• Fellow Highlights

Looking Back at the Fellowship: MD/PhD Student Michael Trinh

2021 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Michael Trinh received his MD/PhD degree in Molecular Genetics and Medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. 

Michael majored in biology at the University of Texas at Dallas as part of the UT-PACT Program, a combined BA/MD program allowing him to matriculate at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School after three years of college. As an undergraduate, Michael had the opportunity to work in the laboratory of scientists Michael S. Brown and Joseph L. Goldstein, who shared the 1985 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their work on a rare disease of premature heart attacks that led to discovery of the LDL receptor, which ultimately catalyzed the development of cholesterol-lowering ‘statin’ drugs. They sent Michael to a meeting where he met patients with another rare disease, Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC). Michael made several discoveries about NPC’s underlying mechanism, which were published in three first-author papers in the journals Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and eLife. Encouraged, Michael began an MD/PhD in the Brown/Goldstein laboratory and was supported by the NIH’s Medical Scientist Training Program.

For his PhD research in molecular genetics, Michael was eager to discover new mutations that could unveil general biological principles. He conducted elegant genetic screens using CRISPR gene-editing technology to identify genes required for cholesterol to move from one membrane to another in human cells. Genetic defects in this movement cause fatal human disease. In 2020, he discovered that this transport requires another lipid: phosphatidylserine. This was the first demonstration that intracellular transport of one lipid (cholesterol) requires another (phosphatidylserine)—a discovery with major implications for membrane biology and cardiovascular science. The work earned him the Merton Bernfield Memorial Award and the William F. and Grace H. Kirkpatrick Award.

We caught up with Michael about what’s next and what the Fellowship has meant to him: 

Headshot of a man in his 20s who has heritage from Viet Nam with light skin tone  and black hair, he is wearing a tan blazer, blue button up and dark red tie, with large clear rimmed glasses. He is smiling at the camera.
2021 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow Michael Trinh smiling in a photo taken by UT Southwestern.
Photograph of three people smiling at the camera. The left is a man in his 20s wearing a navy suit and white button up. In the middle a woman in her 80s wearing a black jacket with red accents and a grey shirt with a long gold and red necklace. On the right a woman in her 20s with a bright blue blouse.
2021 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellows Michael Trinh (left) and Pooja Chandrashekar (right) smiling with Mrs. Daisy Soros at the 2022 Fall Conference in Queens, NY.

Where are you with your graduate program now?

I’ve just graduated from the Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD) at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, where I studied how our bodies handle cholesterol for my dissertation in the laboratory of Michael S. Brown, MD and Joseph L. Goldstein, MD. Currently, I am a resident in the Department of Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA and aim to further my career as a physician-scientist through the Stanbury Physician-Scientist Pathway.

Can you tell us more about your graduate studieswhat questions were you/are you pursuing? What was/is the main focus of your studies?

For my PhD research in the Brown/Goldstein laboratory, I used CRISPR gene-editing technology to find genes required for cholesterol to move from one membrane to another in human cells. Genetic defects in this movement can cause fatal human diseases such as atherosclerosis (common) and Niemann-Pick disease, type C (rare). I discovered that this movement requires another lipid named phosphatidylserine, a discovery with implications for membrane biology and cardiovascular science.

There are so many paths beyond collegewhy did you feel graduate school was the best next step for you personally and/or professionally?

My undergraduate research in the Brown/Goldstein laboratory and a summer stint at the NIH showed me the path to become a physician scientist via an MD/PhD program.

Do you have any favorite memories from the past two years as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow?

Hands down the Fall Conferences where I met the other Fellows—it is certainly the highlight of my time with the Fellowship.

You’re now finishing up your second year of the Fellowship program. Has the Fellowship been what you expected?

It has been all I expected and more. The friendships and bonds between Fellows is incredible and will last throughout my professional career! ∎

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