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Stephen M. Sykes, Ph.D., first fellowship award winner

Posted By ISEH Headquarters, Saturday, January 21, 2012

First Fellowship Winner Grateful for the Opportunity

Stephen M. Sykes Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow
Massachusetts General Hospital, Center for Regenerative Medicine
Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Harvard University
Boston, MA, USA

Stephen M. Sykes, Ph.D., said it was "definitely glorious” to receive notification that he had been named the first recipient of the ISEH Eugene Goldwasser Fellowship, supported by Amgen. Sykes is a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Regenerative Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.

The ISEH Eugene Goldwasser Fellowship, supported by Amgen, will be given annually to support the research activities of a deserving young investigator in the hematology field. Support will be a one-year, non-renewable $50,000 grant payable to the successful applicant's institution, for use as salary and/or other research support. The research may be basic or translational with a focus on experimental hematology, hematologic malignancies, hematopiesis or stem cell biology as it relates to hematology.

"This means a great deal to me,” Sykes exclaims. "It is a real honor to be chosen among what I can only assume were great candidates. Dr. Goldwasser's contributions to science are immeasurable, and I will definitely always look up to him. He did so much to translate work in the lab to the patient bedside. On a practical level, this fellowship provides me with protected time to carry out follow-up experiments on my current work.”

Sykes didn't start out to be a Ph.D. but as he moved along in his educational career, science found him.

"I grew up in Canada playing baseball,” he explains. "Well, the chances of playing professional baseball are relatively limited there. I received an opportunity to play baseball at a junior college in upstate New York. When I left, I promised my mother that I would put effort forth in my studies as well. Somewhere in those first two years, I realized that while I was a mediocre baseball player, I loved science and loved learning.”

His next stop on the education trail was a B.S. degree in biochemistry from Mount Allison University.

"At Mount Allison, my desire to pursue a career in biomedical sciences was strengthened by intense theoretical and practical coursework focused on the principles of molecular biology, metabolism and protein biochemistry,” he adds. "After graduation, I wanted to gain technical experience as well as perform research directed more towards cancer biology.”

Therefore, Sykes took a position in the laboratory of Dr. Xianxin Hua at the University of Pennsylvania.

"After the first six to eight weeks, I knew this was what I was meant to do,” Sykes concludes.

Two years later, he entered U Penn as a Ph.D. candidate and achieved his doctorate in cell and molecular biology in 2007. His first post-doc position took him to Dr. Gary Gilliland's lab at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston to study the role of the FOXO family of transcription factors in the maintenance of acute myeloid leukemia. When Dr. Gilliland left for industry, Sykes moved to David Scadden's laboratory at the Center of Regenerative Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (Harvard University) and, with Dr. Scadden's encouragement, continued his work on FOXOs.

In Vancouver, Sykes will share his work that identifies a paradoxical role of the FOXO family of transcription factors supporting leukemia-initiating cell function in a multitude of genetically diverse acute myeloid leukemias.

"I attended the meeting in Melbourne last year and found it to be an intimate and interactive meeting,” he says. "I think ISEH is the right place for me, and I didn't need any encouragement to attend again in Vancouver. I really like the people I met at ISEH and the way they think about science.”

Sykes hopes that as he continues his work, it will become clearer to him how his research in the lab carries over to the clinic.

"The biggest challenge for me is to understand how basic research translates to patients,” he offers. "As a Ph.D., we have no patient contact and we can't set up clinical trials. We are still learning how our work moves forward to an effective drug. Maybe I can help find a way to work together with clinicians and industry to maximize everybody's knowledge.”

When asked what he likes to do outside of science, Sykes chuckled and said, "everybody in our field is constantly thinking about science.” However he indicates that the focus of his life outside of science is finding the energy to keep up with his three-year-old son.

"Man, that kid wears me out!”

ISEH members: Connect with Stephen through the ISEH member database. Click here to learn more about him or to build your personal profile.

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