Ph.D. Students, Bonnie Dixon and Zhen Luo, Awarded Clinical Training Fellowships

UC Davis

The mission of the CTSC is to bridge the gap between basic science, work that deals with fundamental principles, and applied research to advance human health. Translational science is situated between these two forms of research. It takes the principles of basic science and sees how it can be applied in clinical settings. The CTSC also stresses an interdisciplinary focus. Recipients of this NIH-funded award are pre-doctoral students from Ph.D. research programs and medical programs. The one-year program begins with an intensive summer institute and continues during the academic year with a part-time training curriculum. In the intensive summer institute, Ph.D. students work in a medical setting, going into hospitals and clinics like medical students. They shadow doctors, observe different medical treatments, and become oriented to current treatment practices and research needs to improve current medical care. Meanwhile, the medical students are trained in research methods and experimental design. During the academic year Ph.D. and medical students are trained together in interdisciplinary research teams so that they learn more about how to work together, teach terminology, and share knowledge. BonnieDixon.jpg Bonnie Dixon is a Ph.D. student in the Nutritional Biology program concentrating in nutritional neuroscience, the study of interactions between nutrition and brain function. Dixon’s work seeks to understand the physiological interactions between diet, metabolism, and sleep, in order to examine how the brain coordinates the homeostatic regulation of sleep and food-intake behaviors, as suggested by recent discoveries of the neural connections between appetite and sleep/wake brain regions. Dixon is using single channel EEG recordings of brain activity from a large population to look for relationships between diet, metabolic health, and sleep. Her long-term goal is to provide clinicians and the public with information about how sleep can promote metabolic health, and conversely, how diet can promote healthy sleep. Dixon is excited to participate in the CTSC training program because it provides a valuable opportunity to make connections with doctors and medical professionals and gain experience in clinical settings. She believes that preventive health is one of the most important research needs for advancing medical practice, and appreciates this opportunity to begin developing clinical applications of her research that aim to improve upon current strategies for healthy lifestyle management. LindaLuo.jpg Zhen Luo is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and she is working to develop imaging technologies for early cancer detection and therapy evaluation. Luo is interested in utilizing optical molecular imaging technologies to detect cancer-associated metabolic changes with the progression of cancer or upon the drug treatment in individual cells and within the intact tissue. Luo believes that this technology is promising because it can improve early-stage detection of cancer and enable non-invasive evaluation of response to cancer therapy in a clinical setting. During the clinical part of her training program, Luo has been participating in clinical rotations in oncology and radiation departments. She is able to talk to patients and doctors to see how they currently perform cancer imaging and work with those technologies (MRI, PET/CT most commonly). She has observed that the spatial resolution of PET/CT and MRI is still relatively poor, which limits its sensitivity in detecting early cancers. Her study will provide novel optical molecular imaging approaches for early cancer detection, which allows effective treatment, and results in long-term survival. Luo also notes that doctors use MRIs to see if a cancer tumor shrinks, but they need several months after the treatment to see if therapeutic agents are working. The ability of optical imaging to quantify metabolic activity at single cell resolution is complementary to MRI and PET that are predominantly limited to whole body/tissue imaging. Luo hopes that her technology with relatively higher sensitivity might help doctors to know if the therapy is effective much earlier by observing whether metabolic activity of cancer cells changes in response to the treatment. Dixon and Luo are looking forward to the remainder of the year-long program, in which they will collaborate with the other students in part-time courses on team science, grant writing, and individual research projects. Dixon and Luo believe it is a great training program for preparing them to be part of interdisciplinary research teams, and provides invaluable opportunities for interdisciplinary networking and collaboration.