Graduate students to attend Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Two Penn State graduate students have been selected by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting June 24-29, in Lindau, Germany.

Since 1951, Nobel Laureates in chemistry, physics and physiology/medicine have convened annually in Lindau for informal meetings with graduate students and young researchers, who are nominated and selected by sponsoring agencies and organizations. The Laureates lecture on the topic of their choice in the mornings and participate in less formal, small-group discussions with the graduate students and young researchers in the afternoons and some evenings.

The Penn State graduate students who have been selected to participate are Robert Nwokonko, a doctoral student in biomedical sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, and Lauren Randolph, a doctoral student in bioengineering. As a testament to the importance of this meaningful educational enhancement opportunity, a portion of the funding for the Penn State graduate students to attend the Lindau Meeting is provided by the Graduate School.

In addition to participating in discussions with the Nobel Laureates, Nwokonko and Randolph will have opportunities to interact with other graduate students and junior researchers from around the world.

Nwokonko is conducting research in Professor Donald L. Gill’s laboratory to understand the role of ORAI1 calcium channels, which can be found in human white blood cells, and play a key role in initiating immune responses in healthy individuals. Nwokonko explained that humans who have loss-of-function mutations in Orai1 suffer from a range of immune disorders, with the most notable condition being severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID)-like disease in infants.

“Any exposure to a viral or bacterial infection in infants with loss-of-function mutations to Orai1 is life threatening within the first year of life, Nwokonko said. “Currently the only treatment for SCID is hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, which is extremely costly yet effective. My lab studies how mutations to Orai1 affect its function, with the hope of better understanding how the channel works in healthy individuals. It is our hope that one day, using the research from our lab, researchers can develop more effective treatments for patients suffering these loss-of-function mutations.”

Nwokonko said he plans to share details of his experiences at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting with fellow graduate students upon his return.

“I am extremely excited and honored to have been selected to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting,” Nwokonko said. “The meeting organizers have confirmed the attendance of at least 43 Nobel Laureates from the last 30 years in medicine/physiology and chemistry. I am very much looking forward to having one-on-one interactions with many of them to learn their outlook on the future of biomedical sciences in the U.S. and around the globe.”

In her research, Randolph is generating heart muscle cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) and using both tissue and genetic engineering strategies to develop novel cardiovascular disease therapies. With Assistant Professor Xiaojun Lian, she is also developing methods to derive blood stem cells from hPSCs for applications such as T-cell engineering. To facilitate the progress of her research, Randolph is developing novel tools for manipulating gene expression during cell differentiation, as well as improving the efficiency of genetic engineering in hPSCs.

“I am looking forward to meeting a very diverse group of people and expanding my global network,” Randolph said. “I hope to absorb as much advice as possible from the Nobel Laureates. It will be such an incredible learning and growing experience, and I hope to come away at the end with fresh professional and personal perspectives on my work and experience as a scientist. I am incredibly humbled to have made it through the selection process, and I am grateful to have been supported in this endeavor by my mentors, the University, and ORAU. This is a perfect example of the type of opportunity that I was searching for in coming to Penn State for graduate school, and I am very excited to take part in this meeting.”

The Lindau Nobel Laureate meetings are administered by ORAU and sponsored by ORAU, Cabot Corporation, and Lockheed Martin.

Last Updated April 30, 2018