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Immunobiology Graduate Student Mackenzie Bender awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship

April 19, 2024

Mackenzie Bender, a second year Immunobiology Graduate Student in the laboratory of Dr. Carrie Lucas, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) for Life Sciences.

The NSF GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported STEM disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited US institutions. The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support including an annual stipend and a cost of education allowance to the institution.

Mackenzie's research focuses on the ETS transcription factor E74-like factor 4 (ELF4), which has been revealed as a pivotal regulator of inflammation and immune cell differentiation. Yet, the impact of ELF4 on CD8+ T cell fate and function remains enigmatic. Preliminary data Mackenzie has generated demonstrates an ELF4-dependent population of CD8+ T cells that are restrained and weakly activated early after TCR/CD28 stimulation. In concert, CD8+ T cells lacking ELF4 exhibit reduced effector function and stemness over time during acute and chronic antigen stimulation in vitro. Further, she found CD8+ T cell-intrinsic ELF4 is necessary to maintain tumor control in preclinical colorectal cancer, suggesting ELF4 is necessary for maintaining potent, long-term immunity. Based off these observations, she will study the role of ELF4 in the development and maintenance of an antigen specific, restrained CD8+ T cell population during acute and chronic infection, and the subsequent role of this population in downstream CD8+ T cell fates.

Congratulations Mackenzie!

Submitted by Caroline Lieber on April 17, 2024