Columbia University Medical Center


Report on the Summer 2021 Activities of SPURS:
A Biomedical Research Program


With funding from the National Institutes of health (NIH) and other generous private donations, the SPURS program was able to accommodate 37 fellows: 20 females and 18 males; 20 African–American, 12 Hispanic-American, and 2 Asian-American. This year, we had 23 students attending schools in New York including: Columbia University, CUNY College of Staten Island, New York University, SUNY Binghamton University, SUNY Stony Brook University, Fordham University, and CUNY Hunter College. The remaining students attended schools from across the country including: Boston College, Brandeis University, Colby College, Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, North Carolina State University, Rice University, Rutgers University, University of Chicago, Wake Forest University, and Yale University.

Introducing the SPURS Class of 2021

The participants are listed below along with the title of their research project and mentor’s name.

Aneeza Asif
Cell and Molecular Biology at Barnard College
“Identifying key markers in the role of CD56 in NK cell migration“
Mentor: Dr. Emily Mace
Andy Cuzco
Natural Science at Fordham University
“Activation of Opsin-3 with Beta-Ionone Promotes Airway Smooth Muscle Relaxation“
Mentor: Dr. Charles Emala and Dr. Peter Yim
Alexis Fisher
Columbia University
Mentor: Dr. Monica Goldklang and Dr. Jeanine D’Armiento
Andre Meddar
Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University
“Cognitive Effects of Heart Failure Through the Lens of the Ryanodine Receptor“
Mentor: Dr. Andrew Marks
Carl Christopher Tchagou
Undeclared at Columbia University
"Examining the Role of Leaky Ryanodine Receptors in Alzheimer’s Disease"
Mentor: Dr. Andrew Marks
Carolyn Martinez
Medical Humanities and Concentration in Public Health at Columbia University
“Examining the role of Leaky Ryanodine Receptor in Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia (CPVT)"
Mentor: Dr. Andrew Marks
Connie Chen
Germanic Studies Major/Pre-med track at University of Chicago
“Effects of Pro-Inflammatory Cytokines on Tet2 Knockout Hematopoietic Stem and Progenitor Cells"
Mentor: Dr. Emmanuelle Passague and Dr. James Swann
Deana Moffat
Biomedical Engineering at SUNY Binghamton University
“Defining the role of CD56 (NCAM) in human lymphocyte migration on stroma"
Mentor: Dr. Emily Mace
Domenick Raphael
Biology/Chemistry at Brandeis University
“The Functional Role of Hepatic FTO in Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)"
Mentor: Dr. Utpal Paivani
Edmund Sagastume
Biology, Concentration in Behavioral Neuroscience at CUNY Hunter College
“Modulation of voltage-gated Potassium Channels using engineered di-valent nanobodies"
Mentor: Dr. Henry Colecraft
Emmanuel Worede-Kal
Biology at Rutgers University
“A novel behavioral assay for individual recognition in mice"
Mentor: Dr. Richard Axel
Franddy Rodiguez
Biology at CUNY College of Staten Island
“Host Metabolite Itaconate Drives K. pneumoniae Adaptation"
Mentor: Dr. Alice Prince
Gladwyn Gillis
Biology at SUNY Stony Brook University
“NW50 MSP Nanodisc Incorporation to Purify and Characterize Erythrocyte Band 3-Ankyrin Macro Complex"
Mentor: Dr. Oliver Clarke
Ikenna Okoro
Neuroscience and Behavior at Columbia University
“Disruption of AIF in Complex I Highlights its Role in Mitochondrial Functioning"
Mentor: Dr. Edward Owusu-Ansah
Jessica Beltrani
Human Biology and Economics/
Sports Science at North Carolina State University
“Treatment of chylous effusion in patients with Lymphangioleiomyomatosis"
Mentor: Dr. Monica Goldklang
Joseph Delgado
Chemistry at Boston College
“Living Yeast Diagnostic for SARS-CoV-2“
Mentor: Dr. Virginia Cornish and
Dr. Qianna Wilson
Jp Woodham
English (Major) and Biology (Concentration) at Columbia University
“Characterization of LAM Tumor Cells: A Biochemical Analysis of NC Markers in Tissues“
Mentor: Dr. Jeanine D’Armiento
Julian Maldonado
Biology at Columbia University
“PRV and Peripheral Cold Shock Immunohistochemistry Link Locus Coeruleus to Regulation of Body Temperature“
Mentor: Dr. Alexander Nectow
Katherine Martinez
Major: Biology (concentration in neuroscience), Secondary Major: Science, Technology, and Society, Minor: Environmental Studies at Colby College
“Probing Sodium Channel Trafficking in Cardiac Physiology"
Mentor: Dr. Manu Ben-Johny
Khristina Cassanova
Nutritional Science/ Chemistry at Howard University
“Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Imatinib-Induced Renal Angiomyolipoma Cell Death"
Mentor: Dr. Jeanine D’Armiento
Leana Figueroa
Biochemistry, Minor: Sociology at CUNY Hunter College
“The Role of Lipocalin-2 in Acute Bacterial Infection: Examining the Mechanism of Immune Defense through Mutant Lipocalin-2"
Mentor: Dr. Stavroula Kousteni
Liana Dawson
Medical Humanities at Columbia University
“Examining C9orf72 Variants in Isogenic Lines of C9ALS iPSCs"
Mentor: Dr. Shawn Liu
Luke Elias
Chemistry/Sociology at Rutgers University
“The Role of MMP 13 in Alveolar Repair in Emphysema"
Mentor: Dr. Jeanine D’Armiento
Madison Smith
Chemistry at Columbia University
“Characterization of innate immune responses in a model of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy"
Mentor: Dr. Wesley Grueber
Matthew Cedarstrand
Biology at Rutgers University
“Symptoms experienced by patients 1 year Post-COVID-19 Hospitalization on supplemental oxygen"
Mentor: Dr. Christine Garcia
Matthew Neil
Major: Biology, Minor: Music at CUNY Hunter College
“Local and Systemic T Cell Responses in Pediatric Patients with Viral Respiratory Tract Infection"
Mentor: Dr. Thomas Connors
Miriam Cepeda
Medical Humanities at Columbia University
“The transcription factor CEBP/a regulates plasma lipids through Pcsk9"
Mentor: Dr. Robert Bauer
Mohab Idris
Biology Major and Chemistry Minor at CUNY Hunter College
“Developing a VLP System for SARS-CoV-2 and Assessing the Antiviral Potency of Peptides"
Mentor: Dr. Anne Moscona
Mohamed Doucoure
Biology at New York University
“SETD1A immunofluorescence in the Auditory Cortex of a schizophrenia mouse model"
Mentor: Dr. Emily Parker
Morohuntodun Oni
Chemistry, Economics at Wake Forest University
“Notch Inhibition with High-Dose Radiation Therapy Inhibits Tumor Growth and Decreases Immunosuppressive Responses in Tumor Microenvironment"
Mentor: Dr. Darrell Yamashiro
Ogechi Nwankwoala
Molecular and Cellular Biology, Minor: Psychology at Johns Hopkins University
“A MitoCarta Screen to Identify Novel Regulators of Complex I Assembly"
Mentor: Dr. Edward Owusu-Ansah
Ray Rahim
Biology at CUNY Hunter College
“Increasing intestinal epithelial serotonin as a novel effective remedy for anxiety and depression a paradigm shift in novel treatment approaches for mood disorders"
Mentor: Dr. Kara Gross Margolis
Sabrina Anderson
Health Science at Howard
“Senescent adipocytes accumulate in the dermis of obese mice deficient in leptin signaling"
Mentor: Dr. Angela Christiano
Sarah Boyd
Neuroscience and Behavior
at Columbia University
“The Role of CA2 Inhibitory Parvalbumin Interneurons in Social Odor Discrimination"
Mentor: Dr. Steven Siegelbaum
Tigidankay Saccoh
Psychology/public health at Columbia University
“Correlation between fungi measured in home and IgG antibodies to fungi measured in serum"
Mentor: Dr. Matthew Perzanowski
Victoria Millette
Biomedical Engineering at University of Rochester
“The Role of Leaky Ryanodine Receptors in Diabetes"
Mentor: Dr. Andrew Marks
Ynez Kerley
Sociology/Medical Humanities at
Rice University
“Examining the Role of Leaky Ryanodine Receptors in Chemobrain"
Mentor: Dr. Andrew Marks
Zafirat Ndancky
Psychology - Neuroscience
Track at Yale University
“Testing the functionality of SNAPfast -tagged 5-HT5a receptors"
Mentor: Dr. Wesley Asher


In accordance with Columbia University and government policies, SPURS transitioned to a hybrid format. With additional health measures, all of our students were able to perform in-person research in laboratories at Columbia University Medical Center and many were able to be housed in Columbia dormitories. Due to positive feedback we received from last year’s class, we incorporated both in-person and Zoom lectures throughout the duration of the program.


1) Orientation

The program began on Monday, June 1st, 2021 with an orientation led by Kyle Stearns, and SPURS co-Directors Drs. Monica Goldklang, Andrew Marks, and Jeanine D’Armiento. Orientation included an overview of the summer’s curriculum instruction in Laboratory and Research Safety from the CUMC Environmental Health and Safety Department. This comprehensive lecture included how to maintain a safe environment through hazardous waste management, biological safety, fire safety, the use of personal protective equipment and chemical tracking/safety. Orientation events concluded with a discourse regarding ethical conduct of research followed by our first guest lecture by SPURS alumnus Dr. Michael Holsey (Class of 2007).

2) Premiere Lecture Series

The hybrid program format enabled the SPURS Premier Lecture Series to include academic and industry leaders from across the United States. The diversity and wealth of the speakers’ backgrounds were reflected in the breadth of discussions they had with the students. All speakers were encouraged to reflect on their career paths and provided insight into the students’ own career development regarding MD and PhD programs. Examples of the topics covered in the formal portions of lectures included cutting-edge scientific research, inner workings of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the NIH, and how new drugs are developed. In addition to career insights, speakers also discussed personal stories of difficulties encountered by underrepresented persons in academic medicine, and professional decision making to excel in graduate school and beyond. This year we had an especially diverse set of speakers at various stages in their careers.

The panel of speakers included: Dr. Michael Holsey, Dr. Anil Rustgi, Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, Dr. Jaime Rubin, Dr. Dennis Mitchell, Dr. Anne Moscona, Dr. Emily Mace, Dr. Lyndon Mitnaul, Dr. Wonder Drake, Dr. Robert Whittington, Dr. Nicole Redmond, Dr. Raymond Givens, Dr. Edward Owusu-Ansah, Dr. De'Broski Herbert, Dr. David Ho, Dr. David Anstey, Dr. Monica Lypson, Dr. Monica Goldklang, Dr. Andrew Marks, and Dr. Jeanine D’Armiento. These sessions also served as an opportunity for the program directors to monitor the students’ progress, address any issues or concerns, and connect.

3) Mentor Guided Research

Students received hands-on experience by working with a CUMC faculty member with shared research interests. The exact nature of the work was primarily tailored to the student’s respective interest relating to their faculty member’s area of expertise. Students became familiar with their PI’s research and techniques. When possible, PI’s provided their students with data analysis training and an opportunity to apply what they learned to progressing the laboratory’s research.

4) Student Oral Presentations

The 2021 program culminated on July 29th when each student gave an oral presentation of their summer project to Drs. Marks, D’Armiento, Goldklang, as well as mentors, post-doctoral fellows, faculty, and graduate students. Extensive feedback to each SPURS student was provided with guidance on the scientific content as well as presentation.