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A day of connection at the chemistry/biology interface retreat

8th Annual Chemistry/Biology Interface (CBI) Retreat featured a talk from Craig Crews, his fireside chat with Carolyn Bertozzi, and research talks from grad students and postbacs.

At the end of each spring quarter, the Chemistry/Biology Interface (CBI) Training Program at Sarafan ChEM-H hosts an annual retreat that gathers its community of graduate students enrolled in the program, faculty mentors, and staff members for a day of research talks and poster presentations, community building, and learning. 

The event was held on June 6th at the Palo Alto Event Center and brought together more than 70 students, faculty, and staff from Stanford, as well as students from local community colleges. The day’s events kicked off with an introduction by program director and Nobel laureate Carolyn Bertozzi who celebrated the achievements of the CBI fellows. “The intersection of chemistry and biology is home to some of the most exciting and transformative human health research today, and these students are at the forefront,” said Bertozzi.

The CBI Training Program is open to PhD students interested in molecular sciences who are pursuing graduate degrees in departments across the School of Engineering, the School of Medicine, and the School of Humanities and Sciences. By creating an interdisciplinary community, and encouraging students to meet scientists and explore research approaches and questions outside their field, the program aims to help these researchers learn to speak more than one “scientific language.” This fluency helps these students better understand the biggest questions in human health research and develop innovative approaches to address them.

Students like Meghan Nolan, a graduate student in biology who is a Sarafan Fellow in the CBI  Program, have discovered some unexpected benefits. “I joined the CBI program because I wanted to learn more about using chemical biology to understand biological systems. What I didn't anticipate was how much I would grow through the bonds I've formed with my peers in the program,”said Nolan, who works in the lab of Christine Jacobs-Wagner. “It's an incredible community of people from different scientific backgrounds and life experiences. I'm sure that in the future, I will look back on this as a pivotal time for my development as a scientist.”

The most exciting part of the event included the research talks from seven CBI students from five different departments across Stanford:  Larissa Sambel (Gheorge Chistol lab), Agnele Sewa (Chaitan Khosla lab), Elizabeth Park (Justin Du Bois lab), Shoshana Williams (Eric Appel lab), George Walters-Marrah (Monther Abu-Remaileh lab), Leonardi Gozali (Nirao Shah lab), and Zhainib A. Amir-Ugokwe (Kristy Red-Horse lab). Their talks ranged from uncovering the pathology of celiac disease to tackling antimicrobial resistance. Nearly 30 other CBI students presented posters on their current research with topics like targeted cancer immunotherapies, the molecular mechanisms involved in neurodegeneration,  and sustainable agriculture. Researchers who are part of the Postbac Program in Target Discovery, a joint program between Sarafan ChEM-H and the Stanford Innovative Medicines Accelerator, also presented their ongoing research.

Craig Crews, a leading chemical biologist and professor of chemistry at the Yale School of Medicine, gave the keynote lecture. Crews is known for developing a class of drugs that leverage our cells’ natural recycling machinery to clear disease-causing proteins. His talk, which covered his work in these so-called proteolysis targeting chimeras or PROTACs, was paired with a fireside chat between Crews and Bertozzi, who focused the conversation around the pieces of a scientific journey often left out of academic seminars. Crews talked about the value of putting yourself into new situations to learn new science, how he has balanced being both a professor and a biotech entrepreneur, and the impact that these companies can have not just as creators of potential new medicines but also as employers in their immediate communities. 

The overwhelming attendance every year is a reflection of not only the program’s growing community of talented scientists, but also the event’s noticeable value. "The CBI Retreat is a highlight for the students since we are able to spend a whole day together reconnecting, building new relationships and sharing our research across our community,” said Bria Castellano, a Scientific Program Manager at Sarafan ChEM-H, who leads the CBI program. 

As the retreat drew to a close, Bertozzi emphasized the CBI program’s significant role in shaping the future of the biomedical sciences. "Each year, I leave this event feeling energized and optimistic,” said Bertozzi. “The work and vision of these students is inspiring.”

Bertozzi is a professor of chemistry and professor by courtesy of Radiology and Chemical and Systems Biology. She is also the Baker Family Director and an Institute Scholar of Sarafan ChEM-H and a member of Stanford Bio-X, Maternal & Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI), Stanford Cancer Institute, Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, and Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute

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