Just as in baseball, politics and Hollywood, science has its up-and-coming stars. They just don’t always get as much publicity as, say, Bryce Harper or Lupita Nyong’o. Most scientists are lucky to get a media mention as a name attached to a discovery. But their personal stories and change-the-world goals are worth some attention.
To identify some of the early-career scientists on their way to more widespread acclaim, Science News surveyed 30 Nobel Prize winners to learn whose work has caught their attention. From those names, Science News editors chose 10 to feature in this special list. All have demonstrated high-caliber research leading to noteworthy achievements.
The good news is the list could have been longer. The short-listed researchers are representatives of a much greater number of young people likely to turn up prominently in a future issue of Science News as they pursue a diverse array of ambitious research questions.
Isaac Kinde: Finding cancer via altered genes
Baltimore biotech star aims to detect cancer mutations early
By Sarah Schwartz | Isaac Kinde became interested in medicine in elementary school. On Sundays, his father, a large-animal veterinarian, brought Isaac to work. “Seeing what disease could do to animals got me interested, piqued my curiosity,” Kinde says.
Kinde is chief scientific officer at PapGene, a small biotechnology startup in Baltimore founded in 2014. The company is producing advanced technologies to detect cancer before a tumor can cause symptoms or be picked up by an imaging scan. Kinde’s work is inspired by a simple idea: Cancers are much easier to treat when detected early. And that can translate into fewer deaths.
PapGene’s technologies identify mutated genes associated with cancer in a Pap test, the traditional screen for cervical cancer that inspired the company’s name. PapGene’s method can use DNA isolated from fluids used in the Pap test to screen for ovarian and uterine cancers. Similar tests could screen blood or other fluids for genes involved in other cancers as well.
PapGene’s sensitive technologies are based on tests Kinde helped develop as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with cancer researcher Bert Vogelstein. Spotting cancer early requires finding a few rare, cancer-associated genetic alterations among large amounts of normal DNA. That’s made more difficult by the DNA reader’s error rate. Kinde and colleagues created a way to chemically label and mass-copy sections of DNA to identify the real mutations.
“He’s not only devised a technology that is groundbreaking in terms of its ability to detect rare mutations … he’s also been able to implement that technology and show that it can be useful … in patients,” Vogelstein says.
Kinde, who received his M.D. and Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins, says he’s most excited about improving cancer treatment through research. He discovered his passion for the lab as an undergraduate in the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Kinde says that the program, which supports diversity among scientists, had a big impact on him and his younger brother Benyam.
Kinde also credits his supportive family and years of hard work for his scientific success. His tenacity is probably fueled by his active lifestyle — he’s an avid biker — and his devotion to coffee, which he says is rooted in his family’s Ethiopian culture. “It’s almost in our blood. I can’t literally say that, because I’m a scientist,” Kinde says. “But, almost.”
Benyam Kinde: Gene expression and Rett syndrome
Medical student explores how gene expression molds higher brain function
By Sarah Schwartz | Many people view the brain as the last frontier of human health research, says Benyam Kinde. “We still don’t know very much about how individual cells in the brain coordinate the activity of higher-level function that defines us as humans,” he says.
This mystery is one that Kinde, an M.D. and Ph.D. student at Harvard Medical School and MIT, aims to solve. He is interested in how chemical modifications of DNA affect brain function, focusing on a protein nicknamed MeCP2. When this protein is damaged or missing, it changes the activity of multiple genes and causes Rett syndrome, a disorder marked by developmental delays, seizures and autism-like behaviors.
When MeCP2 grabs onto DNA, it can limit the activity of genes to which it attaches. Kinde, along with former postdoctoral researcher Harrison Gabel and colleagues, went looking for common features in genes controlled by MeCP2 and those altered by the protein’s absence. In June, the researchers reported that MeCP2 prefers to attach to a specific cluster of DNA and chemicals found mainly in the brain. The genes that MeCP2 normally turns down are longer than average, and are most active in brain cells. In Rett syndrome, when MeCP2 is reduced, these long genes are overactive. Kinde and his colleagues found that a chemical that disables DNA-winding proteins can quiet such overactive genes. These insights could help researchers design treatments for Rett syndrome and similar developmental and autism spectrum disorders. The work appeared in Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Like his brother Isaac, Kinde says he became fascinated with biology while watching his veterinarian father figure out why a horse or an elephant had died. “I was really interested in the investigative nature of his work,” Kinde says. As a Meyerhoff Scholar at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Kinde got his first experience with neuroscience research and became passionate about solving medical mysteries. He credits excellent mentors, including his research advisers, Gabel and his older brother for his achievements so far. Kinde hopes to tackle neurobiology questions in the clinic and the lab. There’s a still lot to learn about how the brain develops, he says.
Source: Science News
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