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El-Hibri Biomedical Research Scholarship Awarded to Michael Fernandopulle

January 09, 2017

BETHESDA, MD - The International Biomedical Research Alliance today announced that the El-Hibri Biomedical Research Scholarship has been awarded to Michael Fernandopulle, a medical student at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a scholar from the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program. The $10,000 scholarship will support Mr. Fernandopulle’s doctoral research project to be conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Ward at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Prof. Peter St George-Hyslop at the University of Cambridge.

“The Alliance was established to support the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program, which, every year, helps nurture the talent and interest of our most promising biomedical researchers,” said Stephen McLean, Alliance Chairman. “We are pleased to present the El-Hibri Biomedical Research Scholarship to Mr. Fernandopulle, who has been selected from a highly qualified and accomplished group of scholars from the class of 2016. We look forward to hearing more about his work and future successes. We would also like to recognize Mr. and Mrs. Fuad El-Hibri for their generosity and support of the Alliance’s goals.”

“The NIH-Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program has provided a platform for young scientists across the globe to advance scientific discoveries,” said Fuad El-Hibri, Alliance Board Director and founder of vaccine developer Emergent BioSolutions. “I am both proud and humbled to be affiliated with the Alliance, which has been a longtime supporter of the Scholars, and whose dedication to recognizing talent and fostering innovation is unwavering. Thank you for allowing the El-Hibri Scholarship Fund to be part of the Scholars Program, which inspires academic achievement and seeks to impact public health one scholar at a time.”

For his doctoral research, Mr. Fernandopulle is using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to probe the basic cell biology of neurodegeneration in frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He is employing a CRISPR-based forward genetics approach to identify modifiers of neuronal toxicity exerted by TDP-43, the hallmark neuropathological protein aggregate present in both ALS and FTD. Interestingly, FTD causes death of neurons almost exclusively in the frontal and temporal cerebral cortex, while ALS affects only neurons that innervate muscle. By modeling disease in both cortical and motor neurons derived from human iPSCs, he hopes to identify the basis of selective neuronal vulnerability in each of these TDP-43-opathies. These studies will improve our basic understanding of neurodegeneration, as well as enable rational therapeutic design for these currently incurable diseases. Mr. Fernandopulle’s goal is to pursue neurology as a physician-scientist, contributing to both novel basic insights and direct patient care.

Scholars are considered for laboratory scholarships based upon their previous achievements, the belief that their research project will have a meaningful impact, and the specific research interests of the organizations, foundations, and individuals sponsoring scholarships.

The NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program is an accelerated, individualized doctoral training program for outstanding science students committed to biomedical research careers. This program offers access to mentors and resources from three collaborating institutions: the NIH, the University of Oxford, and the University of Cambridge. Further information about the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program can be found at http://oxcam.gpp.nih.gov.

About the International Biomedical Research Alliance

The Alliance’s mission is to support the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program and associated global PhD and MD/PhD training programs based in the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, America’s largest biomedical research organization. Its goal is to assure the financial viability and scientific excellence of the scholars’ program by supplementing government funding. The Alliance supports program events and scholarships designed to enrich the program and broaden the perspectives of its highly selective students as they train to become the next leaders in biomedical research. It was created in 2005 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. For more information, please visit http://biomedalliance.org.