NF Research, Remotely
I am a postdoctoral fellow from Portugal who joined the Gutmann laboratory in February 2019. I am interested in brain tumor immunology, and have been leading several studies using Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) mouse models of low-grade brain tumors, called optic gliomas. For these projects, I am leveraging numerous complementary methods, ranging from single cell RNA sequencing to complex bioinformatics, to define the different immune cell populations that interact and create the optic glioma microenvironment in mice.
When I started hearing from friends how alarming the COVID-19 pandemic situation was in Europe, I felt grateful to have time to prepare for this pandemic in the United States. Prior to the research laboratory ramp-down, I made immediate changes to my work schedule, focusing on generating large volumes of data that I could analyze remotely at home. I truly believe that this terrible situation has provided me with an opportunity to grow as a scientist and become more efficient. In addition to data analysis, I have also been using this time to become more proficient with the software tools we routinely use, as well as to write initial drafts of a manuscript describing my research findings.
Amanda Costa, PhD
I am a pediatric neuro-oncologist completing my postdoctoral research fellowship in the Gutmann laboratory. I am studying how several factors, including the germline Nf1 mutation and age, converge upon specific stem cells in the brain to influence mouse Nf1 optic glioma formation.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic laboratory shut-down, I have focused on writing my first major manuscript describing these exciting findings. These studies have established the groundwork for future studies evaluating how other risk factors, including other genetic mutations and environmental factors, act on stem cells in an age-defined manner to influence brain tumor formation in children.
Nicole Brossier, MD, PhD
I am a newly graduated staff biostatistician in the Gutmann laboratory studying informatic approaches to NF research using RNA-sequencing, statistical comparisons, cluster analysis and other methods.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic laboratory shut-down, I am grateful to have been taking on all kinds of new informatics-focused projects, including developing novel approaches to defining the different populations of cells in NF1 brain tumors from RNA-sequencing data. I am also very involved in several other studies, such as examining new mutations in NF1 patient samples and identifying novel genes in immune cells important for brain tumor formation. I am also using this time to help design new experiments with other trainees in the laboratory.
Olivia Cobb, MS, Bioinformatics Specialist
I am an MD/PhD trainee in the Gutmann laboratory studying how distinct NF1 gene mutations differentially contribute to the spectrum of brain developmental abnormalities seen in individuals with NF1. Specifically, I am using a three-dimensional, self-organizing model of human brain development (brain organoids or mini-brains) derived from patient induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to explore the effects of NF1 gene mutations on human brain development.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic laboratory shut-down, I have focused on analyzing data that I acquired from brain organoids harboring a specific type of NF1 mutation involving deletion of the NF1 gene and several other genes (NF1 microdeletion). Using a combination of fluorescence imaging, gene expression, and molecular signaling analyses, I am defining brain developmental abnormalities for this mutation type, and investigating the gene(s) responsible for those abnormalities.
In parallel, I have been working with Dr. Gutmann to draft a manuscript and doctoral dissertation describing my findings. By studying the pathophysiology of large genomic deletions involving NF1 in human brain organoids, I hope to advance our understanding of how NF1 regulates human brain development and identify mechanistic etiologies for the high burden of cognitive abnormalities seen in patients with NF1 gene deletions.
Michelle Wegscheid, MD/PhD trainee
I am Jit Chatterjee, a postdoctoral fellow in the Gutmann laboratory, studying how immune system cells, called T lymphocytes, control Nf1 optic glioma formation and growth. In addition, I am interested in understanding how allergic conditions impact on the risk of brain tumors in children. Using various approaches, I have been working to define the mechanisms by which T lymphocytes interact with other non-cancerous cells to create a microenvironment favorable for Nf1 optic glioma development.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have tried to complete some of the critical long-term experiments that I started prior to the shutdown. In addition, I have been working with Dr. Gutmann to submit my first grant application, as well as to assemble the experimental results for my first manuscripts as a postdoctoral research fellow. While I miss the laboratory, I have also been reading published papers from other research teams, which will provide me with additional ideas and directions I could pursue once I return to the bench.
Jit Chatterjee, PhD
We are living through unprecedented times as scientists and physicians. In the NF Center, we have shifted much of our clinical care of families with NF to telemedicine visits, and reduced laboratory operations to maintenance of critical resources.
While it may appear as though research has ground to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have continued to make progress in different ways, leveraging the creativity and adaptability of our talented scientists.
Over the next several weeks, you will read about some of this progress from members of our laboratory. I hope that you enjoy reading about their work and their commitment to NF. I could not be prouder of this amazing group of researchers.
David H. Gutmann, MD, PhD, FAAN