USC News

show menu search

International scientist named Pew Latin American Fellow

Pamela Johnsonby Pamela J. Johnson
Sabrina Sanchez, whose research focuses on the circadian clock, will join the lab of Dean Steve A. Kay in August.
Photo: Sabrina Sanchez, whose research focuses on the circadian clock, will join the lab of Dean Steve A. Kay in August.

Incoming Trojan Sabrina Sanchez, who earned her PhD in molecular biology from the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina, has been selected as a Pew Latin American Fellow. She will join the laboratory of USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Dean Steve A. Kay in August.

Sanchez was among 10 worldwide scientists named fellows in the biomedical sciences by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Launched in 1991, the Pew Latin American Fellows Program strives to cultivate outstanding researchers and strengthen the infrastructure of biomedical science in Latin American countries. The program provides each fellow with salary support for two years of postdoctoral training in the laboratory of an established researcher in the United States. Pew also invests funds to help fellows establish laboratories in their home countries.

Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of Pew, said that in the nonprofit organization’s 22-year history of promoting an international exchange of scientific ideas, approximately 200 Latin American scientists have received more than $18 million in support.

The fellowships contribute to postdoctoral researchers investigating some of the world’s most troubling health problems, including diabetes, schizophrenia and cancer. Sanchez, whose research focuses on the circadian clock, sought to work in the laboratory of Kay, well known for his research in the composition and architecture of circadian networks in plants and animals.

The circadian clock — also called biological clock — is a biochemical mechanism that fluctuates within approximately 24-hour periods and is coordinated by day-night cycles. Scientists have found that clock genes have varying roles in different tissues. The master circadian clock located in the brain regulates waking and sleeping, and also orchestrates circadian oscillations on peripheral clocks throughout the body.

The molecular mechanisms underlying the proper functioning of these systems are conserved across species. Desynchronization between them could play a role in conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

In a recent study, Kay and his team discovered a small molecule — one that can be easily developed into a drug — that controls the intricate molecular cogs, or timekeeping mechanisms, of cryptochrome in such a manner that it can repress the production of glucose by the liver. Diabetes is caused by an accumulation of glucose in the blood, which can lead to heart disease, strokes, kidney failure and blindness.

Kay, holder of the Anna H. Bing Dean’s chair and professor of biological sciences at USC Dornsife, as well as professor of neurology, physiology and biophysics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, said he’s thrilled to welcome Sanchez to the team. In Argentina, Sanchez works in the laboratory of Associate Professor Marcelo Yanovsky, who conducted postdoctoral research in Kay’s laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute from 2000 to 2003.

“We are delighted that Dr. Sabrina Sanchez has chosen to join our laboratory and has been awarded the prestigious Pew Latin American Fellowship. I am confident that her work on circadian rhythms in plants will be innovative, groundbreaking and ultimately lead to discoveries applicable to the field,” Kay said.

Sanchez said she’s looking forward to her arrival in July, one month prior to her formal start date.

“Dr. Kay’s lab has been very influential in the field,” she said. “I’m honored to have the opportunity to work there. I think his lab provides a very stimulating environment that will allow me to learn and interact with brilliant people.”

She hopes to help unravel circadian clocks’ functioning and learn how this endogenous mechanism controls so many responses in living organisms.

“This helps us to better understand certain human diseases or even maximize crop yields,” she said. “I’m really grateful for this fellowship. It represents a lifetime opportunity.”

The Latin American fellowships are designated by a distinguished national advisory committee chaired by Torsten Wiesel, president emeritus of Rockefeller University and a 1981 Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine.

“Scientific discoveries and innovations are, as we all know, not limited by geographic boundaries,” Wiesel said. “This year’s Pew Latin American Fellows are among the most creative and committed scientific students to be found anywhere in the world. They will undoubtedly further advance our scientific understanding and knowledge in biology and medicine.”

As of 2008, 20 percent of foreign citizens who earned doctorates in the science, engineering or health fields in the United States reported returning to their country of origin to work or live, according to the National Science Foundation. By contrast, more than 70 percent of the Pew fellows return to their home countries to set up their own laboratories. In addition to the $30,000-a-year stipend that fellows receive while training in the U.S., the program offers $35,000 to those who return home.

More stories about: , ,