Paulo Caceres, a fourth-year doctoral degree candidate in the Department of Physiology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, was recently awarded a one-year competitive pre-doctoral fellowship from the American Heart Association.
The award is a continuation of a two-year fellowship previously awarded by the AHA, adding to three years of continued support for Caceres’s doctoral dissertation in the lab of Pablo Ortiz, Ph.D., assistant professor of Physiology.
“I feel much honored about this. Funding rates keep getting lower and counting on this kind of support is really a privilege,” said Caceres, who is originally from Argentina and holds a master’s degree in Biology. “The American Heart Awards are quite popular among international students in the field because they don’t have visa restrictions. They have become very competitive and they surely constitute a fine addition to one’s CV.”
Caceres came to the United States to pursue a career in science. His interest in renal and cardiovascular physiology led him to Dr. Ortiz’s laboratory at the Hypertension and Vascular Research Division at Henry Ford Hospital. “My mentor is a great example of the commitment that Wayne State University professors have with their students,” Caceres said.
He began working with Dr. Ortiz a year before applying to the graduate program in Physiology. “One of the most rewarding experiences about science is when I realize that a secret of nature has just been revealed. A new piece of knowledge has just been generated for humankind and I was a privileged witness,” Caceres said. “With Dr. Ortiz’s guidance, those moments are not so infrequent now, and every graduate student has experienced the frustration that comes with the other moments that make up the remaining 99 percent of the time.”
Caceres is studying the renal ion co-transporter NKCC2 in the thick ascending limb, a nephron segment in the kidney that controls water and sodium excretion and has major influence in blood pressure.
“We want to understand how the co-transporter reaches the cell surface, because once it gets there it can take ions, like sodium, from the forming urine and transport them to the blood eventually,” Caceres explained. “However, the excess of co-transporters at the cell surface would enhance sodium absorption, causing retention of body fluids, because more water will be needed to dilute the extra sodium and the blood pressure will increase.”
Caceres is studying how specific proteins called SNAREs regulate NKCC2 delivery to the cell surface. NKCC2 is carried as cargo in intracellular vesicles en route to the cell surface, and SNARE’s role is to facilitate the fusion of the transporting vesicle with the target membrane.
At the completion of his doctoral training, Caceres expects to have described a novel regulatory mechanism for NKCC2 that has not been considered in the development of diuretics.
“NKCC2 is a known target of powerful diuretic drugs, but their application is limited because of undesired side effects. We expect that this project will identify a pathway that can be intervened but leave other pathways undisturbed, making it possible to fine tune NKCC2 regulation of sodium absorption,” Caceres explained. “I also expect this to be an important step toward my goal of scientific independence, but most of all a journey that will eventually benefit medical practice and our lifestyle.”
Caceres is also convinced that an integral part of a scientist’s formation is to keep a healthy mind, so he enjoys extracurricular activities in the free time. He is an avid scuba diver and rock climber.