PhD student awarded university’s prestigious Presidential Fellowship

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December 12, 2022

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Josie Silvaroli, a PhD student in the Division of Pharmaceutics and Pharmacology at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy (COP), was awarded the Ohio State’s most prestigious award given by the Graduate School, the Presidential Fellowship.

This competitive fellowship is awarded annually to one Fellow to support the completion of their dissertations or terminal degree projects to graduate unimpeded by other responsibilities. The fellowship lasts three consecutive semesters and offers full-time financial support.

Silvaroli’s current research is on the development of protein kinase inhibitors (PKIs), a type of enzyme inhibitor that blocks the action of a protein enzyme. PKIs have “revolutionized medicine” by selective targeting of kinases associated with disease pathogenesis, especially cancer.

Silvaroli notes in her abstract for the Presidential Fellowship that even though there are extensive studies dedicated to understanding PKI resistance, the mechanisms underlying PKI remain largely unknown but could contribute to the inhibition of a non-kinase enzyme called ferrochelatase (FECH), which may cause acute kidney injury.

Her study for the fellowship will work to uncover if PKIs lead to FECH inhibition and if they cause acute kidney injury.

I am excited about this research because it will provide insight into how cancer medications can cause toxicities,” Silvaroli said. “This will foster improved medications without these horrible toxicities to give patients a better quality of life.”

Numerous faculty members at COP, former mentors and fellow researchers wrote letters of support for her nomination, including:

  • James R. Fuchs, PhD, graduate studies chair and associate dean for research and graduate studies at COP
  • Navjot Pabla, PhD, associate professor in the Division of Pharmaceutics and Pharmacology at COP and Silvaroli’s advisor
  • Marcin B. Golczak, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology at Case Western Reserve University School
  • Amandeep Bajwa, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine
  • Mark de Caestecker, PhD, FASN, professor and vice chair for faculty development in the Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology at Vanderbilt University

"Ms. Silvaroli’s hard work and efficiency in her graduate studies are reflected by her outstanding research productivity," Dr. Fuchs said in her nomination letter.

Since joining the PhD program in 2020, Silvaroli has published seven papers, including one first-authored paper in high-impact journals. She is a co-inventor on a patent published in July 2021 and presented at two national meetings based on her graduate research. She also presented at the American Society of Nephrology Annual Meeting.

Dr. Fuchs continued in her nomination letter, “Ms. Josie Silvaroli is a truly outstanding candidate – fully deserving of a Presidential Fellowship. She is not only extremely talented but also a person who will continue to contribute a great deal to the university. She is an exceptional doctoral candidate.”

Her advisor, Dr. Pabla, added, “I have worked with and trained more than a hundred undergraduate, graduate and medical students as well as research scientists and postdoctoral Fellows. During these years, I have never encountered a more talented and passionate researcher than Josie. According to my evaluation, Josie is among the top 1% of all the researchers (undergraduate, graduate, medical students, postdoctoral Fellows and research scientists) that I have worked with in the last 18 years.”

In 2015, Silvaroli joined Dr. Golczak’s newly formed research lab working as a research assistant – this was her first experience in a research lab. During her undergraduate studies, she contributed to 10 research articles and is listed as first author on four of them.

“The success of any academic laboratory depends on dedicated research assistants managing daily operations,” Dr. Golczak said in her nomination packet. “From the very beginning, I realized how fortunate I was to have Josie in my lab. She was a valuable member of our team … The role she played in my laboratory was far beyond what is normally expected at the undergraduate level.”

As part of the financial support, Silvaroli will receive a monthly stipend and full payment of her tuition, general/instructional fees and learning and technology fees; a travel allowance of up to $500 to present research at a national conference during fellowship tenure; staff library privileges and more.

“I am greatly honored to have received such a prestigious award,” Silvaroli said. “This fellowship provides me with resources and dedicated research time to focus on performing the experiments necessary for my dissertation.”