Jevgenia Zilberman-Rudenko, MD-PhD student, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, has been honored with a 2013 Raymond W. Sarber Award for her achievements as a post-baccalaureate research fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Her nominator, Richard Siegel, describes her has having “been fearless about trying new techniques, and suggesting and carrying out experiments on her own initiative.”
When she emigrated from Estonia, Zilberman did not anticipate that she would become a scientist. However, after tutoring students at the Math and Science center and working as a chemistry teacher’s assistant, her interest in science was sparked. Her first research experience was at San Diego Mesa Community College where, under the guidance of her professor, Joseph Toto, Zilberman worked on the development of a novel kinetics experiment to be incorporated into the junior college curriculum. Her growing interest in pharmacology led her to spend the summer before transferring to University of California, Berkeley working as a medicinal chemistry intern at Novartis, where she focused on the design, synthesis, and purification of a small-molecule antagonist of lymphocyte-specific protein kinase that has been implicated in diabetes II. At the University of California, Berkeley, where Zilberman earned her baccalaureate degree in Chemical Biology, her passion for research continued to grow. During her two years there, she took on an independent research project at the department of molecular biology and biochemistry alongside HHMI investigator Prof. Eva Nogales, studying actions of microtubule binding protein CLASP1. Zilberman produced and purified over two dozen of CLASP1 mutants to identify specific protein domains required for spindle organization and microtubule tracing, which were used in proteomic and functional assays checking for active spindle apparatuses in the Xenopus extracts.
Fascinated by using biochemistry and microbiology to understand human disease pathogenesis, Zilberman pursued a two-year post-baccalaureate research fellowship at the NIH, where she worked with Richard Siegel, clinical director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS),’s, studying a rare Primary Immunodeficiency Disease associated with a single protein mutations affecting transcriptional balance and cell response dynamics. Under guidance of her primary supervisor and mentor, Eric Hanson, a Metzger Scholar in Translational Medicine, Zilberman has taken the lead in a study of the molecular basis of clinical phenotypes of patients with NF-kB Essential Modulator (NEMO) protein mutations, both by producing cell lines with clinically and biochemically relevant mutants, as well as studying primary patient samples. Hanson describes her as someone who has “embodied unwavering enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity, and the capacity for rigorous critical thinking about her work.” Zilberman defined a distinct subset of mutations within NEMO C-terminus that affect its binding specificity to differently polyubiquitinated proteins important for balanced NF-kB signaling and implicated in NEMO Syndrome inflammatory disease propagation as well as potential therapeutic targets.
Outside of the laboratory, Zilberman is an active member of her community, heavily invested in science education and service. Zilberman has been involved in numerous science outreach events, including serving as an elementary school science module designer and teacher in a project directed by the Lawrence Hall of Science, leading scientific activities for patient advocacy and SEED school visits as part of the NIAMS Office of Scientific Director team, and presenting at middle school science fairs and the 2012 USA Science & Engineering Symposium in Washington, DC. She served as patient liaison at different hospitals and led recruitment and outreach efforts as a co-founder of a non-profit organization, Fruitful Minds, which seeks to battle juvenile obesity through education. Zilberman plans to continue this long tradition of service while at the OHSU, where she has already established herself as part of the local student-run non-profit SW clinic and education commission involved in organization of local science outreach events.