On behalf of the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, welcome to the USF Health Neuroscience Institute (NSI) website. Throughout these pages, we hope that you will find inspiration, direction and hope from the work that our team is doing—whether in the laboratories, in the clinics or in the community.
The NSI is an ambitious concept designed to accelerate progress in the neurosciences by promoting inter-disciplinary collaborations among USF faculty/staff, as well as with partners outside of the University. These varied alliances occur across subject expertise and bridge domains. In other words, expert scientists (in labs) collaborate with physicians to better understand the connection between research, treatment and prevention.
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The USF Neuroscience Institute is proud to announce the 2019 winners of the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship in Alzheimer’s Disease. The Dorothy Benjamin Fellowship is made possible by a generous donation from Dorothy Benjamin with an Endowment for Alzheimer’s Research. Each year PhD students who are doing research in Alzheimer’s disease are eligible to apply for a one to two year fellowship that supports their research. This year two candidates were awarded $12,000 per year. The two candidates are Chao Ma and Yan Yan.
Born in a valley of east China, I grew up in a farmer family. Although my parents only received a middle school education, they wanted their only son to receive a good education. When I was only three years old, my parents moved to the city to provide me with a better education. Inspired by their expectation, I have been studying hard and achieving outstanding scores in all levels of schools. Since I love animals, I went into one of the best colleges of veterinary medicine from Northwest A&F University in Shaanxi, China. Upon completion of my veterinary degree, I was supported by an award from China Scholarship Council and I pursued a Master of Science degree in University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, USA. Later, I found that my real research interest is not in treating animal diseases but treating human patients. I successfully applied to the Ph.D. program in medical sciences at the Morsani college of medicine from University of South Florida (USF)-Tampa, Florida, USA. I’m now a Ph.D. candidate in the neuroscience concentration. My research is on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and I work with Dr. Dan Lee and Dr. Paula Bickford in the USF Neuroscience Institute. I joined the PhD program in 2015. My research project focuses on my novel finding of targeting GPRC6A to treat AD patients. GPRC6A is a sensor for arginine that is involved in the mTOR pathway. My project has demonstrated that inhibition of the GPRC6A receptor reduces tau pathology, this indicates it is a possible target for developing treatments for AD. I have written 11 conference abstracts, given 9 poster presentations and 2 oral presentations related to my work. I was awarded 2 outstanding poster competition awards and 3 travel awards including the Christopher Phelps Memorial Fund travel award for the top graduate student in Neuroscience. I’m a co-author for two published manuscripts and preparing three first-author manuscripts for submission. I am very proud to be awarded the Dorothy Benjamin Fellowship.
After completing my medical training from the University of Tianjin, China in 2014, I came to the United States with the intention of conducting research in the field of Neuroscience. I initially spent about a year at the University of California, Irvine, as an exchange scholar, studying electroacupuncture techniques and generating validated maps of brain circuits in stroke patients using diffusion tensor imaging-magnetic resonance imaging (DTI-MRI). Then in 2015, I joined the Integrated Biomedical Sciences PhD Program at USF Morsani College of Medicine, where I first started working with Dr. Chad Dickey on the role of tau in neurodegenerative diseases. Upon the tragic and untimely passing of Dr. Dickey, I joined Dr. David Kang’s lab at USF Health Byrd Institute, where I initiated 2 new projects on the role of ubiquitin specific peptidases (USPs) in tau and TDP-43 pathogenesis in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRDs). USPs are enzymes that remove ubiquitin chains from target proteins (i.e. tau or TDP-43), which lead to their stabilization and accumulation. Upon screening for over 2 dozen USPs, I identified 2 USPs that significantly contribute to tau and TDP-43 pathogenesis in ADRDs. Hence, my PhD thesis work has been focused on elucidating the mechanisms by which these USPs promote pathology, in the hopes that inhibiting these USPs could eventually become therapeutic approaches to treating ADRDs. I am currently a PhD candidate after successfully passing the qualifying exam in the Spring of 2019. I have so far published 1 co-author paper in the FASEB Journal. I am also co-author in 2 papers currently under minor revision in PNAS and Autophagy journals, and I am working on 2 first-author papers related to my primary projects, which will be submitted in 2020. I am very proud that my mentor, Dr. Kang, recently received a top 1 percentile score on a $1.9 million NIH R01 grant that is based on my work on USPs and tau. Finally, I would like to thank the Benjamin Foundation and USF Neuroscience Institute. It is my honor and privilege to receive the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship in Alzheimer’s disease.
On Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, the USF Health Neuroscience Institute formalized a partnership agreement with Taihe Hospital and the Taihe Neuroscience Institute in Shiyan City, Hubei Province, China. Representing USF were Drs. Fayyadh Yusuf and Zeguang Ren, who traveled to China for the signing ceremony. Dr. Ren will serve as the Director of the Cerebrovascular Center, which combines the departments of Neurosurgery and Neurology, and direct both clinical care and research. This Center will serve as the model for future global collaborations. Dr. Yusuf will oversee the growth of the multi-disciplinary Institutes through an exchange program that includes conferences at both sites, strategic planning and collaborative research projects including joint clinical trials.
The Taihe Neuroscience Institute is Directed by Dr. Jie Luo, Neurosurgeon, President of Taihe Hospital, and member of the Chinese National Parliament. The hospital is on a tremendous growth trajectory, serving a city of 3.5 million people. Taihe boasts a 3000 bed tertiary care hospital, dedicated research building with wet labs and vivarium, a rehabilitation hospital that offers both Traditional Chinese Medicine and western medicine services, and satellite hospitals throughout the greater area to help serve those citizens unable to travel into the city. In 2020, they will open the doors to a brand new hospital that will increase capacity and services.
According to Harry van Loveren, MD, Director of the USF Health Neuroscience Institute, “this partnership was designed to benefit the patients and families of both institutions by accelerating the translation of scientific research to the benefit of our patients suffering from neurologic disease both locally and globally. USF Neuroscience takes this opportunity to grow our brand globally, expose our faculty to new and innovative perspectives on patient care, explore and embrace the wisdom embedded in a 1000 year-old tradition in health care. At the same time, we hope that Taihe Neuroscience will benefit from our approach to the delivery of evidence based medicine and rigorous scientific research.”