Two junior faculty members at the Keck School of Medicine of USC each have been awarded $100,000 grants by the Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Foundation. Crystal Marconett, PhD, from the Department of Surgery, and Hosung Kim, PhD, from the Department of Neurology, were chosen on the basis of their outstanding research during their time as assistant professors at the Keck School.

“The foundation supports researchers at this early stage so that they can conduct innovative research that has strong future potential and could have a significant impact,” said Jane Haake Russell, director of the Baxter Foundation. “We are proud to support both Dr. Marconett and Dr. Kim, whose research we believe will lead to new therapies and approaches to disease prevention.”

Marconett’s lab is studying how a novel class of regulatory molecules, lncRNAs, affects the ability of cancer cells to repair DNA damage in lung cancer.

She hypothesizes that LINC00261, an lncRNA whose function is as yet unknown, works as a tumor suppressor gene and enhances cells’ ability to detect DNA damage as they prepare to divide.

Her lab has found that the reintroduction of LINC00261 into lung cancer cell lines inhibited their mobility and growth, and turned on signals related to DNA damage.

“It is my hope that funds from the Baxter Foundation will enable us to leverage our basic science research insights into the function of LINC00261 toward the development of novel therapies,” Marconett said.

Kim received the grant for his research that aims to predict neurodevelopmental impairments in early childhood among premature newborns by using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology to document and better understand the impact of prematurity-related brain injuries on neurological development. First, he’s developing specialized machine-learning algorithms to compute structural and networking features that characterize various aspects of early brain development. He’ll then use this software to predict language, motor, and cognitive outcomes two- to four years after birth.

“Even with existing treatments, up to half of premature newborns develop deficits in motor function, language, or IQ,” Kim explained. “We may be able to predict these impairments using brain scans, and eventually prevent them.”

Another $100,000 grant was awarded to the medical student summer research program, currently led by Nuria Pastor-Soler, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and assistant dean for research mentoring. The program has received this support from the Baxter Foundation for the past few years.

— Adriana Cho and Zara Abrams