Graduate Student Researchers Honored at 2024 Marmur Symposium

Four Einstein graduate students were honored for their contributions to scientific research March 18 during the 28th annual Julius Marmur Award symposium. Einstein's Graduate Programs in the Biomedical Sciences present the award each year to a select group of Ph.D. students in recognition of their exceptional work.

The four scientists presented their work during an afternoon awards ceremony and reception, and past winners of the Marmur prize were featured afterward during a virtual career panel.

“We applaud the remarkable scientific achievements of these amazing students,” said Victoria Freedman, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate programs in biomedical sciences. “To be chosen for this award is truly a distinctive honor.” The prize was established in memory of pioneering molecular biologist Julius Marmur, Ph.D., who developed the first method to isolate highly purified and high-quality DNA. He was a member of Einstein’s faculty for 33 years until his death in 1996. “Dr. Marmur was an exceptional mentor who brought 20th century understanding of molecular biology to students, and he always encouraged us to aim for the highest scientific goals,” Dr. Freedman said.

As special guests this year, Dr. Marmur’s widow, Mildred Marmur, attended the awards ceremony in Robbins Auditorium along with their son, Nathaniel Marmur, and granddaughter, Ellery Marmur.

2024 Marmur Awardees

This year’s winners and their mentors are:

  • Sarah Aminov, Ph.D. candidate; mentor Amit Verma, M.B.B.S., professor of oncology, of medicine, and of developmental and molecular biology at Einstein, associate director of translational science at the National Cancer Institute-designated Montefiore Einstein Comprehensive Cancer Center (MECCC), and director of the division of hemato-oncology at Montefiore and Einstein.
  • Zachary Flamholz, M.D./Ph.D. candidate; mentor Libusha Kelly, Ph.D., associate professor of systems & computational biology and of microbiology & immunology at Einstein.
  • Nadege Gitego, Ph.D. ’23; mentor Evripidis Gavathiotis, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, of medicine, and of oncology at Einstein and co-leader of the MECCC Cancer Therapeutics Program.
  • Jake Lachowicz Ph.D. candidate; mentor Tyler L. Grove, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry at Einstein.

A Range of Basic Science Research

A major consideration for selecting the awardees was the likelihood that their work would have a high impact on their field of study. Eligible students submit formal applications, including a letter of support from their mentor, and all applications are reviewed by the graduate student awards panel, consisting of more than a dozen faculty from the basic science departments.

Sarah Aminov, Ph.D. candidate
Sarah Aminov, Ph.D. candidate

Ms. Aminov was recognized for her research into strategies for treating cases of B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) that are resistant to immunotherapies due to the loss of CD19, a protein overexpressed on nearly all B-cell cancers. She and collaborators found that loss of CD19 expression in B-ALL cells coincides with loss of CD22 expression, making CD22 a poor target for treating CD19-resistant patients. However, she observed that BTK signaling—a part of the BCR signaling pathway—was maintained in treatment-resistant B-ALL cancer cells with low levels of both CD19 and CD22. The resistant cells proved sensitive to BTK- and BCR-inhibitor drugs approved for treating other types of cancer but not yet rigorously evaluated against treatment-resistant B-ALL. Her work has led to several awards, including the American Society of Hematology Abstract Achievement Award, and she was first author on a paper published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“The Marmur Symposium always showcases the most exciting work happening at Einstein,” she said, “and I am truly honored to be given this prestigious award.” She added that she is grateful “for the mentorship I have received as well as the collaborative environment fostered in and out of my lab.”

Ms. Aminov has served as a graduate student senate council representative and has been an adjunct lecturer in molecular biology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Zachary Flamholz, M.D./Ph.D. candidate
Zachary Flamholz, M.D./Ph.D. candidate

Mr. Flamholz was honored for his research determining that large, artificial-intelligence-based language models—similar to ChatGPT but for proteins—can be applied to global ocean virome data as well as gut microbiome data to better annotate viral proteins that can’t be annotated using current methods.

“My work applying artificial intelligence to better understand the genomes of viruses is only possible because of DNA sequencing methods pioneered by Dr. Marmur,” he said. “To be acknowledged as part of his legacy is humbling.” Mr. Flamholz, who is set to begin his first clinical rotation in medical school, plans to pursue a residency in internal medicine, and said he hopes to continue his research in bacteriophages, “especially in translational applications.”

Nadege Gitego, Ph.D. ’23
Nadege Gitego, Ph.D. ’23

Nadege Gitego, Ph.D. ’23, was recognized for her cancer research. Many anticancer drugs work by activating the cellular protein BAX, causing cancer cells to undergo apoptosis (programmed cell death). Dr. Gitego found that BAX forms dimers (two BAX molecules bound to each other) in various cancer cells that resist undergoing apoptosis. She also found that, in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients, mutations cause BAX dimers to form in cells that develop resistance to the drug venetoclax. She and her colleagues discovered a new small molecule, BDM19, that can activate BAX dimers and induce apoptosis in venetoclax-resistant BAX mutant cells when combined with the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin. This strategy could be applied to treating various types of cancer or to overcome drug resistance caused by the formation of BAX dimers.

“As a student, I have deeply admired the achievements of the Julius Marmur awardees each year,” she said, “so it is truly humbling to count myself among their esteemed ranks.” She is now an associate scientist at BridgeBio Oncology Therapeutics, working on developing inhibitors targeting oncogenic KRAS for cancer therapy.

The Marmur Symposium always showcases the most exciting work happening at Einstein.

Sarah Aminov, Ph.D. candidate
Jake Lachowicz, Ph.D. candidate
Jake Lachowicz, Ph.D. candidate

Mr. Lachowicz was honored for his research focusing on the mechanistic and structural properties of two enzymes, viperin and biotin synthase. They belong to the radical S-adenosyl-L-methionine superfamily, a conserved group of enzymes that utilize the power of radicals to catalyze challenging chemical reactions. As its name suggests, biotin synthase forms the compound biotin, a critical component in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids; and viperin inhibits the replication of many pathogenic DNA and RNA viruses.

“Presenting my research to the broader community is an honor,” he said. “Einstein is truly an amazing place where you gain exposure to a wide range of fields within the biomedical sciences. I am privileged to experience the collaborative nature of science here and to have such amazing mentors and collaborators.”

Mr. Lachowicz has served as a peer mentor in the office of academic support and counseling, a teaching assistant for the graduate biochemistry course, and is currently an adjunct faculty member at Fordham University, where he teaches organic chemistry to undergraduate and postbaccalaureate students.

Marmur Alumni Offer Advice

Previous Marmur winners participated in a virtual panel discussion in the afternoon moderated by 2023 awardee Yacoba V.T. Minnow, Ph.D., senior scientist at Fapon Biotech. They shared their experiences and offered career advice.

The panelists were: Laura Barreyro, Ph.D. (2013 awardee), principal research scientist for oncology translational research at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson;  Veronika Miskolci, Ph.D. (2016 awardee), assistant professor, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, department of microbiology, biochemistry, and molecular genetics; and Thomas J. Younts, Ph.D. (2015 awardee), human frontier science program research fellow, department of neuroscience, physiology, and pharmacology, University College London.

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