Jillian Shapiro, 25, a third-year graduate student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, recently was named to the Forbes second annual “30 Under 30” list of young people who have made significant contributions to their respective fields.
Ms. Shapiro’s discovery of a microRNA pathway that could someday advance treatments for multiple diseases led to her recognition by Forbes, in the January 21, 2013 issue. But, she says, her most important lesson as a researcher was learning that, “You can never just rule something out. You have to take a leap of faith and investigate first.”
That lesson stems from the genesis of Ms. Shapiro’s research, which began after she started working in the lab of Benjamin tenOever, PhD, Irene and Dr. Arthur M. Fishberg Professor of Medicine. Dr. tenOever, a highly respected scientist specializing in RNA viruses and small RNAs, wanted to see if viruses could achieve something theoretically impossible—deliver therapeutic small RNAs to specific cells in the body. The catch, however, was finding a researcher who was willing to devote his or her time to a venture that just about everyone in his lab considered risky.
But three months after joining Dr. tenOever’s lab, Ms. Shapiro proved that this venture was worthwhile. And after a year-and-a-half, she not only demonstrated that it was possible, she also established how the process occurs in animal models. To date, Ms. Shapiro has been the first author on two studies appearing in RNA, and the second author on studies appearing in Cell Host & Microbe, and Molecular Therapy.
“I am delighted that Forbes recognizes the significance of Jillian Shapiro’s research and the amazing accomplishment of having achieved this success by the age of 25,” says Dr. tenOever. “I have no doubt that Jillian will continue producing this type of paradigm-shifting research. This recognition is very well deserved and speaks volumes to the strength of Mount Sinai and the Department of Microbiology.”
Ms. Shapiro credits Dr. tenOever’s creativity and leadership as a mentor. “He’s a great advisor and a great scientist,” she says.
In the coming months, Ms. Shapiro’s research will explore the relationship between the microRNA pathway and virus infection. She also hopes to
begin preparing to defend her doctoral thesis.
Researchers in Dr. tenOever’s lab, meanwhile, have started to apply her discovery to other virus studies, and are now investigating ways to use these viruses to treat a variety of diseases.
This article was first published in Inside Mount Sinai.