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Yale researchers hailed as STAT 'Wunderkinds'

Yale Medicine Magazine, Spring 2024 (Issue 172) Women's Health Special Report
by Cristina Deptula


Three Yale researchers are among 28 North American early-career scientists who were recently celebrated as the “next generation of scientific superstars” by STAT, a health, medicine, and life sciences news service that named the 2023 “Wunderkinds.”

Brenda Cabrera-Mendoza, MD/PhD, a Yale postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry, studies the genomes of people with mental illness in the hope of identifying genetic variants associated with suicidality for each major mental health disorder.

Cabrera-Mendoza, who received her doctoral degrees in psychiatric genomics from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, focuses on people of Latin American, Asian, and African descent because these populations have been under-represented in the past in genomic databases. “To diversify our genetic databases, and thus better understand the whole of humanity, we need to diversify our research workforce,” she says. “Diverse researchers are best able to reach diverse communities and can provide different and useful perspectives.”

Jiun-Ruey Hu, MD, MPH, a Yale clinical fellow in cardiovascular medicine, has developed a suite of computational tools to help physicians who treat cardiovascular and kidney disorders improve their decision-making. The tools make use of the large quantity of new research published daily in medical journals. Hu, who received an MPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and an MD from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, modeled his suite on the decision-making processes used by specialist consultants and on clinical practice guidelines issued by national subspecialty societies.

“The goal of good computing is not to replace health care professionals but to provide them with tools that amplify their capabilities, allowing them to make more accurate diagnoses and evidence-based treatment decisions,” says Hu, who adds that he was drawn to investigate the heart and the kidneys because there is much yet to be learned about the interaction of these organs.

Valerie Tornini, PhD, a Yale associate research scientist in genetics, uses zebrafish models to study the roles of small and still mysterious genes and proteins in vertebrate neurodevelopment. She hopes to better understand how brain cell development might differ in people with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Tornini, who received her PhD in cell biology from Duke University School of Medicine, says zebrafish are excellent models for basic neurological research. The processes she monitors in humans occur in similar ways in these fish and are easily observable because the transparent fish develop relatively quickly compared to humans and other mammals. “You can screen for effects of hundreds of genes and prioritize them rapidly by mutating them in zebrafish,” she points out, reflecting on the nature of the fish and the power of sequencing, the use of fluorescence microscopy, and whole-organism phenotyping.

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