Victoria Blaho receives prestigious Lina M. Obeid Award

Victoria Blaho, Ph.D.
Victoria Blaho, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Immunity and Pathogenesis Program.

The award honors Obeid, a pioneer in the field of sphingolipids and a fierce advocate for women in science.

Victoria Blaho, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Immunity and Pathogenesis Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys, has received the first-ever Lina M. Obeid Award for her promising research on the biology of sphingolipids. The award honors Obeid, a pioneer in the field of sphingolipids and a fierce advocate for women in science. The award was presented at the 11th International Ceramide Conference on April 22, 2021.

“I’m deeply honored to share this prestigious award with two other amazing junior investigators,” says Blaho. “Lina was a phenomenal scientist and a giant in the field. She was the first to report that ceramides—a type of sphingolipid—play key roles in programmed cell death, and she discovered and characterized many of the sphingolipid metabolic enzymes. I’m indebted to Lina for her mentorship and hopeful that I can carry the torch and advance the field, which has implications for immune function, cancer, neurodegeneration, metabolic disorders, and cardiovascular disease.”

The study of sphingolipids has intensified over the past several years, revealing critical roles in most, if not all, major cell biological processes. Blaho’s research focuses on the lipid sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P), which is found on a small percentage of HDL—also known as the “good” cholesterol—and is used by cells to communicate through cell surface receptors.

“My research aims to determine how changing concentrations of S1P (and HDL) and expression of its receptors can affect cells of the immune and vascular systems,” says Blaho. “The work is incredibly important to improve our understanding of how bone marrow stem cells and the immune system respond to stress or infection and lead to detrimental inflammation or autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis or bone marrow failure. There’s a tremendous need for more specific, effective therapies for many of these conditions, and a deeper knowledge of the contributing factors could lead to potential treatments or preventive measures to help affected individuals.”

Recipients of the Lina M. Obeid Award are selected by five members of the Sphingolipid Club Scientific Board. The award, generously sponsored by Cayman Chemical Company, is presented to junior female investigators who have made strong contributions to the lipid field. Blaho shares this year’s award with Rotonya Carr, M.D. (University of Pennsylvania) and Doris Höglinger, Ph.D. (University of Heidelberg). 

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