ALS Association

 

Meet Edward Barbieri: A 2018 Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellow

Our Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship Program continues to support young scientists and is the only program of its kind specifically funding early ALS postdoctoral fellows.

The awards were founded in memory of Mr. Safenowitz by the Safenowitz family through The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter. The program encourages young scientists to enter and, importantly, to remain in the ALS field.

We are proud that 76 percent of the postdoctoral fellows we fund go on to start their own labs to continue studying ALS and mentor other young ALS researchers. The rest of our Safenowitz fellowship program graduates go on to careers in the biomedical industry, nonprofits, and medical writing, with many still staying in the ALS space.

This year, we are supporting five new postdoctoral fellows out of a highly competitive applicant pool. Over the next few weeks, we will highlight each fellow their dedication and unique contributions to ALS research, as well as their interests outside of the lab.

We recently talked with Dr. Edward Barbieri from the University of Pennsylvania to learn about his unique research project aimed at identify particular networks of chaperones that can reverse the toxic effects of ALS-associated proteins in cells.

Edward Barbieri, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mentor: Dr. James Shorter

Project: Programming human chaperone systems against neurodegenerative disease

Why did you choose to focus on ALS research?

I initially became interested in ALS research as a graduate student at Yale, although I did not actually start studying ALS until my postdoctoral position here in the Shorter Lab at Penn. As a graduate student I worked on developing new genetic engineering tools in yeast.

My journey to ALS research began when I was fortunate enough to serve as the student host for our Yale MCDB Department guest speaker, Professor Susan “Sue” Lindquist. Sue was truly a pioneer in the use of yeast to model neurodegenerative diseases like ALS. Her work has led to several breakthroughs in our understanding of ALS.

I was lucky enough to spend the day with Sue and her passion for ALS research was contagious. From that day, I knew I wanted to work on ALS. Sue has since passed away, but her passion lives on [and] I am inspired to continue the work she pioneered towards finding a cure for ALS.

What do you like about working in the ALS research field?

There is an incredibly vibrant research community around ALS and I find it truly inspiring that so many talented people around the world are working on this incredible challenge. Each of us might have a different perspective or approach to our work, but we all share a common motivation to help those who are suffering from ALS.

What are the goals of your funded research project?

I study human chaperone proteins in the context of ALS. These chaperones normally function to help other proteins to fold properly, but for unknown reasons, the chaperones fail to do their job in diseases like ALS.

There is a vast network of human chaperone proteins that we currently do not fully understand. One of the main goals of my research [funded by The ALS Association] is to use genetic engineering tools in yeast to study human chaperone networks.

By employing yeast models of ALS, along with synthetic chaperone networks, my goal is to identify particular networks of chaperones that can reverse the toxic effects of ALS-associated proteins in cells.

In addition, I am using new genetic engineering tools to create synthetic chaperones with “souped-up” activities that could serve as future therapeutics for ALS.

How might your work impact the ALS community?

My hope is that my work will [clarify] the role of these chaperone networks in ALS and ultimately provide the ALS community with new therapeutic targets to cure ALS.

It is often said that ALS is one of the most complex diseases to understand. Yet, you go to work every day to tackle the challenges of your research. What gives you hope that there will someday be a world without ALS?

The type of person who is drawn to studying a challenging disease like ALS is someone who won’t shy away from a tough challenge and who will never ever quit. I see these qualities every day in my lab colleagues and in my peers who work on ALS. These people inspire me, and this gives me great hope that we will someday eradicate ALS from this world.

What is something unique about you?

I am an Eagle Scout.

What do you like to do when you aren’t in the lab?

Outside of lab, I play on an ice hockey team here in Philadelphia. I also love to skateboard and surf when I can get to the beach.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks to The ALS Association and its donors for funding my research!

Where can people get more details about your research project?

They can click here for the Shorter Lab web page or follow the Shorter lab and me on Twitter @Shorterlab and @eddiebarb for the latest research updates.