Dreidink Scholars Program

Philanthropic generosity of the Dreidink family has allowed the Center for Translational to form the Dreidink Scholars Programfounded in 2015.

The Dreidink Scholars Program supports summer research undertaken by first-year medical students at Jefferson during the summer that concludes first year of medical school. From among those students participating, one student was chosen each year to receive the Dreidink Scholar award, based on the student’s: 1) accomplishments in the lab; and 2) potential for a successful career in translational research.

With the adoption of the JeffMD Curriculum by the medical school in 2018, first year medical students began performing their research under a Scholarly Activities program during the academic year.  Thus, in 2019 the Dreidink Scholar Program transitioned to host aspiring physicians who entered the lab as gap year students. The lab currently hosts 6 gap year students who participate in a wide range of basic, translational, and clinical research within the Department of Medicine.

Dreidink Scholars Program Faculty Administrators

Ajay Nayak, PhD Instructor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy & Critical Care Medicine 215-503-0141

Raymond Penn, PhD Professor of Medicine
Director, Center for Translational Medicine
Director, Pulmonary Research

Tonio Pera, PhD Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy & Critical Care Medicine 215-503-5127

Dreidink Scholars Program Members

Aaron Cohen

Aaron Cohen joined the Dreidink Scholars Program while taking a gap year as an undergraduate student at Princeton University, where he is working towards earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Molecular Biology. During his time in the Dreidink Scholars Program, he will be working to characterize regulation of fibroblast differentiation and collagen production by various agents. His goal is to learn and understand the underlining mechanisms leading to lung pathology in various lung cell types including airway smooth muscle cells and dermal lung fibroblasts. Each of these cell types are respectively important in hypercontractility and fibrosis. While at Princeton, Aaron is a member of the executive board of the Princeton chapter of Students vs. Pandemics and the undergraduate premedical society. When not in lab, he volunteers at Penn Medicine's COVID-19 vaccination clinic and participates in clinical simulations at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Aaron hopes to attend medical school following his graduation from Princeton in 2023.

Isabella Dewes

Isabella Dewes graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in 2020 with a Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Health Services. Her research since joining the Dreidink Scholars Program in September 2020, Isabella’s research has focused on the effects of drugs on Airway Smooth Muscle cells and how to inhibit certain pathways for the potential to improve asthma medication. She plans to attend physical therapy school in the near future.   

Elham Javed, PhD

Elham Javed recently graduated from Thomas Jefferson University in 2019 with a PhD in Cell Biology and Regenerative medicine. Her skill set range from basic molecular biology to extensive microscopy. Since her graduation she has been involved with several on going projects and is also branching into transitioning bench to bedside by acting as a coordinator in the current pulmonary clinical trials.

Alyssa Kesack

Biology Lafayette College

Alyssa Kesack graduated from Lafayette College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology. Since joining the program in January of 2020 her research has focused on the proton sensing receptor OGR1 and how negative allosteric modulators affect the functioning of β2AR. She specifically works with western blotting and calcium mobilization techniques. She aims to attend graduate school sometime in the near future

2021 Dreidink Scholar Award Winner: Cali Lolundo

Cali Loblundo

Cali Loblundo graduated from Villanova University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science (summa cum laude) in Biochemistry and a minor in Classical Studies. During her undergraduate years she performed research under Dr. Jacob Elmer working with gene editing and plasmid transfection technology to increase the efficiency of patient derived reprogrammed T cells in fighting cancer. As well as under Dr. Angela DiBenedetto working with zebrafish as a model organism to investigate the effect of BET protein mutations on cardiovascular and hemoglobin development. Since joining the Dreidink Scholars Program in June 2020, her research has focused on understanding the underlying biochemical mechanisms of the TSPO receptor in airway smooth muscle using both in vitro and ex vivo techniques. She plans to attend medical school in the near future and to continue performing research as a physician scientist. 

Sushrut Shah

Sushrut Shah graduated from Temple University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and a minor in Computer Science. Since graduation, he joined the Dreidink Scholars Program and has been focusing on multiple G protein-coupled receptors projects including the Beta-2 Adrenergic Receptor, Ovarian cancer G-protein receptor 1. He is also interested in understanding mechanisms of bitter and sour taste receptors and their effects on pulmonary diseases, such as asthma and COPD, by employing in vivo murine models and human airway smooth cells in vitro. He is proficient in in situ hybridization, murine studies, Ca2+ mobilization, ELISAs, and various lab techniques. Some of his murine studies and Ca2+ mobilization data have been published in various journals, with an article in Cell being his most notable publication. He aims to attend medical school and continue research after he becomes a physician.

Eric Tompkins

Pre-Medical Studies, Jefferson

Eric Tompkins graduated from Jefferson in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Pre-Medical Studies with a minor in psychology. During his collegiate years he worked various jobs within the healthcare system including: working as an EMT-b, first as a volunteer at the Second Alarmers Rescue Squad in Willow Grove, PA -- then transitioning to HealthFleet Ambulance based in Philadelphia, and verifying insurances in the emergency room at Albert Einstein Medical Center. He had his first exposure to research during a summer research internship at Albert Einstein Medical Center. After graduating college, his research in the Dreidink Scholars Program focused on characterizing the biased signaling of the proton-sensing receptor OGR1 by benzodiazepines in various lung cell types. He also studied compartmentalized cAMP signaling regulation by the scaffolding protein, NHERF1. Both studies were published in The FASEB Journal. Currently, Eric is interested in figuring out biased agonism of the M3 muscarinic receptor that affects airway smooth muscle cells. The goal of the research is to elucidate and characterize signaling that leads to either pathological or therapeutic outcomes in obstructive lung diseases. This will lead to more effective therapies that block pathological signaling while promoting signaling that is therapeutic. Eventually, Eric hopes to transition back into clinical medicine by becoming a physician assistant.

Past Dreidink Scholars

History, The College of William & Mary.
Currently, pursing a career in law.

Andrew Lombard graduated from The College of William & Mary in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and a minor in Biology. Since joining the Dreidink Scholars Program in May 2019, Andrew’s research has focused on the mechanisms of obstructive lung diseases, mainly focusing on the role of ovarian cancer G-protein coupled receptor 1 (OGR1) and translocator protein (TSPO). Andrew has used numerous lab techniques including western blots and real-time PCR in his research, and he hopes to attend medical school in the future.

Biology, Virginia Commonwealth University

Relocated to pursue his MD at Georgetown University.

John Lim graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science (magna cum laude) in Biology. His undergraduate research with Dr. Dorne Yager focused on the cytoprotective effects of HO-1 induction in dermal fibroblasts. After graduation, he worked as a medical scribe at the Cellular Immunotherapies and Transplant Program at VCU Massey Cancer Center. Since joining the Dreidink Scholars Program in 2019, John has been interested in researching the regulation of the actin cytoskeleton in airway smooth muscle because of the potential to improve asthma medications. He plans to attend medical school in the near future.

Biology, Saint Joseph's University

Henry Morelli graduated from Saint Joseph's University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology.  His work since joining the Dreidink Scholars Program focuses on the underlying biochemical mechanisms of airway diseases. Since joining the lab in 2018, Henry has used calcium mobilization techniques, immunocytochemistry, real-time PCR and tissue techniques to investigate the role of prostaglandin EP receptors in Asthma and COPD pathologies. Henry hopes his research can be used to help develop better treatments for these common airway diseases. He plans on attending medical school.

Biology, George Washington University

Actively applying to Medical Schools.

Tahn Nguyen graduated from George Washington University in 2019 with a BS in Biology and as an Honors Program Scholar. During his undergraduate years he served as a volunteer EMT with GW’s Emergency Medical Response Group (EMeRG) and as an ER Technician in the George Washington Hospital, serving the population of Foggy Bottom in Washington DC.

Since joining the Dreidink Scholars Program shortly after graduation, Tahn has studied the effects of Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists in Airway Smooth Muscle and c-Abl inhibitors in HASM cells. He plans to attend medical school in the near future.

Biological Sciences, University of Delaware

Currently, pursing a PhD at Thomas Jefferson University.

Dominic Villalba graduated from the University of Delaware in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences.  His research while in the Dreidink Scholars Program focuses on understanding small molecule drug- receptor interactions in asthma and COPD pathology.  He works in the Penn lab studying the function and regulation of proton-sensing receptor OGR1. He specifically works with western blotting, ex vivo tissue experiments, and various immunoassays.  He aims to attend graduate school for a PhD.

Award Winners

Cali Loblundo - 2021 Winner

Cali Loblundo has worked with Dr. Ajay Nayak and Dr. Raymond Penn to characterize the biochemical mechanisms of TSPO agonists on the Translocator Protein (TSPO) receptor in airway smooth muscle using both in vitro and ex vivo techniques. Ex vivo models involved examining contractile changes in human precision cut lung slices. She has studied the relaxation effects of TSPO ligands as a potential novel therapeutic, capable of managing airway resistance in asthma. Cali’s cellular work has involved the investigation of the effects of TSPO ligands on an array of proteins important for relaxation, contraction, and cell proliferation. Her cellular work has also involved implementing CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology to generate a stable TSPO knockout cell line. Cali hopes that her research can be used to identify improved asthma therapies.

Previous Award Winners

Sushrut Shah has worked with Drs. Penn and Deshpande characterizing effects of benzodiazepines in in vitro and in vivo models of airway smooth muscle signaling and function. In vivo models involved examination of mice lacking the Ovarian cancer G-protein receptor 1 (OGR1) gene. He studied the effects of these compounds as a novel therapeutic capable of managing airway resistance and airway remodeling in asthma. Sushrut’s cell-based studies involved characterizing calcium mobilization in human airway smooth muscle cells; this work led to a collaboration with Dr. David Gloriam of Denmark in which novel computer-designed peptides were found to be agonists of the OGR1 receptor. This study was published in the elite journal Cell. Sushrut plans to continue to examine novel OGR1 ligands, derived from those previously discovered, in multiple asthma model systems He is also investigating effects of activation of Beta-2 Adrenergic Receptor (β2AR) by novel agonists. β2AR activation on airway smooth muscle promotes bronchodilation which is a therapeutic goal in asthma and COPD-related diseases. However, activation of the β2AR may also lead to its desensitization and a loss of response to the drug. We have been screening novel compounds that could lead to activation of β2AR while preventing receptor desensitization. Due to his facility with in vivo murine models, Sushrut is significantly involved in multiple projects with other CTM investigators.

Andrew Lombard, working in the lab of Dr. Raymond Penn, characterized the downstream signaling of the Ovarian Cancer G protein-coupled receptor 1 (OGR1). OGR1 is emerging as a major target for drug development in pulmonary and cardiac therapeutic areas. Primarily studied as a proton sensing receptor, recently studies have identified unique small molecule and peptides that can act as allosteric modulators of OGR1. The discovery of these ligands has significantly aided in characterization of OGR1 receptor biology and identified unique signaling behavior that is agonist-dependent. Specifically, Andrew has systematically characterized the cross-talk between OGR1 and E-prostanoid receptors using airway smooth muscle cells as model cell systems. Andrew has demonstrated that chronic activation of OGR1 with lorazepam (OGR1 agonist) results in a signaling profile that is PKA-dependent. Further, using highly selective inhibitors, Andrew demonstrated that the PKA activation is induced through activation of cyclooxygenases that convert arachidonic acid to prostaglandins. Future studies are focused on comprehensively characterizing the nuances of agonist-specific signaling through OGR1.

Henry Morelli, working in the lab of Dr. Raymond Penn, characterized the agonist-dependent regulation of the Ovarian Cancer G protein-coupled receptor 1 (OGR1). This effort resulted in his first co-authored paper published in the American Journal of Physiology. Following completion of the project, Henry began characterizing the differential regulation of contractile signals by E-prostanoid (EP) receptor subtypes in airway smooth muscle cells. These studies were instrumental in demonstrating that signals emanating from activation of distinct EP receptor subtypes could be compartmentalized. Henry also contributed in a minor project with Dr. Ajay Nayak’s laboratory, where he helped characterize the allergenic profile of a patient towards snow crab allergens and possible cross-reactivity to house dust mite allergens. This effort has resulted in an abstract which will be presented at the AAAAI meeting to be held in Philadelphia in 2020. Additionally, Henry has mastered other skills such as confocal microscopy and single cell calcium imaging, which has resulted in his significant involvement in projects involving other CTM investigators.

Nathaniel Ash, working in the lab of Dr. Shey-Shing Sheu, participated in the phenotypic characterization of cardiac arrhythmias in various genetically modified mouse models. It is known that the most robust Ca­2+ uptake in cardiac mitochondria is through mitochondrial Ca2+ uniporter (MCU). However, Dr. Sheu’s laboratory has pioneered the concept that there are additional Ca2+-influx mechanisms including mitochondrial type 1 ryanodine receptor (mRyR1) despite the commonly held belief that MCU is the sole mitochondrial Ca2+-influx mechanism. The discovery that genetic knockout (KO) of MCU in adult mouse hearts leads to minimal adverse phenotypes prompted additional interest into the physiological role of mRyR1 in Ca2+-influx. Nathaniel categorized the phenotypes of inducible cardiac specific MCU KO, mRyR1 KO, and MCU/mRyR1 double KO mice. Additionally, Nathaniel helped to quantify the KO efficiency in the mouse populations used in the study. His experimental results showed that mRyR1 KO and MCU/mRyR1 double KO mice are more susceptible to cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. His research helped establish cardiac phenotypes of these mouse models that support the physiological and pathological significance of mRyR1 in the heart. Further studies need to be conducted to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that underlie the observed phenotypes.

Brenda French, working in the lab of Dr. Sophie Astrof, employed CRISPR technology to knock-in green fluorescent protein (GFP) or other fluorescent proteins at the end of the fibronectin gene, in order to be able to visualize fibronectin in cells throughout embryonic development.  Fibronectin is an extracellular matrix protein that functions by binding the surface of cells to help regulate cell adhesion, growth, migration, and differentiation during embryonic as well as post-natal development. Brenda also generated targeting constructs containing GFP, mScarlet, mCardinal, or DENDRA2 as well as guideRNA-containing constructs, and used these plasmids to establish stable primary cell lines such as embryonic fibroblast and cardiac endothelial cells, each expressing fibronectin-fluorescent protein fusions of a different color. Brenda also generated targeting and guideRNA constructs to generate integrin a5-fluorescent protein fusions in animal models. Collectively, her efforts have helped generate novel tools for assessing how interactions between the matrix and cells guide the development of tissues such as the branches of the aorta; understanding these processes is key to preventing development abnormalities that can arise in the vascular system of newborns.

Taylor Karl, working in the lab of Dr. Deepak Deshpande, investigated molecular mechanisms of bitter taste receptor (TAS2R) -mediated relaxation of airway smooth muscle cells. Recent studies in human cell and mice have demonstrated that TAS2R agonists are expressed on airway smooth muscle (thus not just on the tongue1), and when activated can dilate airways to improve airflow under conditions of an asthmatic attack. Therefore, TAS2Rs have emerged as promising potential therapeutic targets in the treatment of asthma. Establishing molecular mechanisms by which TAS2R agonists relax airway smooth muscle is a first critical step in exploiting bitter tastants as potential anti-asthma drugs. Taylor investigated the role of actin cytoskeletal reorganization as a potential means by which TAS2Rs cause airway smooth muscle relaxation. In addition, Taylor studied the role of gustducin, a well-known Gi family G protein that is known to mediate TAS2R signaling in taste bud cells. Findings from Taylor’s studies demonstrated that TAS2R-mediated signaling in airway smooth muscle is partly mediated via gustducin. Future studies are needed to ascertain the contribution of additional G proteins in TAS2R signaling in airway smooth muscle cells, and how the novel mechanisms by which TAS2Rs can be exploited therapetically.  

Timothy Brandt, working in the lab of Dr. Tung Chan, helped develop a novel quantitative assay to test whether recently discovered drugs could be used to treat insulin resistance. Resistance to insulin, a hallmark condition in Type 2 diabetes, is typically measured by assessing (reduced) GLUT4 enzyme-mediated glucose uptake in cells. Dr. Chan’s laboratory discovered novels drugs that directly activate the Akt kinase, a key glucose uptake regulator. Tim developed a quantitative assay that uses infrared-on-cell imaging technology and muscle cells in multi-well plates to detect GLUT4 that is exposed to the outer cell membrane. The assay automatically measures signals from thousands of cells and from up to 96 wells at the same time. In contrast, the current standard method requires the assessment of each cell under a microscope magnification, in which accurate quantification is challenging due to photo bleaching, low throughput and observation bias. Tim’s efforts developing a high throughput system for screening drugs regulating glucose uptake are helping pave the way to new diabetes treatments.