CIE Researcher of Distinction, March 2016
Mel Pilar Espaillat
Each month, the Center for Inclusive Education showcases the outstanding research being conducted by one of our talented scholars in our Research Café series. In addition, we recognize this scholar as a Researcher of Distinction and share the details of his/her journey to becoming an accomplished scholar. This month's Researcher of Distinction is Mel Pilar Espaillat, PhD candidate in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology. Mel Pilar presented her talk, ‘The Lipids in your Gut: Defining the Role of Sphingolipids in Inflammatory Bowel Disease’ on Monday, March 21, 2016.
Mel Pilar's Path Into Research
I attended Farmingdale State College at the State University of New York, where I graduated in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in Bioscience Research degree and Magna Cum Laude honors. Upon graduating, I joined IRX Therapeutics Inc. in 2007, a company in phase two clinical trials targeting immune vaccine development for head and neck cancer treatment. Working in the bioscience industry motivated me to foster my research scope with the objective of gaining scientific expertise and eventually define a career in applied science research. I consequently pursued graduate degrees in biochemistry and biomedical research centered on the study of gastrointestinal immunology. As a graduate student, I am developing the skills required for a future career as an independent investigator and intend to transition to the biopharmaceutical industry upon completion of my degree. I am currently an AGEP-T FRAME Scholar and Turner Fellow in the Center for Inclusive Education.
Mel Pilar's Current Research
Describe the work you presented for your Research Café.
Ulcerative colitis, one of the major forms of inflammatory bowel disease, is a chronic and debilitaring inflammatory condition that affects the inner lining of the colon and rectum. Although complete understanding of the etiology of ulcerative colitis is lacking, the current model points to a complex interplay between environmental factors that trigger chronic intestinal inflammation in a genetically susceptible host. Thus, there is a need for increased understanding of the genetic and environmental components that regulate the activation of the immune system and inflammation, the molecular mechanism of tissue damage and the process involved in healing. Clearly, understanding how these processes are regulated will lead to proper management of the disease. Bioactive sphingolipids are established regulators of inflammation; I aim to elucidate the role of the sphingolipid metabolic enzyme acid ceramidase in regulating innate immunity and pathology in ulcerative colitis.
Are there any other projects you are currently working on?
At the moment I am focused on writing a manuscript.
What was the deciding factor for you to come to Stony Brook for your graduate studies?
Stony Brook’s strength in the biomedical sciences and the opportunity to work while conducting my master’s studies were the deciding factors for me.
What are your future goals?
Upon graduating my objective is to work in the biotech industry in translational biomedical research.
What do you enjoy most about research?
I like the diverse community of peers and the continual growth and development that research presents. I am fascinated about the immune system and understanding its regulation in both disease and regular biology.