2017 Laure Woods Emerging Leader Award Recipient, Yuko Nakajima, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow, Brandeis University

Dr. Nakajima is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of James E. Haber at Brandeis. Prior to beginning her Borrelia burgdorferi research, her work investigated the relationship between DNA damage and spindle assembly checkpoints during cell division. She also performed postdoctoral research at Rockefeller University and served as a research assistant at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Nakajima received her BS in Biological Sciences from Purdue University and her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. Her project, detailed below, was selected for the 2017 Laure Woods Emerging Leader Award, a $100,000 grant.


Project Overview
Dr. Nakajima’s ELA project focuses on outsmarting smart bugs by blocking immune evasion by Borrelia burgdoferi and other pathogens through gene conversion. Just like in cancer, gene conversion was recently shown to be instrumental in Borrelia burgdoferi’s ability to change its surface proteins and thus keep the immune system from manufacturing antibodies that match the currently expressed proteins. This ability to change its proteins is mediated by an unusual DNA structure called a G-quadruplex. A drug blocking G-quadruplex activity in cancer cells is currently in clinical trials. Dr. Nakajima will study the G-quadruplex in Borrelia burgdorferi and then test different small molecules to detect which may be most able to block this coping mechanism.