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Featured Research Trainee: HHMI Gilliam Fellow Jose Campos Duran
The Featured Research Trainee for September is Jose Campos Duran, a fourth year PhD candidate working in the lab of Sarah Henrickson, MD, PhD. Campos Duran and Dr. Henrickson are one of 51 student advisor pairs awarded a 2022 Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study. Gilliam Fellowships seek to increase diversity of scientists at the college and university faculty level by supporting scientists who will become scientific leaders.
Campos Duran is in the Immunology Graduate Group, part of Biomedical Graduate Studies in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He received a B.A. with Honors in Molecular and Cell Biology with a concentration in Immunology and a minor in Molecular Toxicology from the University of California, Berkeley in May 2015. After working in the industry for a few years, he came back to academia to pursue his PhD. In this Q&A, Campos Duran discusses the Gilliam Fellowship, his research, and what he does for fun. Check out the August Featured Trainee, Franklin Staback Rodríguez, also a HHMI Gilliam Fellow.
Tell us about the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship and what this accomplishment means to you.
This award provides invaluable opportunities to establish new networks and connect with other individuals with similar scientific and professional goals at various meetings, such as the Gilliam Annual Meeting and HHMI Science Meeting. In addition, the fellowship prepares us to assume leadership roles in science and science education. Fellows participate in HHMI leadership training to continue developing the skills and tools needed to advocate for ourselves and others, and continue to influence the academic environment for the benefit of the scientific community.
Advisors also benefit from the fellowship. They participate in a year-long, culturally responsive mentorship course and are empowered to disseminate lessons learned to their labs, departments, and institutions to create a more supportive and inclusive environment for students from groups historically excluded from and underrepresented in science.
I am extremely grateful to have been awarded this Gilliam Fellowship, and this would not have been possible without the support of my advisor, Dr. Henrickson. Ultimately, this award reflects the commitment of my PI and I to enact positive changes in academia, as well as a great opportunity for me to develop as a scientist and a leader.
What are some research projects you are currently working on, and why are they important?
Research in the Henrickson Lab centers around understanding the role of T cell dysfunction in chronic allergic and inflammatory diseases, including asthma and obesity, as well as patients with inborn errors of immunity (IEI) which are caused by rare, genetic variants that affect aspects of normal immune system development and function.
For my thesis research, I study patients with gain-of-function (GOF) variants in signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3), a DNA-binding transcription factor. I focus on elucidating the mechanisms of this disorder, called STAT3 GOF, and how this altered signaling dysregulates CD8+ T cells at a phenotypic, functional, transcriptional, and metabolic level. By studying these patients and their affected pathways, we hope to increase our understanding of basic immunology and immune dysregulation processes in rare genetic diseases as well as more common diseases, including autoimmunity, chronic infections, and chronic inflammatory disorders.
Performing deep, mechanistic studies in IEI is often challenging because some of these disorders and variants of interest are so rare. Additionally, lymphocytopenia in these patients often makes obtaining sufficient primary T cells difficult. One of the projects that I’m collaborating with the Bailis Laboratory on is using gene editing technologies, such as CRISPR-Cas9, to edit healthy donor T cells to match patient genetic variants to study the impact of acute and chronic alterations in these immune pathways on T cell function. This work may provide additional human cells for mechanistic testing, as well as both pre-existing and novel therapeutic target testing.
What are some of the most salient experiences you’ve had at CHOP, research or otherwise?
Some of the most salient experiences have been my day-to-day interactions with the people and labs at CHOP, especially on our floor. While preparing for our candidacy exams, our PIs scheduled additional mock qualifying exam sessions with other labs to give us extra opportunities to practice presenting our aims and answering questions, and the PIs also provided feedback to better prepare us. Getting through these exams is extremely stressful, and I appreciated how the PIs and members from other labs went above and beyond to ensure that we were ready. And it’s not just during exam season that they are supportive; if there’s a technique or experiment you’d like to perform, there is always someone, whether they are on the same floor, a floor below, or in the building next door, who is willing to help.
Aside from research, what do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
I’ve completed a 7-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles four times to raise funds to provide free HIV/AIDS medical care, testing, prevention services, and awareness to end the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. While completing the ride is a huge accomplishment itself, I’m most proud of the amount of money that my teammates and I have raised for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Los Angeles LGBT Center and how this money has made an impact in the types and number of services provided to those who are uninsured or disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, such as the LGBTQ+ community and communities of color. As a member of both communities and having grown up in the SF Bay Area, this cause has always been incredibly important to me.
What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
I’m very much into running; I’ve run quite a few trail and road marathons. I also enjoy cycling and whenever possible, I like taking my bike out to Valley Forge or New Hope and back. You also can catch me at trivia nights, and while I do have my staple locations, I’m always looking for new places to try.