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IRACDA Scholar: Sarah Alaei, Ph.D.

Sarah Alaei Sarah

Education:  PhD in Biological Science from Columbia University
Current/NY-CAPS Placement: Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology
NY-CAPS Research Mentor: Dr. David G. Thanassi



Sarah Alaei is a cell biologist with a long standing interest in cell-cell interactions.  As a graduate student in Chloe Bulinski’s lab at Columbia University, she set out to study the role of microtubule-based transport in the formation of gap junctions. Ultimately she shifted focus a bit and instead studied the role of acetylation as a regulator of gap junction protein stability and function.  Enticed by an opportunity to study basic science that can be readily applied to the treatment and prevention of infectious disease, Sarah decided to join David Thanassi’s lab in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. The Thanassi lab is broadly interested in the underlying mechanisms of virulence protein secretion employed by diverse bacterial species. Sarah’s project in particular will be focused upon characterizing the unusual pilus biogenesis pathways utilized by P. gingivalis in order to adhere to host cells and other microbes.   P. gingivalis is a gram-negative bacterium that plays a key role in the development of gingivitis and has also been implicated in the development of rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease.  Like many gram-negative bacteria, P. gingivalis is hard to kill with currently available antibiotics. Preventing the colonization of host tissues by impairing pilus assembly is an attractive course of antibiotic action in this case because the drug could potentially work outside or within the outer membrane of the bacterial cell.  Ultimately, Sarah hopes to identify novel antibiotic targets that can be pharmacologically manipulated in order to inhibit pilus biogenesis in P. gingivalis.

Why I chose to join IRACDA NY-CAPS

As a postdoc, my goal is to gain the necessary skills to pursue a career involving well-balanced research and teaching components.  I believe that this program will provide a number of resources and supplemental training to help me achieve this goal. I took a year-long break from research after completing graduate school, during which I was able to gain some college level teaching experience at CUNY’s LaGuardia College. Teaching at an institution that serves a large number of low-income and minority students was a challenging but rewarding experience. Reaching students who are historically under-represented in the sciences remains important to me, so the partner institutions that we will work with through IRACDA NY-CAPS are particularly appealing as well. 


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