2006 alumnus published in the premier science journal Nature
May 26, 2011 By Leigh Cocanougher
during his years at Centre) is the first-author of a paper
published in the premier science journal Nature.
Above is a confocal 3D reconstruction of the retinal
blood vessels that are the subject of the study. The image
is depth-coded (red nearest, to green, to blue deepest).
James (Tony) Stefater ’06 may only be five years out of Centre, but he is already making a name for himself in the worlds of medicine and science. Stefater is the first-author of a paper published in the premier science journal Nature, which will be published online on May 29.
The paper discusses work Stefater is doing for his Ph.D. at the University of Cincinnati, work that involves a novel pathway by which immune cells regulate blood vessel development in the eye.
These findings, he says, lay the groundwork for new approaches to treat diseases from diabetic retinopathy to cancer.
At the University of Cincinnati, Stefater is working not only on his Ph.D. but his M.D. as well. To this end, he completed his first two years of medical school immediately after graduating from Centre, then moved into the lab (where he has been for the past three years) to complete his Ph.D.
During these three years, which have been spent in Richard Lang’s developmental biology lab at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, he has devoted most of his time to conducting research for the project featured in Nature.
“In the article, we focused on how the blood vessels of the retina develop,” he says. “Interestingly, it turns out that cells of the immune system—cells usually thought to defend against a foreign invader, like bacteria—regulate the way the blood vessels form. And the molecular mechanism by which these immune cells perform this function turns out to be a novel link between different signaling pathways. So we identified the mechanisms by which immune cells affect a developmental process.”
There are many interesting ways to extend this work, he says.
“Many diseases are either caused by, or could be cured by, altering the blood vessels. For instance, tumors cannot grow without developing their own blood vessels. And it turns out that tumors, like many disease states, are packed with immune cells. So, in this case—and in many others—it’s quite likely that immune cells are regulating blood vessels in the same way they do during development.”
After completing his Ph.D. this fall, Stefater will return to medical school to finish his M.D. Following that, he says, “my goal as a physician-scientist will be to run a lab that makes basic scientific discoveries that improve patient care.”
Much of the road for this future was paved at Centre, the alumnus says.
“Part of doing really interesting science is asking questions that bridge many different disciplines,” he says. “For instance, in our recent work, we’ve made discoveries that will change the way developmental biologists view the immune system—typically the realm of immunologists—and vise-a-versa. Good work sparks new ideas in people from different disciplines.”
In addition, he says that “a liberal arts education lays the groundwork for expansive thinking. Many of the best discussions I have with my medical and scientific peers start with an intense discussion about philosophy, religion or politics. The smartest scientists and physicians I’ve met have incredibly wide-ranging spheres of knowledge. Centre lays the foundation for that, which certainly facilitates future success.”