News

September 15, 2022

Welcome, Dr. Sara Zaccara

The Department of Systems Biology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center welcomes new faculty member Sara Zaccara, PhD. Dr. Zaccara joins Columbia as an assistant professor, effective Sept. 1. Prior to coming to Columbia, she was a postdoctoral researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Dr. Zaccara grew up in a small town in Italy. She received her PhD from the University of Trento, in Trento, Italy, where her thesis work was on p53-dependent translational regulation. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biotechnology from the University of Florence. “I studied biotechnology,” she says, “because I was fascinated by the idea of developing new methods that could improve our future in medicine.”

Dr. Zaccara’s research focuses on the intricate cellular mechanisms that control the chemical tag called m6A, which cells insert into almost 30 percent of their mRNA molecules. She has proposed a unified model of how m6A mRNAs are controlled in cells. She also helped show why the number of m6A sites in mRNAs has functional consequences for mRNA fate.

Currently, Dr. Zaccara’s group is working on characterizing the mechanisms that trigger m6A mRNA degradation in normal and disease states, in particular, acute myeloid leukemia. The group is also investigating the impact of the functional specialization of RNA binding proteins on mRNA fate. Their multidisciplinary approach includes the use of CRISPR-Cas9 base editor screens, massively parallel tethering screens, molecular tagging, imaging, and in vitro experiments. The integrated combination of these methodologies will enable investigation of critical components of the mRNA degradation pathway and their contribution to mRNA fate with unprecedented throughput and resolution.

Four research teams at Columbia University have been awarded the inaugural Edward P. Evans Center for Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) Pilot Awards and Fellowships.

The center, established by the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) in December 2021, is dedicated to the study and treatment of MDS, a malignant disease that attacks bone marrow stem cells. Each year, more than 40,000 individuals are diagnosed with MDS, and roughly one-third will develop acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a severe and rapidly progressing form of blood cancer.

To support their research, each team will receive a one-year $100,000 grant for the Edward P. Evans Center Pilot Awards and a two-year $60,000/year grant for the fellowships. The two pilot projects are being led by principal investigators Pawel Muranski, MD, assistant professor of medicine and of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S)Amer Assal, MD, assistant professor of medicine at VP&S; and Raul Rabadan, PhD, professor of systems biology and of biomedical informatics at VP&S. The two fellowships have been awarded to Rossella Labella, PhD, postdoctoral research scientist in the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics(link is external and opens in a new window), and Junsong Zhou, PhD, associate research scientist in the Department of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine

Read full article on HICCC Newsroom.