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Five Fighting Disease

The 2018-19 cohort of RNA Fellows, in the courtyard of the Life Sciences Research Building, are top row, left to right, Deniece Brown and Serene Durham; seated, left to right, Haley Caldwell, Waqas Awan and Samantha Ingenito. (Photo by Brian Busher) 

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 28, 2018) — The fourth cohort of UAlbany students exploring the curative health potential of a life-essential macromolecule have assumed their battle positions in the Life Sciences Research Center.

The interdisciplinary RNA Fellows Program, an initiative of the University's RNA Training Program in collaboration with The RNA Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences, welcomes five new Ph.D. candidates from three different departments this semester: Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biomedical Sciences.

Chosen through an interdepartmental competitive process, the five new fellows and their research areas are:

  • Deniece Brown, Biological Sciences, investigating the role of RNA decay pathways in Zika Virus Infection
  • Serene Durham, Biological Sciences, the evolution of DNA damage-dependent RNA regulatory networks
  • Waqas Awan, Chemistry, exploring the sugar conformations of 2'-5' linked RNA via computer simulation
  • Samantha Ingenito, Chemistry, project to be announced, and
  • Haley Caldwell, Biomedical Sciences, characterizing the role and mechanism of the Flavivirus Replication Complex in virus-host interactions.

Marlene Belfort, distinguished professor of Biological Sciences and the program’s founder and co-director, called the group, “a talented and inspired bunch of students that embody the spirit of interdisciplinary science, in a cohesive and interactive unit — very exciting".

Professor of Biological Sciences and program director Tom Begley said, "The fellowship provides students with a unique training experience, increased financial support and dedicated research time with excellent mentors from the UAlbany RNA science community. It is also a great recruiting tool for UAlbany and The RNA Institute, as it has continually allowed us to attract some of the best and brightest students to our graduate programs.”

The fellows will conduct studies in RNA science ranging from the role of RNA viruses in infectious disease to its function in the development of a cell. They take RNA-centric courses and also participate in the monthly RNA colloquium.

Fellows from prior years laud the program for the training and research opportunities it has given them, both individually and in concert with other fellows. “The opportunity to be an RNA Fellow has assisted me and my career as a graduate student,” said Aly Hoy, a member of the 2017-19 cohort. “It has prepared me for my research proposal and allowed me to meet many great people along the way.”

Patrick Blatt was a member of the original cohort in 2015-16. “The RNA training fellowship has provided and continues to provide me with an extremely enriching opportunity to advance my communication skills, partake in modern courses, and hone my research techniques,” he said. “Each of these benefits prepare me for a future career in the biological sciences.”

The program has also become the centerpiece of a grant application to the National Institutes of Health, submitted by Begley. “By using the current SUNY investment in world class research training to apply for federal support, we hope to expand the opportunity to more students,” Begley said.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.