- By Dana Sparks
Science Saturday: A tale of two mentors and a tank full of zebrafish
For Alaa Koleilat, pursuing a doctorate is a tale of two mentors with a few tails thrown in for good measure. With the help of her advisers, and tanks full of zebrafish, she’s taking on hearing loss and finding solutions across the research continuum.
“I love it,” says Koleilat, a student in Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. “I’m trying to develop the skills to work at the lab bench and do experiments and also look at the broader picture and the business side of biomedical science.”
Koleilat chose the clinical and translational science track in the graduate school. The courses are created in collaboration with Mayo Clinic’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science and aim to train students to streamline research “translation,” the process of bringing medical advances to clinical care. Mayo doctoral students in clinical and translational science typically have dual mentors and, now in her fourth year, Koleilat is supported by:
- Stephen Ekker, Ph.D., is a geneticist with an entrepreneurial streak. In his lab he focuses on identifying key genes in organ and blood vessel development. He is director of Mayo Clinic’s Zebrafish Facility and Mayo Clinic’s Office of Entrepreneurship, as well as dean of Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
- Lisa Schimmenti, M.D., is a physician-scientist. A clinical geneticist, Dr. Schimmenti heads a lab that focuses on congenital hearing loss. She also chairs Mayo’s Department of Clinical Genomics, whose research furthers understanding of genetic-based diseases and helps improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment by tailoring care to each patient’s genetics.
With their expertise and Koleilat’s drive, the team is taking on hereditary hearing loss and access to hearing tests.
“Having two mentors has given me a broader insight into various facets of science,” Koleilat says. “Dr. Ekker brings a perspective of science that I never thought about before in terms of biotech, and Dr. Schimmenti has provided me with the aspect of clinical care and what my research means to patients.”
Attuned to Hearing
Koleilat gained an appreciation for hearing at a young age. She developed abnormal speech at age 3 when fluid collected in her ears. Speech therapy erased the abnormality, but she never lost awareness of the effects of impaired hearing. For her master’s degree at the University of Minnesota, Koleilat focused on Usher syndrome, a genetic disorder that is the leading cause of the combination of deafness and blindness. Dr. Schimmenti, then on the university’s faculty, was her mentor. Dr. Ekker served on her thesis committee.
At Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Koleilat is continuing that research in a way that takes her from the lab to patient care. Read the rest of the article on Discovery's Edge.
Other Mayo Clinic medical research websites: