Stony Brook University MD/PhD student Tyler Guinn has been selected for a highly competitive National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship. Guinn is in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) dual-degree track in the Renaissance School of Medicine and the Biomedical Engineering PhD graduate program at Stony Brook University.
NDSEG Fellowships are given by the Department of Defense to increase the number of US citizens and nationals trained in science and engineering disciplines of military importance. The award is for a period of up to three years and covers full tuition and mandatory fees. Fellows also receive a monthly stipend and up to $1,200 a year in medical insurance. Since its inception in 1989, NDSEG has awarded nearly 3,600 fellowships for doctoral degrees in one of 15 supported disciplines.
Guinn’s current research involves engineering cellular tools for exploring cancer biology and elucidating new information on cellular mechanisms that give rise to cancerous phenotypes. Specifically, he has been interested in analyzing cancer biology from a systems and synthetic biology perspective, using precision tools such as optogenetics to control gene expression in single cells to better understand cancer. These tools build off of Guinn’s previous work, which focused on utilizing genetics, synthetic biology tools, and quantitative biology technology for molecular diagnostics and cellular computing on a variety of cancer markers.
With this award Guinn intends to take a new direction with the synthetic biology tools he has constructed initially for studying cancer, but now applying them for tissue engineering applications. He envisions that his engineering tools will have the potential to generate strides in tissue engineering with the long-term goal of improving survival in soldiers who suffer organ injuries. His proposed work will focus on engineering small-scale organ development that he believes one day will be expanded to complete organs, potentially allowing a complement to organ donations. “My hope is that the basic science I develop in the lab can be expanded in the years to come in the clinic for civilian and military patients with organ injuries,” Guinn added.
Guinn’s PhD mentor Dr. Gábor Balázsi, Henry Laufer Associate Professor of Physical and Quantitative Biology and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, was instrumental in helping him apply for the fellowship and has provided much research support throughout his graduate education. “Dr. Balázsi’s mentorship has been invaluable with scientific analysis and project development, and has supported my desire to pursue writing development through scientific papers, grants, and reviews,” Guinn said.
“Tyler deserves this prestigious award since he is highly inquisitive and extremely ambitious to develop new tools that will enable human control over human cells using chemicals and light,” said Dr. Balázsi. “Besides the potential defense applications, his research may be broadly applicable in medicine or environmental engineering.”
Dr. Harold Bien, an SBU MSTP graduate and Clinical Instructor, Department of Medicine; Dr. Jules Cohen, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine; Dr. Michael Frohman, Distinguished Professor and Chair, Pharmacological Sciences and MSTP Director; Dr. David Rubenstein, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director, Department of Biomedical Engineering; and Dr. Markus Seeliger, Associate Professor, Pharmacological Sciences and MSTP Associate Director, have also been influential mentors since Guinn began his studies at Stony Brook, helping him transition between medical school and graduate school as well as progress in research.
“Tyler epitomizes the quintessential physician-scientist student in training, engaging in sophisticated, state-of-the-art translational research on an unmet clinical need, while at the same time acquiring patient-oriented context for his work through conducting clinical research and seeing breast cancer patients under the guidance of one of our physician-scientists, Dr. Jules Cohen, in the Department of Medicine,” commented Dr. Frohman.
“Tyler is an exceptionally gifted student and well-deserving of this honor,” said Dr. Rubenstein. “The BME graduate program is looking forward to seeing the impact of Tyler’s project on our understanding of cancer progression and the possible development of new therapeutic strategies for cancer intervention.”
“Tyler continues the outstanding track record of our students winning prestigious awards and fellowships since the inception of this program,” said Professor Seeliger. “Tyler is exceptionally committed to the MD/PhD program and recently led efforts to host our MD/PhD research day where he invited and hosted a world-renowned cancer researcher.”
Before Stony Brook, Guinn earned his BS in Biochemistry from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2013 and credits his former mentor there, Associate Professor Leonidas Bleris, for his scientific training foundation and assistance in getting accepted at Stony Brook. Guinn worked with Bleris in the Department of Bioengineering for more than four years throughout college, where he was given the opportunity to perform research as an undergraduate student and publish several research articles.
“I was looking at several graduate schools, but Stony Brook was the clear choice in large part due to the medical school as well as the strength of the Biomedical Engineering Department,” Guinn stated.