NIH awards researcher with history of Alzheimer’s in family determined to find a cure

Dr. Alejandra Alonso, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the College of Staten Island, was recently awarded grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Alzheimer’s Association for the study of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. The grants total approximately $330,000. With 5.3 million people afflicted with Alzheimer’s, Dr. Alonso will lead a team of researchers to develop novel model systems and therapeutics to cure or delay the onset of this devastating disease.

Her laboratory on the CSI campus bustles with student activity. From PhD students and post-doctoral researchers studying slides of brain tissue through a microscope to Master’s students jotting down notes at their lab stations, there is a sense of purpose in Dr. Alonso’s lab that can only be accomplished when everyone involved believes they are doing something truly important.

“It is important to look at problems from a researcher’s perspective,” Dr. Alonso said when asked about her students’ roles in her research. “This is a chance to do important hands-on-research.”

A protein called TAU plays a significant role in the neurodegenerative process leading to Alzheimer’s disease. The study of this protein was neglected in the past, but Dr. Alonso has continued working on the role of TAU for more than a decade, along with her former mentors, Drs. Khalid Iqbal and Inge Grundke-Iqbal, at the New York Institute for Basic Research.

Dr. Alonso plans to examine the effects of Tau hyperphosphorylation on the microtubules in the brain. The TAU proteins stabilize microtubules which, in turn are the scaffolding of the cytoskeleton, or cellular skeleton. Through her research, Dr. Alonso hopes to determine what impact hyperphosphorylation (oversaturation of phosphate to a protein) has on a cell’s structure.

The NIH grant will focus on how TAU protein is modified in diseased brains to cause neurodegeneration. The goal of the Alzheimer’s Association grant, entitled “Tau-Induced Neurodegeneration,” is to generate new experimental models of neurofibrillary degeneration of the brain.

Dr. Alonso has experienced the impacts of Alzheimer’s disease in her own family, and hopes to develop the research tools and model systems to make strides for a cure. “If we know the mechanisms, we can work toward preventing or delaying the onset of this devastating disease.”

Dr. Alonso received her PhD at the University of Cordoba, Argentina. She began her work in the U.S. at the Institute for Basic Research, where she focused on biochemical characterization neuronal dysfunction in the brain. She began her work at CSI in 2007, and now has over 40 publications in peer-reviewed journals.

Dr. Alejandra Alonso, Associate Professor at the Department of Biology at CSI

Schulman joins Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

Sarah Schulman, Professor of English at the College of Staten Island, has been named to the Founding Advisory Collective of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

Speaking of the appointment, Schulman, who is an author, playwright, historian, and activist, says, “This is a huge moment for me personally. For years I have worked and accomplished a great deal in many arenas, but because I have had integrity about my lesbian content, I have often not been acknowledged at my level of merit. To sit on a board with [New York Times columnist] Frank Rich and [journalist, author, and activist] Naomi Klein means that The Carr Center has come to the place where they will not allow indifference or marginalization of lesbian content to demean intellectuals and artists and keep us from our appropriate peer group.”

Timothy McCarthy, Lecturer on History and Literature and on Public Policy, and Director of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program, notes that the Program, which will launch this fall, seeks to answer the questions of “what happens when we put human rights and social movements together, how do social movements challenge the way we think about human rights, and how do human rights inform, inspire, or confound social movements that seek to transform society?” The Program will employ research and teaching to address these issues and, McCarthy states, it “will sponsor conferences and lecture series, biweekly study groups, a spring-term brownbag series on humanities and human rights, a whole range of things.” As for the Advisory Collective, he explains that it “includes scholars and activists and policymakers from a whole range of backgrounds and institutions.”

Discussing his reasons for selecting Schulman, McCarthy says that he has “long admired Sarah’s work, as a scholar, a writer, and as a public intellectual and activist. She is someone who quite deftly combines all those roles in a way that’s pretty rare. She is someone whose political activism I’ve always admired, whose writing I find provocative and powerful, and who personally I know to be someone who is deeply engaged and committed to the public work of bringing ideas to bear on the world problems so that we can work together to change society. She is someone I see as having done that for her entire career.”

Schulman notes the timeliness of the Program’s launch, especially in relation to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) issues. “Politically, it is time that the human rights movement, internationally, acknowledge that LGBT people are “human” and that our liberation movements are “human rights” movements. I have a 30-year history of political and cultural activism for LGBT people and people with AIDS, and it’s time for that work to be seen in the broad human rights paradigm. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to bring my perspective to a wide range of global events, and be allowed to participate in the big conversation.”

Schulman is the author of 14 books : the novels The Mere Future (2009), The Child (2007), Shimmer (1998), Rat Bohemia (1995), Empathy (1992), People in Trouble (1990), After Delores (1988), Girls Visions and Everything (1986), The Sophie Horowitz Story (1984), the nonfiction books The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination (forthcoming in 2010), Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences (2009), Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS and the Marketing of Gay America (1998), My American History: Lesbian and Gay Life During the Reagan/Bush Years (1994), and the plays Carson McCullers (2002) (published by Playscripts Inc,), Manic Flight Reaction (2005) and Enemies, A Love Story (2007) adapted from IB Singer.

Her awards include a Guggenheim (Playwriting), Fulbright (Judaic Studies), Revson Fellow for the Future of New York at Columbia University, two American Library Association Book Awards (Fiction and Nonfiction), three NY Foundation for the Arts Fellowships (Fiction and Playwriting), finalist for the Prix de Rome, Kessler Prize for Sustained Contribution to LGBT Studies.

A participant citizen, Schulman has been active in a number of foundational movements for social change including abortion rights, AIDS activism, and the gay and lesbian liberation movement. She is co-founder with Jim Hubbard of both: MIX:NY LGBT Experimental Film and Video Festival, and the ACT UP Oral History Project (www.actuporalhistory.org).

Schulman is also a Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University.

English Professor Sarah Schulman has been named to a program advisory collective on human rights.

CSI Mathematician Wins Guggenheim Everybody Loves Riemann

Rafael Herrera, Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the College of Staten Island, was named a Guggenheim Fellow in the 2002 competition.

Herrera’s research will be in the “Classification Problems in Riemannian Geometry of Manifolds with Special Structures.”

In his classic work, Euclid focused on the geometry of the (flat) plane. The study of curved surfaces like those of a sphere or a doughnut, flowered in the late 19th century, thanks to mathematicians such as the German-born J. C. F. Gauss and G. F. B. Riemann. Their revolutionary ideas and use of calculus to study the geometry of surfaces created the field of Differential Geometry and laid the mathematical foundation for the development of theories such as the theory of relativity. Their studies led to the definition and study of abstract multidimensional spaces or n-dimensional Riemannian manifolds.

Herrera, working in the realm of abstraction, studies multidimensional spaces, which under certain circumstances are related to physical models of the world. His objective during his Guggenheim research will be to achieve the classification of the positive quaternion-Kähler manifolds, which form a family of Riemannian manifolds with special structures.

Herrera earned a BSc in Mathematics from the National University of Mexico in 1993. He graduated with Honors, and was a recipient of the prestigious and competitive Gabino Barreda Medal for the highest grade average among the 130,000 undergraduate students in the University.

In 1993, Herrera received a full scholarship to attend Oxford University, UK, where he entered the PhD program in Mathematics. Herrera became a Junior Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford, from 1996-1998 by successfully competing against 300 other scholars in the Arts and Sciences.

Upon graduating from Oxford in 1997, Herrera became a Gibbs Instructor (an endowed position for promising young mathematicians) at Yale University in 1998-2000, teaching undergraduate as well as graduate courses on Complex manifolds and Riemannian manifolds with special holonomy.

Before joining CSI, Herrera was a Visiting Professor at the University of California at Riverside, teaching Differential and Integral Calculus of one and several variables, Linear Algebra, Differential Equations and Differential Geometry.

Concomitantly, Herrera was the Director of Upper Elementary School Mathematics Institute for teachers of Coachella Valley Unified School District, a K-12 outreach project funded by the California Department of Education through the University of California where he endeavored to raise the educational standards of current teachers.

In addition to his recent Guggenheim, Herrera is working on a joint project funded by the National Science Foundation in association with Professor Yat-Sun Poon, the Primary Researcher at the University of California at Riverside.