Two University of Toledo graduate students are recipients of coveted Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service awards for individual predoctoral research fellowship training from the National Institutes of Health.
Damien E. Earl, an MD/PhD student in the College of Medicine, received a four-year award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), while a two-year award to Terry D. Hinds Jr., a PhD student in the College of Graduate Studies, is from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
A Salem, Ohio, native and 2005 graduate of Kent State University, Earl is a student in the neurosciences and neurological disorders track and studies in the laboratory of Dr. Elizabeth I. Tietz, professor of physiology/pharmacology.
Earl’s award is for almost $161,000, which includes a stipend and monies for tuition, books and travel to scientific meetings. It runs through May 2013.
Currently in his second year of graduate studies, Earl has completed the first two years of medical school and will resume his medical studies after he finishes the requirements for the PhD.
Using rats as a model, he is studying molecular changes in the brain during withdrawal from benzodiazepines, a class of drugs — the best known of which are Valium and Xanax — most often prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. However, because it is relatively easy for people to become physically dependent, they have become drugs of abuse.
“We have found that elevated calcium levels inside certain neurons in the brain may be linked to withdrawal anxiety,” Earl said. “This may be due to aberrant regulation of a particular protein known as the voltage-gated calcium channel. My studies are focused on determining how this protein is regulated in rats chronically treated with Flurazepam. The goal is to find new therapeutic targets for treating benzodiazepine dependence, which will increase the clinical usefulness of this relatively safe class of drugs.”
After graduation, Earl plans to complete residency training and hopes eventually to obtain a position at an academic health center where he can practice medicine, conduct research and teach.
Tietz and Dr. David Giovannucci, associate professor of neurosciences, sponsored Earl’s fellowship application.
A native of Franklin Furnace in Scioto County and a 2002 graduate of Shawnee State University, Hinds is studying in the Center for Diabetes and Endocrine Research (CeDER) under the tutelage of Dr. Edwin Sanchez, professor of physiology/pharmacology and CeDER assistant director, who sponsored his application. The two-year award is for $75,000, which includes a stipend and monies for tuition, books and travel to scientific meetings.
Hinds’ studies focus on genetic factors involved in obesity.
“Factors that control obesity via dietary intake or therapy are of much interest,” he explained. “Unsaturated fatty acids, especially polyunsaturated fatty acids, have been shown in clinical and animal studies to be useful in controlling lipid storage and regulating body weight and obesity in mammals. The molecular mechanisms behind what controls these actions are not well understood. Diseases such as Cushing syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease have been linked to the actions of cortisol on the body. Inside cells, cortisol binds to the glucocorticoid receptor, and this acts as a signal in regulating several different genes that regulate obesity and inflammation.
“Our laboratory has recently uncovered a promising approach that involves regulation of the receptor by TPR proteins, which can bind fatty acids and may regulate actions of cortisol on the body. We are investigating how different dietary fatty acids regulate obesity via TPR proteins that, in turn, regulate the glucocorticoid receptor. These studies should give insight into how our diet influences our gene expression and development of obesity.”
Hinds and Sanchez are submitting a provisional patent on their new discovery that will aid in understanding metabolism, obesity and diabetes. After graduation, Hinds plans to continue working with Sanchez on their discovery in hopes of developing a company. He eventually hopes to teach and conduct research at an academic health center.
Two MD/PhD graduates of the former Medical College of Ohio who worked in Tietz’s lab — Drs. Scott M. Lilly and Bradley Van Sickle — also were recipients of NIDA research service awards. Lilly, a 2006 graduate, is completing his third year of residency training in internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, while Van Sickle, a 2004 graduate, is a fellow in pediatric endocrinology at Vanderbilt University, where he is studying the interaction between faulty glucose regulation and the progression of cystic fibrosis.