Neuroscience Institute

Community and Culture

The NSI recognizes individuals who embody the values and dedication of our institution, by awarding the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship in Alzheimer’s Disease, and the USF New Researcher Grant.

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 are awarded $12,000 per year.

Congratulations to Molecular Medicine Retreat Poster Award Winner. 


Moorthi Ponnusamy, PhD


Dr. Ponnusamy received two awards for the "Outstanding Poster Presentation Award in Neuroscience" and "Most popular Science Art Award" at the Molecular Medicine Retreat 2021. His Ph.D. research focused on revealing the biochemical mechanisms behind sporadic AD pathogenesis by analyzing AD-related proteins in various brain regions during post-natal-developmental stages to determine the sensitive period and vulnerable brain regions.

Congratulations to this year's recipient of the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship in Alzheimer’s Disease Ilayda Ozsan. 

Ilayda Ozsan, PhD Student

Ilayda Ozsan, Ph.D. Student

Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, my fascination with medicine as a social institution drove me to pursue a career in science with altruistic ideals. I completed my undergraduate education at Northwestern University with a major in Biology, focusing on cognitive science and neuroscience. After my graduation, I joined the Ph.D. program in Integrated Biomedical Sciences at USF Morsani College of Medicine during the Fall of 2017. As a member of Dr. Lianchun Wang’s Lab, I participate in research on heparan sulfate-related pathologies. I am studying the roles of cerebrovascular heparan sulfate on Alzheimer’s Disease and one of its pathological hallmarks, amyloid-beta protein. Heparan sulfate and related proteoglycan can be found on the cells’ surfaces and the extracellular matrix, and they serve many roles, including multiple signaling pathways. Importantly, in AD patients, heparan sulfate co-deposits with Ab plaques and regulates its metabolism and aggregation dynamics. With the support of my mentor, lab members, and USF Health, I aspire to investigate the function of cerebrovascular heparan sulfate on amyloid-beta pathology in Alzheimer’s Disease with the possibility of developing effective therapeutics. I truly appreciate and am honored to be awarded the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship, which will greatly help this project and career growth. 

Congratulations to the 2020 recipients of the Dorothy Benjamin Fellowship Sara Cazzaro Buosi and Santiago Rodriguez Ospina.

Sara Cazzaro Buosi

From a young age I was intrigued by how the human body operated and the way diseases could affect the functions it routinely performs. After three years of pursuing a Biology degree at the Universidad Simon Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela, I decided to transfer to the University of South Florida to finish my undergraduate studies, where I obtained my B.S. in Biomedical Sciences during the Fall of 2016. During my time as an undergraduate student, I was determined to acquire experience in the research field specifically in the study of neurodegenerative diseases. I joined the Ph.D. program in Integrated Biomedical Sciences at USF Morsani College of Medicine during the Fall of 2017.

In Dr. Kang’s lab, I have been dedicated to the study of the protein Slingshot 1 (SSH1) and how it affects mitochondria through different pathways in the context of Alzheimer’s disease. SSH1 is a protein phosphatase that has been reportedly involved in Cofilin activation, an actin filament severing protein. Our lab has found that SSH1 is able to activate Cofilin, which then migrates to mitochondria causing mitochondrial dysfunction and toxicity. Additionally, we recently published our work showing how SSH1 is also able to affect mitochondria through the blockage of mitochondrial clearance (mitophagy), due to the dephosphorylation/deactivation of the autophagy cargo receptor P62.

We hope our further studies can elucidate the interplay between the different functions of SSH1 in Alzheimer’s diseased brains to better understand this disorder and provide better targets for future AD treatments. I appreciate and am truly proud to be awarded the Dorothy Benjamin Graduate Fellowship to support this research.


Santiago Rodriguez Ospina

Born in Colombia, I was raised in the US since middle school. I have always been fascinated by science. In my undergraduate years, I had the opportunity to participate in research on enzymes, biological catalyst, and their mechanism of action. Currently, I am a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Laura Blair at the USF Heath Neuroscience Institute. My work is focused on using molecular chaperones, which are helper proteins in the cell, to regulate the accumulation of tau, a primary hallmark in Alzheimer’s disease. More specifically, I am studying how heat shock protein 22 (Hsp22) affects tau. Hsp22, like other small Hsps, interacts with misfolding proteins and holds onto them until they can be processed for refolding or degradation.

So far, results from my project have showed that high levels of Hsp22 in areas of learning and memory in mice with tau pathology can preserve the cognitive and nerve cell function. I am currently investigating if fragments of the Hsp22 protein can also protect against tau aggregation, and if these fragments or the full-length Hsp22 can alter tau prion-like seeding in cells. I am grateful to be a recipient of the Dorothy Benjamin Fellow, which will further allow me to study Hsp22 and its effects on Alzheimer’s Disease as well as enrich my training experience by supporting my attendance at a national conference

Congratulations to the recipient of USF New Researchers Grant 

Tanisha Hill-Jarrett, PhD

The NSI Institute awarded the USF New Researcher Grant to Tanisha Hill-Jarrett, PhD a Byrd NSI Investigator.

In collaboration with co-investigator Dr. Martinque Jones of the University of North Texas, the study will examine the effects of coping style on the relationship between psychosocial stressors experienced by Black Americans and cognition.

The long-term objective of the project is to advance understanding of the psychosocial determinants of cognitive health -- that is, how lived experiences through the life course influence cognitive health and cognitive aging in racial and ethnic minority communities.