to cardiomyopathy, Spudich is currently exploring how mutations in myosin found in cardiomyopathy patients may alter the protein molecule's interaction with actin to produce abnormal heartbeats. Enough is known to provide hope that clinical applications of this research may become available in the future, he suggested. "One can already be pursuing potential new small molecule therapies for these deadly familial cardiac diseases," he said.

The poster session that followed Spudich's address covered a diversity of topics, including heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer and depression. "It gives a wonderful view of the spectrum of research being done at Cedars-Sinai," said Leon G. Fine, MD, vice dean of research and graduate research education, chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and professor of medicine. He called Research Day "an annual milestone."

Nidhi Kapoor, PhD, project scientist in the laboratory of Joshua Goldhaber, MD, director of basic research at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, who had a poster at the session, said she learned more about mitochondria and proteomics by perusing posters of her Cedars-Sinai colleagues. "Research Day stimulates your intellect," she said. "It gets you outside of your little box."

Three prizes were awarded for the best research posters:

  • First prize ($175) – Stacy Weitsman, MS, research program coordinator, for "Autoimmunity to vinculin in humans may be important in the pathophysiology of IBS," from the laboratory of Mark Pimentel, MD, director of the Cedars-Sinai GI Motility Program and GI Motility Laboratory.
  • Second prize ($150) – Project scientist Ning Xu, MD, PhD, for "Alterations in genome-wide DNA methylation profiling in first trimester chorionic villi from pregnancies conceived with in vitro fertilization," from the laboratory of Margareta D. Pisarska, MD, director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility and the Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center at Cedars-Sinai.
  • Third prize ($150) – Postdoctoral scientist Jie-Fu Chen, MD, for "Sub-classification of prostate cancer circulating tumor cells (CTCs) by nuclear size reveals very small nuclear CTCs in patients with visceral metastases," from the laboratory of Edwin Posadas, MD, medical director of the Urologic Oncology Program.