School of Medicine Research Week 2020 highlights innovative discoveries

Tuesday, October 13, 2020
SoM Virutal Research Week, oct. 5 - Oct. 8

More than 700 Duke faculty, staff and students attended lectures and the poster session during School of Medicine Research Week 2020, held virtually October 5-8. Research Week aims to showcase basic, clinical and translational research from Duke faculty speakers, invited speakers, and students.

“Research Week 2020 was outstanding, showcasing illuminating research and innovative discoveries by our own faculty, students, trainees, and special guests Dr. Hobbs and Dr. Peng,” said Mary E. Klotman, dean, Duke University School of Medicine. “It was an inspiring week and proved only to solidify the importance of science and science-based decisions and demonstrate the high caliber of work here at Duke and beyond.”

This year’s events included presentations given by faculty members in the School of Medicine as well as the Robert J. Lefkowitz Distinguished Lecture featuring Helen Hobbs, MD, investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor of internal medicine and molecular genetics at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; and the Clinical Keynote Lecture featuring Lily Peng, MD, PhD, product manager at Google Brain and co-founder of Nano Precision Medical. The week ended with a poster session featuring the work from this year’s winners in the Basic Science and Clinical Research competition.

All talks can be watched from the Research Week page.

Monday Speakers: Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD, Clare Smith, PhD, Ed Miao, MD, PhDOn Monday, presentations were given by Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD, K. Ranga Rama Krishnan Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and associate professor of neurosurgery and neurobiology; Clare Smith, PhD, assistant professor of molecular genetics and microbiology; and Ed Miao, MD, PhD, professor of immunology. 

Dzirasa’s lab measures electrical activity deep in the brain using a brain EKG model that is similar to the heart EKG model. By studying brain activity in mice, he and his team are able to study the regions of the brain that are thought to be associated with autism. 

Smith’s  lab explores host-pathogen interactions between the bacteria that causes tuberculosis and its host. “Tuberculosis is a very old disease but still more relevant than ever,” said Smith, adding that much of the research she is doing related to host-pathogen interactions in tuberculosis can also be applied to emerging pathogens like Sars-Cov-2.

Miao, who was recently recruited to Duke with support from the Duke Endowment to advance faculty recruitment in the sciences, shared his research in the field of programmed cell death, when the human immune system kills its own cells in order to protect itself from invading pathogens.

Helen HobbsHobbs described her research which focuses on defining the genetic determinants of plasma lipid levels and cardiovascular risk. Most recently, she has identified genetic variations that confer susceptibility to fatty liver disease, a condition in which fat builds up in the liver. Although her research has proven to be a promising avenue for preventing the onset of fatty liver disease, Hobbs noted that a low cholesterol, low fat diet is still the best way to prevent onset of disease.

Kanecia Zimmerman, MD, MPH, Diego Bohorquez, PhD, Ranee Chatterjee, MD

On Wednesday, presentations were given by Kanecia Zimmerman, MD, MPH, associate professor of pediatrics; Diego Bohorquez, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, pathology, and neurobiology; and Ranee Chatterjee, MD, associate professor of medicine.

Zimmerman’s research focuses on pediatric dosing. She spoke about her role in the formation of the ABC Science Collaborative—a new initiative in which scientists and physicians partner with school and community leaders to understand the most current and relevant information about COVID-19. 

Bohorquez’s research focuses on neuropods—sensory cells in the gut that form a neural circuit to convey signals from nutrients in the gut to the brain in milliseconds. His laboratory studies how the gut senses the caloric value of nutrients to influence the choice of food we eat.

Chatterjee described her research on new approaches for early detection of disease by monitoring levels of the micronutrients Vitamin D and potassium, which she has shown can be an early indicator of prediabetes. More than one third of American adults have prediabetes, said Chatterjee, but if clinicians can identify the condition earlier, it can be prevented through lifestyle intervention.

Lily Peng, MD, PhD

On Thursday, Peng gave the Keynote Clinical Lecture in which she emphasized the huge potential for artificial intelligence (AI) to assist in detecting many healthcare challenges, including eye disease, skin cancer, and breast cancer. She explained an algorithm she designed to detect diabetes-related eye disease. 

“The human centered approach is key to building useful products,” said Peng. “Rigorous mixed methods research is essential to understanding the real barriers and opportunities.”

During Thursday afternoon’s poster session, first and second place winners of the Basic Science Competition and of the Clinical Research Competition presented their research. More than 40 students, postdocs, residents and trainees participated in the poster session. Keri Wallace, MD student, won first place for the basic science poster for “Age-Related Behavioral Regression in Mouse Model of Alternating Hemiplegia of Childhood.” Matthew Oliver, a PhD student in cell biology, won second place for the basic science poster for “Cholinergic interneurons requires constitutive activation of the integrated stress response to maintain integrity of dopamine modulation and learned skill performance.”

Abigail Clark, MD student, won first place for the Clinical Research poster “Impact of Delayed Admission to Referral Center on Outcomes of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome & Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Patients.” Joanna Cavalier, MD, a resident in the Department of Medicine won second place for the clinical research poster for “Customized Early Warning Score Predicts Decompensation of COVID-19 Patients.”

“The poster presentations this week demonstrated the spark and passion that our early career researchers have for advancing science,” said Geeta Swamy, MD, associate vice president for research at Duke and vice dean for scientific integrity in the School of Medicine, who moderated the student poster session. “Research Week is always a great reminder of the excellence in our scientific community ranging from emerging and accomplished faculty to our stellar students, residents, and fellows.”

“Our Research Week speakers truly personified the extraordinary diversity and richness of our research community,” said Colin Duckett, PhD, vice dean for basic science in the School of Medicine. “In each of their scientific disciplines, they have proven themselves to be pioneers; the attendance and enthusiasm for this event was remarkable.” 

View posters at