Four Ph.D. students awarded 2014 Vertex Scholarships

December 10, 2014


Vertex-Group-webFour exceptional graduate students have been awarded 2014 Vertex Scholarships by the OHSU School of Medicine. Kelly Chacón, Johannes Elferich, Jeremy Glynn and Tyler Risom will receive an award to help fund their annual stipend, fees, research supplies and travel for one year.

The OHSU-Vertex Educational Partnership Program has been supporting students since 2007 by offering scholarships funded by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Mass.

"We are excited to see four new doctoral students benefiting from the generosity of Vertex," said Allison Fryer, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate studies, OHSU School of Medicine. "Each Vertex Scholar is an accomplished future scientist, and we look forward to their achievements in the years ahead.”

To be eligible for the Vertex scholarship, students must have passed the qualifying exam, advanced to candidacy in a Ph.D. program within the School of Medicine and been recognized by faculty as an exceptional student who exhibits a potential for scientific excellence. The final selections are made by an Awards Committee composed of selected members of the School of Medicine Graduate Faculty. The 2014 committee was chaired by Monica Hinds, Ph.D. ., associate professor of biomedical engineering, and the committee included Deb Finn, Ph.D., professor of behavioral neuroscience; Jackie Shannon, Ph.D., R.D., associate professor of public health and preventive medicine; Jeff Tyner, Ph.D., assistant professor of cell and developmental biology; Melissa Wong, Ph.D., associate professor of dermatology; Tawnya Peterson, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental and biomolecular systems; and Tom Scanlan, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology.


Scholarship Recipients


Kelly CKelly Chacón

Undergraduate degree: Chemistry: Biochemistry, Portland State University
Mentor: Ninian Blackburn, Ph.D., professor of environmental and biomolecular systems (A division within the OHSU Institute of Environmental Health)

Kelly is a fourth year, NSF Graduate Research Fellow working in the lab of Dr. Ninian Blackburn.  The Blackburn lab centers on bioinorganic chemistry and investigates the way copper is trafficked through living organisms by combining biochemistry techniques in tandem with powerful spectroscopic techniques like x-ray absorption spectroscopy, UV-visible absorption spectroscopy and electron paramagnetic resonance.

Upon starting graduate school, Kelly found herself “hooked on spectroscopy” and has performed spectroscopic work on the CuA subunit of cytochrome c oxidase, which resulted in the discovery of a novel green copper protein intermediate on the pathway to full maturity.

More recently, she has devoted herself to a complex series of XAS experiments on a bacterial silver and copper efflux pump called CusCBA. Kelly says, “If we can elucidate how this pump works, then we can target pathogenic bacteria in an entirely new way that sidesteps traditional antibiotics.”


Johannes E.Johannes Elferich

Undergraduate degree: Molecular Biotechnology, Technical University Munich
Mentor: Ujwal Shinde, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology

Johannes Elferich is a fifth year student in the lab of Dr.  Ujwal Shinde, whose work he was drawn to “because we share a passion for using an iterative process of computational predictions and experiments to understand how proteins fold and function.”

In the Shinde lab, Johannes has worked to “to understand how decreases in pH during trafficking of the protease furin lead to protein activation” and is utilizing experimental methods such as circular dichroism spectroscopy, biochemical assays and mass spectrometry to understand how protonation of histidines affects protein structure. This project has also led him to create software that takes advantage of the high-resolution capabilities of the new Orbitrap Fusion instrument in the proteomics core.


Jeremy G.Jeremy Glynn

Undergraduate degree: Biomedical Engineering, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Mentor: Monica Hinds, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering

As an American Heart Association pre-doctoral research fellow, Jeremy is particularly interested in translational biomedical research and engineering biomaterials for cardiovascular applications. A fourth year student in the lab of Dr. Monica Hinds, he is also interested in entrepreneurship and the paths that bring new discoveries to market.

In his recent work, Jeremy partnered with Dr. Hinds to test cell-seeded vascular graft thrombogenicity. He is currently studying a novel bioactive modification of an FDA-approved decellularized matrix for improved hemocompatibility. He says, “My current training makes me particularly well-suited to study blood contacting devices and materials, and to develop new materials that actively regulate blood cells and proteins.” Jeremy hopes to pursue research outside academia in the biomedical device industry.


Tyler R.Tyler Risom

Undergraduate degree: Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado
Mentor: Rosalie Sears, Ph.D., professor of molecular and medical genetics

Tyler is a fourth year graduate student in the lab of Dr. Rosalie Sears.  After leaving a successful biotech career where he worked as lead cell biologist on multiple cancer therapies at Array Biopharma, Tyler became a graduate student and joined a multi-lab effort at OHSU to better understand the heterogeneity, evolution and therapeutic adaptation of cancer. Working in the Sears lab, Tyler has investigated ways to demonstrate the existence of phenotypic heterogeneity within breast cancer tumors and cell lines, identifying the presence of subpopulations of basal, luminal, and mesenchymal-differentiated cells within single tumors and cell lines.

Tyler said, “I fully intend on remaining in the research area of intra-tumor heterogeneity and resistance mechanisms for a postdoctoral research position and to found my own lab focusing on the subject in the future.”