May 6, 2016 | A UAMS researcher has been selected to initiate and organize a  new meeting at the prestigious Keystone Symposia  focusing on the role of serotonin outside of the central nervous system.

Fusan Kilic, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, successfully pitched “Frontiers of Serotonin Beyond the Brain,” which will be held in Spring 2018.

Kilic is the first UAMS researcher selected to hold such a Keystone Symposia conference.

Fusan Kilic, Ph.D., has been studying in her laboratory the role of serotonin in the peripheral blood system since she arrived at UAMS in 2001.

Fusan Kilic, Ph.D., (right) is researching the role of serotonin in the peripheral blood system with her laboratory team: Coedy Hadden, lab manager (left); Try Lowery, M.D.,/Ph.D., candidate; and Anthonya Cooper, Ph.D., candidate.

“Serotonin’s role as a neurotransmitter and how it relates to depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anorexia and different psychiatric problems is well known,” said Kilic. “However, despite first being found in blood, serotonin’s role in the peripheral blood system is largely still a mystery, which is why this conference is so important.”

The Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Biology is headquartered in Silverthorne, Colorado, and convenes approximately 50-60 open, peer-reviewed conferences across a broad range of the life sciences each year.

According to the group’s mission statement, Keystone conferences connect scientists across disciplines, serving as a catalyst for the advancement of biomedical and life sciences by creating an environment conducive to exchanging information, generating new ideas and accelerating applications that benefit society.

“Keystone Symposia meetings get scientists from academia, private laboratories, industry and government together to discuss the topic at hand,” she said. “Serotonin outside of the brain needs this level of attention because it has been greatly marginalized in the United States.”

Kilic said the selection process for Keystone Symposia is extremely competitive, adding that less than 10 percent of the new ideas suggested for conferences were chosen for development.

As she was planning her conference, Kilic sought help from others in the field: Luc Maroteaux, Ph.D., the research director of the CNRS at INSERM UMR S-839, Institut du Fer a Moulin Paris who has planned conferences with the International Society for Serotonin Research, formerly known as the Serotonin Club, and Michael Gershon, M.D., a professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University who has spent 50 years studying the effect of serotonin in the gastrointestinal system.

The location of the conference has yet to be decided, but Kilic said she is pushing to hold the event in Little Rock.

“I would like to show off Little Rock to the 150 scientists we expect to attend the conference,” she said, adding that other groups of academics that she has hosted have been very impressed with the city.

Kilic earned her Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey. She graduated with both a master’s and a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at East Tennessee State University and worked as a postdoctoral associate at Yale University before coming to UAMS.

Kilic’s work into serotonin outside of the central nervous system began when she came to UAMS in 2001 from Yale. Until that point, her research had also focused on serotonin as a neurotransmitter. But at UAMS, she worked with emergency medicine physicians to study the plasma level of serotonin in the blood during and after episodic incidents of hypertension. She also has collaborated with the UAMS-OB/GYN department to study serotonin in gestational diabetes.

In less than 14 years, Kilic published more than 25 manuscripts on serotonin in peripheral systems at very prestigious journals including PNAS, JBC and Nature. Her recent collaboration with scientists at St. Jude’s Children Hospital was published in Molecular Cell on serotonin in autophagy.

This recognition by the scientific community and number of publications on the subject helped lead the Keystone Symposia to select Kilic for this honor.