Transplanted New Yorker Finds Excitement at NIH
By Michael Vatalaro
"I never thought I would leave New York," said Dr. Deborah Philp with a grin. "I didn't think I would make it I didn't think I could find the excitement, flavor, or convenience [elsewhere]." Some outsiders might not think of New York City as convenient, but Philp misses having everything she needs within walking distance.
In talking with Philp, you get the impression that she has worked very hard to get where she is and has enjoyed the journey. She has the air of a hiker who enjoys the walk as much as the destination.
Born in Harlem to parents of Jamaican descent and raised in the Bronx, she earned her doctorate at City University of New York, City College with support from NIGMS' Division of Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE). Philp says she chose City College because it was in Harlem. "I wanted to be another positive product of Harlem," she added.
She chose to major in biology at City College after a high school Advanced Placement biology course sparked her interest. During her senior year at City College, she began working as a technician in a newly formed immunology lab run by Dr. Jerry Guyden.
It was Guyden who encouraged her to pursue a master's degree and who became her advisor and mentor. After she received her master's degree, he convinced her to get her Ph.D there.
During graduate school, Philp got the opportunity to teach. "Initially, I did not think of myself as a role model," she said. But after her third semester as a teaching assistant, her lab sections were routinely oversubscribed. Philp attributes this phenomenon to her habit of giving advice to students who asked for it. "I realized I was a role model to many of my undergraduates."
Part of her growth as a role model came from her participation in a local outreach program while at City College. She and other graduate students mentored seventh graders 2 days a week in the lab, exposing them to science and laboratory techniques with the hope of keeping the children interested in science through high school.
Philp has not lost the urge to teach. Her ultimate goal is to become an academic research instructor. "My parents always taught us knowledge was power and teaching is empowering others," she said.
Currently, Philp holds a postdoctoral position in Dr. Hynda Kleinman's lab at NIDCR, where she is trying to identify the receptor for thymosin beta-4, a protein with anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties. Kleinman selected Philp for the position because her background and experience related to Kleinman's current project. So far, the match has worked well. "She is not afraid to do new things, and everything she is doing is new," said Kleinman.
Much of Philp's work focuses on the functions of thymosin beta-4, which was discovered by Dr. Allan Goldstein at George Washington University. The protein has been shown to increase collagen deposition and promote skin and blood vessel formation in a variety of species. Kleinman's group is overseeing the use of thymosin beta-4 as an active ingredient in an ointment used to promote wound-healing that should enter Phase I clinical trials by the end of the year.
Philp is also looking for the genes that regulate the production of thymosin beta-4.
"I have my hands in more than one cookie jar," she said. "These are things I have never been exposed to before, and I am really excited about it."
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