The Conrad Prebys Foundation fellows take center stage

| Written by Greg Calhoun
Conrad Prebys Foundations fellow symposium panel of speakers

Following a year of hands-on training and scientific inquiry supported by a generous grant from the Conrad Prebys Foundation, a diverse group of early-career researchers recently presented their promising progress on translational research projects.

Twelve scientists-in-training at Sanford Burnham Prebys presented research updates at the Conrad Prebys Foundation Fellows Symposium on May 14, 2024, at the Institute’s Fishman Auditorium.

The presentations were the culmination of a yearlong educational program at Sanford Burnham Prebys providing early-career scientists with workshops, mentorship and research experiences focused on how to transform research discoveries into new treatments. The Conrad Prebys Foundation provided critical funding for the program as part of the foundation’s mission to increase the diversity of San Diego’s biomedical workforce.

Conrad Prebys Foundation fellows poster presentations“This truly has been a pioneering program at the Institute,” says Alessandra Sacco, Ph.D., director of, and professor in, the Development, Aging and Regeneration Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys; and dean of the Institute’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

The graduate students and postdoctoral fellows selected to participate in the program conducted projects at the Institute’s  Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics (Prebys Center), the nation’s leading nonprofit drug discovery center. The Prebys Center specializes in finding new medicines for diseases with a substantial unmet medical need.

“Each participant worked with a pair of co-mentors, one in the laboratory and another in the Prebys Center,” adds Sacco. In addition to extensive mentorship, the program included educational sessions about the drug discovery process.

“This program’s multifaceted approach to training and development has been incredibly rewarding,” says Sacco. Before introducing the symposium’s first speaker, Sacco thanked Michael Jackson, Ph.D., senior vice president of Drug Discovery and Development at the Prebys Center and director of the Institute’s Cancer Molecular Therapeutics Program; Jessica Colomb, associate director of Administration at the Prebys Center; and all the mentors who contributed to the program’s success.

Conrad Prebys Foundation fellows poster presentationsAfter the conclusion of the fellows’ formal presentations, Lauren Mitchell, M.S., program manager for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) at Sanford Burnham Prebys, moderated a discussion for fellowship awardees regarding how this training program enriched their skillset, benefited their career development and contributed to their overall sense of belonging and community, among other topics.

The symposium ended with a poster session and reception celebrating the Conrad Prebys Foundation, participants, mentors and contributors.

“I would like to express my utmost gratitude to the Conrad Prebys Foundation for this fellowship,” says Xiuqing Wei, Ph.D., postdoctoral associate in the lab of Lorenzo Puri, M.D., director of, and professor in, the Development, Aging and Regeneration Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys.

Wei adds, “It was a wonderful experience working with my co-mentors on an amazing translational research project.” Wei focused on methods for targeting the abnormal regulation of a key proinflammatory cytokine which is associated with muscle waste under the conditions of nerve injuries and cancer.

The Conrad Prebys Foundation fellows who presented at the symposium were:

Postdoctoral Fellows

  • Merve Demir
    Zhao Lab, Ed Sergienko co-mentor
    “Structural studies of MtCK and GCDH enzyme drug targets” 
  • Alicia Llorente Lope
    Emerling Lab, Ian Pass co-mentor
    “Exploring PI5P4Kγ as a novel molecular vulnerability of therapy-resistant breast cancer”   
  • Van Giau Vo
    Huang Lab, TC Chung co-mentor
    “Identifying enhancers of SNX27 to promote neuroprotective pathways in Alzheimer’s disease and Down Syndrome”  
  • Xiuqing Wei
    Puri Lab, Anne Bang co-mentor
    “Selective targeting of a pathogenetic IL6-STAT3 feedforward loop activated during denervation and cancer cachexia”

Predoctoral Fellows

  • Michael Alexander Alcaraz
    Adams Lab, Steven Olson co-mentor
    “Activating the NAMPT-NAD+ axis in senescence to target age-associated disease”
  •   Shea Grenier Davis
    Commisso Lab, Steven Olson co-mentor
    “Examining PIKfyve as a potential therapeutic target in pancreatic cancer” 
  • Aditi Pedgaonkar
    Deshpande Lab, Ed Sergienko co-mentor
    “SGF29 as a novel therapeutic target in AML” 
  • Patrick Hagan
    Cosford Lab, Ian Pass co-mentor
    “Discovery and development of novel ATG13 degrading compounds that inhibit autophagy and treat non-small-cell lung cancer” 
  • Texia Loh
    Wang Lab, Ed Sergienko co-mentor
    “Investigating the role of HELLS in mediating resistance to PARP Inhibition in small-cell lung cancer” 
  • Michaela Lynott
    Colas Lab, TC Chung co-mentor
    “Identification of small molecules inhibiting ATF7IP-SETDB1 interacting complex to improve cardiac reprogramming efficiency” 
  • Tatiana Moreno
    Kumsta Lab, Anne Bang co-mentor
    “Identifying TFEB/HLH-30 regulators to modulate autophagy in age-related diseases” 
  • Utkarsha Paithane
    Bagchi Lab, TC Chung co-mentor
    “Identification of small-molecule enhancers of Honeybadger, a novel RAS/MAPK inhibitor”

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