Sebastien Weyn, a graduating PhD student in the Chaolin Zhang lab, has been awarded the Titus M. Coan Prize for Excellence in Research. Weyn, who intends to participate in the May 13 Hooding Ceremony at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S), is one of two graduates who has received the award, bestowed annually by P&S. Weyn is being recognized in the area of outstanding basic cell and molecular research.
“I am happy to represent Systems Biology for the award, which together with previous DSB winners, showcase the important biological contributions coming from the department,” says Weyn. “Winning this award also speaks greatly to my mentor, Chaolin, and his vision and insight in the field.”
Work in the Zhang lab concentrates on the study of the nervous system and its underlying molecular mechanisms. The group focuses on the function of post-transcriptional gene regulation, in particular a level of molecular regulation called alternative RNA splicing, in the nervous system.
“The regulation of RNA splicing is surprisingly mysterious despite the fact that it is critical for proper cellular function, and there are several genetic diseases that result from improper splicing,” notes Weyn. “Understanding splicing can lead to breakthrough therapies.”
For his dissertation project, Weyn dissected the regulatory mechanisms underlying dynamic alternative splicing switches during neurodevelopment. His work led to insights into the role that Rbfox proteins have in promoting mature splicing patterns, including in a number of autism candidate risk genes. The Rbfox family of proteins are important regulators of alternative splicing and mutations of these genes have been linked to several neurodevelopmental disorders.