During The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute’s recent Poster Day event, the 2014 Distinguished Research Trainee Award winners were announced. Comprised of a physicist, a molecular biologist, and a cancer geneticist, this year's awardees' expertise spans the research spectrum.

University of Pennsylvania doctoral candidate Jennifer Lynch, as well as James Psathas, PhD, and Jennifer Kalish, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow and a physician fellow, respectively, were recognized with this year's Distinguished Trainee Awards.

The CHOP Distinguished Research Trainee Awards provide institution-wide recognition for exceptional CHOP Research trainees, and create an avenue for mentors to show appreciation for their researchers-in-training. Each awardee is featured on the CHOP Research Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA) web site, recognized with an award certificate, and awarded a cash prize.

Selected from among 14 nominations, this year's winners were chosen by members of the Research Trainee Advisory Committee, which is chaired by Dennis Durbin, MD, MSCE. The winners were presented with certificates of achievement by Philip Johnson, MD, CHOP Research's chief scientific officer.

A Physicist, a Biochemist, and a Geneticist

After receiving her bachelor's degree from Emory University, Jennifer Lynch came to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue a doctorate in Physics, with a concentration on biomedical optics. Since 2010 she has worked with Daniel J. Licht, MD, of Children's Hospital's Department of Neurology, aiding in several congenital heart defect investigations as well as using optical spectroscopies to monitor cerebral hemodynamics.

Lynch was the winner of the "Outstanding Investigator" Award at Cardiac Center’s Cardiology 2014 conference in Orlando, Fla. in February. She has also been the lead author on a number of recent papers, including a recent Academic Radiology study on using near-infrared spectroscopy to measure cerebral venous oxygen saturation, while another paper was recently submitted to the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.

"Most physics graduate students would shy away from clinical studies," but Lynch "wholeheartedly embraces" and relishes in the complexity of clinical physiology, Dr. Licht said, adding, "I see a very bright future for her at the interface of physics and clinical research."

"What I've enjoyed most is working with patients and their families," said Lynch, who will be attending medical school at New York University in the fall. "This chance to experience and contribute to medical research has really opened my eyes to how interesting this field is and how exciting it is to be part of the research," she added.

The second awardee, James Psathas, PhD, was nominated by Andrei Thomas-Tikhonenko, PhD. A molecular biologist and biochemist, Dr. Psathas studies the mechanisms of oncogenesis. In 2012 he contributed to a Journal of Clinical Investigation study of CD19, while in December 2013 Dr. Psathas was the first author of a Blood paper on B cell signaling. In both cases, it was Dr. Psathas' "painstaking bioinformatics work" that led to successful publication, Dr. Thomas-Tikhonenko pointed out.

"In addition to performing a tremendous amount of high-quality bench work and scholarly writing," and becoming the "de facto bioinformatics guru of my lab," Dr. Psathas has "two major strengths: tenacity and outstanding work ethics," Dr. Thomas-Tikhonenko said.

"I have to thank CHOP as a whole, and especially Dr. Thomas-Tikhonenko for the commitment to and support of my research," Dr. Psathas said. "It is gratifying to have one's hard work recognized and I hope this award brings further awareness to the multitude of exciting research endeavors at CHOP."

And rounding out the 2014 Distinguished Research Trainee award winners is geneticist Jennifer Kalish, MD, PhD, who was nominated by Matthew Deardorff, MD, PhD. Dr. Kalish, who is currently working in the laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania's Marisa S. Bartolomei, PhD, is also an attending physician in the Division of Genetics as well as an instructor in Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Much of her work has been focused on better understanding Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome (BWS), a rare genetic overgrowth disorder that is associated with an increased risk of childhood cancers, in particular kidney cancer and hepatoblastoma, a form of liver cancer. In late 2013 Dr. Kalish received a "Young Investigator" grant from Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation to further study the mechanisms of BWS.

"There's such amazing research that goes on at CHOP, and it's an honor to be recognized as part of that research," Dr. Kalish said.

Saying he was "very enthusiastic" about her research, Dr. Deardorff noted that Dr. Kalish "is enthusiastic, hardworking, proactive, and dedicated to her patients and pursuit of better treatments. She is passionate about science and is focused on the translation of basic research mechanisms into the clinic."