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Alexandra Corrine Keller and Fraser Sim MD

Under the mentorship of Fraser J. Sim, PhD, Alexandra Corrine Keller conducted award-winning research that represents a new approach to understanding multiple sclerosis.

Pharm-Tox Grad Wins Prestigious Award for Thesis Research

Published April 26, 2013

Alexandra Corrine Keller, who earned her master’s degree in pharmacology and toxicology in September 2012, has won the 2013 Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS) Master’s Thesis Award.

“Dr. Sim constantly encouraged me to reach higher and motivated me to work harder, and because of that I produced highly successful results in my research.”
Alexandra Corrine Keller, MS '12

Keller received the award — given to only one master’s graduate annually — for research that provides insights into processes that drive cell differentiation in the brain. Her work represents a new approach to understanding multiple sclerosis (MS), an incurable and often fatal disease.

Potential Impact on Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

The results of Keller’s research may contribute to future efforts to ameliorate or reverse MS and other demyelinating diseases.

Her thesis investigates whether myelin-producing cells could be induced to regenerate myelin for demyelinated axons. She focused on identifying factors that drive the differentiation of stem cells to the oligodendrocyte lineage.

Oligodendrocytes are cells involved in producing myelin, which insulates nerve cells. In demyelinating disorders like MS, normal nerve function is lost.

Mentorship Shaped Research, Educational Path

Keller, who is currently in the doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) program in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, says the faculty guidance she received as an undergraduate was instrumental in her decision to pursue a master’s degree.

Fraser J. Sim, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, was Keller’s primary mentor. She credits Sim for teaching her to think like a researcher and feels lucky to have experimented in the only lab at UB that works on primary human neural stem cells.

“Dr. Sim constantly encouraged me to reach higher and motivated me to work harder, and because of that I produced highly successful results in my research,” says Keller, adding that the research for her thesis will help her publish two future articles.

Keller was a student of the pharmacology and toxicology BS/MS Dual Degree Program, which helps scholars jump-start their careers by combining a bachelor’s degree with a master’s degree.

Collaboration Between Pharm-Tox and Pharmacy

Keller’s thesis committee was comprised of faculty from the medical school and the pharmacy school.

“It was great to bounce ideas off of them and hear their constructive criticism. It was also an opportunity for the pharmacology department to collaborate with the pharmacy department,” she says.

One of Keller’s committee members, Murali Ramanathan, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, is a researcher she now works with in her PharmD program. “I am glad that I cultivated a relationship with him early on in my academic career,” Keller notes.

Regional Affiliate of Council of Graduate Schools

The NAGS is one of four regional affiliates of the Council of Graduate Schools. It draws institutional membership from 12 states and six Canadian provinces.

Keller accepted the award at the organization’s annual meeting on Friday, April 12, in New Brunswick, NJ.