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Mello Scholar Awards Recognize Molecular Research, including Type 2 Diabetes Studies at UMass Chan Medical School

Congratulations to PhD candidates Chandler Friend and Ekaterina Korobkina from the laboratories of Roger Davis and David Guertin

Date Posted: Friday, September 10, 2021
mello-award2-2021
L-R: Chandler Friend, Mohona Gupta, Milky Abajorga, Ekaterina Korobkina


Four graduate students at UMass Chan Medical School's Program in Molecular Medicine were named as the 2021 Mello Scholars.  Each will receive one year of funding towards their research.  Two of this year’s recipients are conducting type 2 diabetes research.

The award is presented annually by its namesake, Nobel Laureate Craig Mello, PhD.  Dr. Mello arrived at UMass Medical School as a faculty member in 1995 and became a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator in 2000.  Dr. Mello and colleague Andrew Fire, PhD, of Stanford University, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2006 for their discoveries related to RNA interference.

Chandler Friend (Davis Lab)

Chandler Friend is PhD candidate in the Davis Lab where she's conducting metabolism studies.  She’s investigating endothelial cells, which form the barrier between tissues and circulating blood.  Specifically, the role of a stress-activated MAP kinase, the cJun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK; pronounced “Junk”).  The JNK pathway is activated in response to metabolic stress and plays important roles in inflammation caused by metabolic dysfunction that leads to the development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. 

“Researching the molecular mechanisms that contribute to disease is my passion and I feel grateful for being honored with this award for my work,” said Friend.

Friend is a Worcester native and 2018 graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) where she earned her Bachelor of Science in biotechnology.After graduating, she spent two years as a Research Associate in Dr. Joan Brugge’s lab in the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School.  There her research focused on characterizing heterogeneity within breast cancer models and identifying interactions between tumor cells that conferred resistance to anti-cancer treatment.  Chandler joined the Davis Lab during the summer of 2020 to begin her PhD training at UMass Medical School.

“Chandler is an exceptional member of my research group," said Roger J. Davis, PhD, FRS, the H. Arthur Smith Professor and Chair, Program in Molecular Medicine.  “Her ground-breaking work on endothelial cell biology will provide opportunities for the design of novel therapies.”

Ekaterina Korobkina (Guertin Lab)

Ekaterina (Kate) Korobkina is PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the UMass Chan Medical School.  She's a member of the Guertin Lab, where she's studying mechanisms of nutrient sensing in cells and tissues focusing in mTORC2 regulation and thermogenesis pathways.

“I’m excited.  It’s an honor to be selected as a Mello Scholar,” said Korobkina.  “I look forward to continuing a productive graduate career under Dr. Guertin’s mentorship.” 

The Guertin Lab is exploring the biochemical mechanisms controlling cell growth and metabolism and their significance to the pathogenesis of metabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes.  The goal of their research is to obtain a better understanding of how insulin resistance develops, especially in obesity and lipodystrophy.  They're also focused on identifying therapeutic strategies to improve how the body processes blood glucose.

Korobkina is originally from Russia, which she left to attend UWC Lester B. Pearson College in Canada.  She then came to the United States where she earned her undergraduate degree from Earlham College in Indiana, majoring in biochemistry with a minor in psychology.  After graduating, she spent three years in Boston as a research assistant at Schepens Eye Research Institute/Massachusetts Eye and Ear where she co-authored a study led by Harvard scientists that used genetic engineering to restore age-related vision loss and eye damage in mice, that was caused by glaucoma.

“Kate has been an amazing addition to our lab.  She’s an extremely talented and driven researcher with a bright future," said David Guertin, PhD, Professor in the Program in Molecular Medicine.  "The Mello Scholar Award is a well-deserved honor that will help launch her career trajectory.” 

Milky Abajorga (Theurkauf Lab)

Milky is a graduate student conducting genomics research in the laboratory William Theurkauf, PhD.  The Theurkauf Lab addresses RNA localization and embryonic patterning.  They also study the response of mitotic cells to DNA damage and small RNA function in germline development.

Mohona Gupta (Pazour Lab)

Mohona is a graduate student in the laboratory of Gregory Pazour, PhD.  The Pazour Lab is interested in the function of the mammalian primary cilium.  These organelles play vital roles in the development of mammals and in the etiology of diseases such as polycystic kidney disease and blindness.

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