Meet Our Postdoctoral Fellows

Learn more about our current Post-Doctoral Training in Genomic Medicine Research trainees.

Nathan Hawkey

Funding supported by T32 Grant

Nathan Hawkey headshotHometown
Denver, CO

Current Research
We work on in silico and in vitro models (systems biology approach) to uncover therapeutic vulnerabilities in castrate resistant prostate cancer.

How did you become interested in your field of study?
I became interested in genomic medicine during my time treating cancer patients. There are few that we can now personalize therapy for based on genomic findings. However, we have a long way to go to fully understand how these tools can help patients.

What excites you about your work?
First and foremost, I am motivated by the possibility that I may one day help contribute to a discovery that helps multiple patients live longer and have higher quality of lives with cancer. I also enjoy using in silico tools for very complex data.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I would like to do exactly what I am doing now: Collaborating with others to develop in vivo and in silico models to discover therapeutic vulnerabilities to overcome therapy resistance in cancer. I will also continue to see and treat patients in clinic.


Katherine Collins

Funding supported by T32 Grant

Katherine Collins headshotHometown
Charlotte, NC

Current Research 
I am currently a post-doc fellow in Dr. Bill Kraus’ lab at Duke. My research interests include: 1) examining molecular, environmental, and personal determinants associated with lifestyle intervention adherence and non-completion; 2) identifying at-risk individuals for lifestyle intervention non-completion or poor adherence; and 3) utilizing personalized medicine approaches for targeting at-risk individuals using identified molecular, environmental, and personal factors associated with poor lifestyle intervention adherence and non-completion. I am currently working on validating previously identified genetic variants associated with exercise intervention non-completion in the STRRIDE trials, in a separate cohort among adults with overweight or obesity who participated in a behavioral weight loss intervention.  

How did you become interested in your field of study?
During my PhD training I became aware of a major gap within the exercise and weight loss literature: We know exercise good for us and losing weight is beneficial among individuals with overweight and obesity, yet people don’t do it or struggle to maintain these healthy behaviors long-term. Although many factors play into the reason for why individuals struggle to maintain these behaviors long-term, very few have investigated the genetic and molecular underpinnings that mediate this relationship. This noticeable gap, along with my mentor Dr. Bill Kraus, led me to become interested in this specific research niche.

What excites you about your work?
Exercise can truly be “medicine” for all individuals, as well as weight loss for those who are overweight or obese. If we can identify individuals who are at-risk for poor adherence to healthy lifestyle behaviors utilizing a polygenic risk score, and then target these individuals with precision medicine techniques it could result in a huge public health impact.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
My long-term career goal is to be an independent researcher with expertise in both genetic/machine learning statistical analyses, as well as precision medicine interventions for promoting exercise and weight loss maintenance long-term.


Sarah Heston

Funding supported by T32 Grant

Sarah Heston headshot

Hometown
Memphis, TN

Current research
I am studying the ability of the gut metagenome of pediatric hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) recipients to predict infectious outcomes, such as mucosal barrier injury bloodstream infections, in an effort to determine modifiable factors that will lead to infection prevention in these high-risk children.

How did you become interested in your field of study?
I am interested in learning how to work with big data to improve research in immunocompromised children. I found a mentor in my Division with similar interests and have been working with a growing dataset of shotgun metagenomic sequencing of fecal samples from pediatric HSCT recipients.

What excites you about your work?
The gut is such a large source of infection for these patients. Additionally, advances in genomic medicine are making production and analysis of "-omic" data more affordable and accessible, to the point it will likely soon be used in routine clinical care. If we can find a clinically-relevant, non-invasive way to predict the onset of infection from stool samples, it could have a huge impact on the clinical care of these children.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I would like to be an independent clinical researcher specializing in statistical methods for analyzing "big data." I aim to use my work to make metagenomics more clinically-relevant and accessible for the clinicians. Hopefully, my research will inform infection prevention strategies that will impact the rate of infection in immunocompromised children


Nathan Bihlmeyer

Funding supported by T32 Grant

Nathan Bihlmeyer headshot

Hometown
Raleigh, NC

Current research
I am currently a computational genetics post-doc fellow in Svati Shah's lab at Duke studying molecular mechanisms of pediatric and adult obesity, with a focus on microbiome-mediated metabolic pathways. The design of the primary study involves using multi-omics (metabolomics, proteomics, microbiome metagenomics and lipidomics) before and after a multi-factorial diet and exercise intervention in children with obesity from two cohorts. We are also performing deeper mechanistic studies around the role of the microbiome, conducting fecal transplant studies in gnotobiotic mice through a collaboration with John Rawls. I am also studying molecular pathways in adult obesity, analyzing metabolomics and proteomics data in several different large weight loss intervention cohorts (behavioral, exercise, surgical and pharmacologic). Identified molecular markers will be assessed for independent and incremental association with cardiovascular endpoints to filter for the most clinically important markers. The primary goal of my current work is to develop a personalized approach to weight loss interventions in pediatric and adult obesity, with the goal of identifying a biomarker that will target children and adults with obesity to the most beneficial weight loss intervention for that individual.

How did you become interested in your field of study?
Omics technologies have long been of interest to me. The overall theme of my past scientific research has been built upon a strong foundation of computational expertise and a passion for genetics and application of genetics to tackle issues of human health. Much of this work has focused on cardiovascular and related diseases. Another theme in my work is collaborating and leading large human consortiums to better identify potential genetic and metabolic pathways to generate hypotheses for disease mechanisms that I then validate in model organisms. My career path underlying these themes has provided me expertise in hands-on analysis and integration of diverse omics technologies, bioinformatic interrogation, and leadership in large collaborative groups studying human disease.

What excites you about your work?
Working under the mentorship of Dr. Shah, and utilizing the incredible resources at Duke and within the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute (DMPI), has allowed me to gain additional expertise in order to expand and continue my work to lead to an independent career. These resources include access to data and biospecimens from cardiovascular and obesity cohorts of children and adults, access to highly capable collaborators, involvement in large consortia studies of genetics and metabolomics, and a physical infrastructure within the DMPI with cutting0edge molecular technologies and easy access to basic science collaborators.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
My long-term career goal is to obtain a research-based tenure-track assistant professorship in the field of computational genomics, studying the molecular epidemiology of cardiometabolic diseases. My method to obtain this goal is to continue forward with the themes from my previous work, such as my passion for genetics and application of genetics to tackle issues of human health, focusing on cardiometabolic disease. Another theme I plan to continue is collaborating in large human consortium to use omics technologies in order to generate hypotheses that I would functionally validate in model organisms through collaborations.


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