University of Vermont

College of Medicine

Vermont Medicine Magazine

Ph.D. Students Celebrate their Accomplishments May 18

Jane Roberts and Wolfgang Dostman
Jane Roberts, who receives her Ph.D. this week, discusses her work with Professor of Pharmacology Wolfgang Dostmann, Ph.D. at a Graduate Student Research Day poster session. (Photo by Raj Chawla, UVM Medical Photography)

On Saturday, May 18, at 1 p.m., graduate students from across the University of Vermont will receive diplomas and hoods in the Graduate College Commencement Ceremony at the Patrick Gymnasium. Among them will be graduates of programs affiliated with the College of Medicine in the areas of  biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, microbiology and molecular genetics, pharmacology, molecular physiology and biophysics, clinical and translational science, and neuroscience. In total, 27 Ph.D. students from the College of Medicine will be recognized at the ceremony. Another eight will be receiving a Master of Science degree.

Students in all of these programs complete thesis projects in close collaboration with faculty mentors. Many contribute leading-edge research to their fields. In total, 575 Ph.D., master’s degree, and graduate certificate students from across UVM are eligible to participate in Saturday’s ceremony. David Lyden, M.D., Ph.D.’86, the Stavros S. Niarchos Chair and an associate professor of pediatrics and cell and developmental biology at Weill Cornell Medical College and a pediatric neuro-oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, is the guest speaker. UVM President Tom Sullivan will confer degrees, and students will be hooded by their faculty mentors.

Three Ph.D. students graduating from programs affiliated with the College of Medicine are good examples of young scientists who have already made important contributions to the fields of neuroscience and cell and molecular biology:

Working in the lab of Professor of Microbiology & Genetics and Pathology Nicholas Heintz, Ph.D., Kheng Newick conducted research on novel  therapy targets for treatment of mesothelioma, a rare but deadly cancer. As part of a team that included pathology faculty members and fellow graduate student Brian Cunniff, she explored the cell biology of the disease and combinatorial approaches for treatment. Newick received a travel grant to attend the International Mesothelioma Interest Group meeting in Boston in September of 2012, where she presented a poster on her work. This meeting draws renowned researchers from around the world to learn about new advances in the field of mesothelioma research. In addition to presenting at several other national conferences, Newick was first author on a paper recently published in PLoS ONE. Newick successfully defended her thesis in March, and graduates with a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology. She has accepted at post-doctoral position at the University of Pennsylvania.

Although Jane Roberts will celebrate the completion of the neuroscience Ph.D. program May 18, as an M.D./Ph.D. student she will continue her medical education at the College of Medicine until May 2014. Roberts received an English/creative writing degree from Princeton University before coming to the College. Her faculty mentor in neuroscience, Professor of Neurological Sciences Gary Mawe, Ph.D., is renowned for his research in several areas, including nervous system regulation of motor activity in the intestines. Roberts has made significant contributions to this work, focusing on how free radical scavengers may improve motility in the gastrointestinal tract after inflammation. This research may eventually lead to new therapies for illnesses such as Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. In 2012, Roberts was selected from thousands of participants to present her abstract at the Neurogastroenterology and Motility 2012 Conference in Bologna, Italy. She was also a co-author of a paper published in Nature Medicine in 2012.

Understanding the genetics of multiple sclerosis, a complex disease that often strikes people in their early to mid-20s, has been the focus for Naresha Saligrama, a Ph.D. student graduating from the cell and molecular biology program. He has been working in the lab of Professor of Medicine and Pathology Cory Teuscher, Ph.D., who studies the genetic susceptibility to infectious and autoimmune diseases. Using a mouse model for multiple sclerosis, Saligrama focused on the role of histamine receptors – which bind histamine molecules, and cause different effects depending on cell type. He received the Young Investigator Award from the European Histamine Research Society (EHRS), the largest society in the world for researchers focused on histamine and histamine receptors. He submitted three abstracts for the annual meeting in Belfast, Ireland: one was accepted for an oral presentation, the other was accepted for a poster presentation, and the third garnered him the Young Investigator Award.  He was a first author on several published articles, with one in press. He was also co-author on seven published papers. Saligrama is headed to Stanford University, California, for a post-doctoral position in the lab of Mark M. Davis, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

Visit the Graduate College Commencement website for more information about the May 18 ceremony.