BioFrontiers Institute launches inaugural Sie Post-doctoral Fellowship Program

Crnic Institute-affiliated program names Mary Allen, Geertruida Josien Levenga, Alfonso Garrido-Lecca
By Staff

The BioFrontiers Institute at CU has launched its inaugural Sie Post-doctoral Fellowship Program in affiliation with the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. The program will fund three post-doctoral researchers, Sie Fellows, who will focus on research that will improve the lives of individuals with Down syndrome.

The Sie Fellows research is co-funded by the BioFrontiers Institute and the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation. Every two years, three Sie Fellows will be selected from a competitive grant process and will receive between $71,000 and $85,000 a year for two years.

Nobel Laureate and head of the BioFrontiers Institute Thomas Cech, BioFrontiers Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) Leslie Leinwand, and Executive Director of the Crnic Institute Tom Blumenthal were key in assessing the 44 applicants before deciding on the inaugural three recipients: Mary Allen of CU-Boulder’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB), Geertruida Josien Levenga of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Behavioral Genetics, and Alfonso Garrido-Lecca of MCDB.

“The projects being carried out by the Sie Fellows are key to significantly improving the lives of people with Down syndrome and to eradicating the medical and cognitive ill effects associated with the condition,” Leinwand said. “The support of early stage post-doctoral fellows is crucial in any research operation, and these awards make it possible for faculty to increase their commitment to this important cause.”

The BioFrontiers Institute was formed in 2011 to bring together faculty members from the life sciences, physical sciences, computer science and engineering with the passion and skills needed to research across traditional disciplines and tackle difficult medical issues, under the leadership of Cech, the institute’s director.

“The research embodies the kind of cutting-edge interdisciplinary approach to biomedical problems that BioFrontiers is all about,” Cech said.

“The fact that there were 44 applicants for three awards underscores how exciting research for Down syndrome is, and the potential for real scientific contribution,” Blumenthal said. “With our Supergroup of 60 scientists working on Down syndrome and meeting monthly from different disciplines and different schools, we are truly making a difference for this special population and their families.”

“The Global Down Syndrome Foundation is pleased to add these outstanding researchers to our future portfolio of research we aim to fund and advocate for. Their research is already so relevant,” said Michelle Sie Whitten, executive director of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, the fundraising and advocacy arm of the Crnic Institute.

Allen’s research involves genetic sequencing data from people with Down syndrome and their parents to understand how an extra copy of chromosome 21 puts people with Down syndrome at higher risk for health issues such as heart defects, thyroid conditions, leukemia, Alzheimer’s disease, and respiratory and hearing problems, but at lower risk for heart attack, stroke and solid-tumor cancers.

Levenga, who is a neuroscientist, is conducting research into ameliorating the seizures that afflict many people with Down syndrome.

Garrido-Lecca will test the hypothesis that alteration of microRNA levels in people with Down syndrome contributes to some of their health challenges.

Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition, affecting one out of every 691 live births in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of the end of widespread institutionalization, better medical care, improved access to education and greater societal inclusion, people with Down syndrome are living longer and more productive lives, with the average life span increasing from 25 years in 1983 to 60 years today.