Biology Student Wins NIH Funding for Brain Development Research

Sami Sauma, a bearded man in a white lab coat, works with research samples in a lab surrounded by shelves of materialsBy Lida Tunesi

At 35, Graduate Center Ph.D.  Sami Sauma (Biology) says he’s older than most of the other doctoral candidates in his lab. He also brings different experiences, which are now propelling him forward.

In 2021, Sauma was awarded a National Research Service Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health. The award provides over $31,000 for two years for Sauma to conduct dissertation research on how metabolism affects brain development. It also provides a plan for Sauma to reach his training goals with his mentor, Professor Patrizia Casaccia, the founding director of the Neuroscience Initiative at the Advanced Science Research Center (CUNY ASRC) at the Graduate Center and Einstein Professor of Biology at the Graduate Center.

“Sami has a tremendous passion for science,” Casaccia said, “a level of commitment that is unprecedented, and the willingness to go the extra step. I am convinced that he will excel and make important contributions to the field of developmental neurobiology.”

The Casaccia lab studies oligodendrocytes, a type of cell responsible for producing the myelin sheath, which insulates nerve fibers in the central nervous system and ensures healthy brain function. Sauma’s research looks at oligodendrocyte progenitors, which develop into mature oligodendrocytes. He asks how these precursor cells sense and respond to changes in metabolism.

See why Sauma is interested in metabolism what he learned about applying for grants, especially after prior setbacks.