A Love of Science

Issue Date: 
April 26, 2009
Bruce A. Freeman and Marsha “Marcie” ColeBruce A. Freeman and Marsha “Marcie” Cole

Growing up in Beckley, W.Va., biochemist Marsha “Marcie” Cole had a love of all things scientific. When it came time to choose a career, satisfying her scientific curiosity became her passion and path: She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry and her PhD in nutritional sciences and toxicology, all at the University of Kentucky.

An ardent researcher, Cole arrived on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus in 2006 as a postdoctoral fellow, looking to use both her scientific background and her interest in improving human health to do research that could aid in the treatment of diabetes and obesity. The promise of her novel research was recognized recently when she received a prestigious award from The Hartwell Foundation.

The Hartwell Foundation provides funding for promising young scientists that is to be used for specialized training as a part of the scientists’ career development. Awards are given to individuals for innovative and cutting-edge biomedical applied research that can potentially benefit children. Each year, The Hartwell Foundation selects 10 research institutes across the nation that can nominate deserving scientists to become Hartwell Fellows—and Pitt is one of them.

“Pitt was chosen because of the shared values the institution has with our foundation,” said Fred Dombrose, president of the Memphis-based organization. “Pitt has a first-rate medical school and an established  Deapartment of Bioengineering. Plus, Pitt exudes such a commitment to technical support to the investigator, as well as support for translational approaches that promote rapid clinical application of research results, including technology transfer.”

Once they receive the awards, Hartwell Fellows are supported by prominent faculty who serve as mentors. Cole’s mentor, Professor Bruce A. Freeman, is chair of Pitt’s pharmacology and chemical biology department. With Freeman’s guidance, Cole is currently investigating how inflammatory signaling mechanisms induce chronic metabolic disorders. “From these studies,” she explains, “I’m gaining insight and developing new therapeutic strategies for treatment of metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes in adults and children.”

The Hartwell Foundation recently announced that it has granted an award to another of Pitt’s promising researchers, David J. Hackam, an assistant professor in the cell biology and physiology department and  Department of Surgery in Pitt’s School of Medicine. Hackam received a Hartwell Foundation Biomedical Individual Research Award, designating him—like Cole—as a rising-star scientist at one of the nation’s top biomedical research institutions.

In addition to beginning a job as a research instructor at Pitt in 2009, Cole plans to expand her research to better understand the treatment of inflammatory-linked diseases. She knows none of this could be possible without help from benefactors like The Hartwell Foundation. “Receiving a fellowship award from the Hartwell Foundation is such an honor,” she says. “The most exciting part is that I’m being recognized by a prestigious foundation for research that I enjoy doing!”