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New award recognizes promising researchers

September 26, 2016
Back row from left, Carla Rothlin, Daniel Colón-Ramos, Antonio Giraldez and seated from left, Andrew Goodman and Valentina Greco each received a five-year grant from HHMI to pursue basic research that explores fundamental biological questions. Photo credit: Robert A. Lisak

Five young investigators named as HHMI Faculty Scholars.

While Yale School of Medicine has a tradition of excellence in the basic sciences, it is important to continue to recruit outstanding junior faculty so that there is a pipeline for future generations. Over the last 10 years, we renovated and built lab space and invested heavily in such recruitments. Chairs, along with their faculty, performed searches that identified the very best young scientists and departments mentored these individuals toward successful careers. The number of faculty in basic science departments has increased by approximately 30 percent over this time/

I’m delighted to report that five of our outstanding early career investigators have been named as Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Faculty Scholars. This newly established program—a joint endeavor between HHMI, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Simons Foundation—recognizes basic researchers who apply innovative approaches to biological problems that are relevant to human health.

Please join me in congratulating:

Daniel Colón-Ramos, Ph.D., associate professor of cell biology and neuroscience, who is using Caenorhabditis elegans to explore the cellular mechanisms used to create, maintain, and modify synapses in order to further our understanding of their role in producing behaviors and storing memories.

Antonio Giraldez, Ph.D., professor of genetics, who seeks to understand how the cellular codes that shape gene transcription, translation, and mRNA degradation are used to turn a fertilized egg into a complex multicellular embryo. Using zebrafish as a model system, he aims to elucidate the mechanisms that initiate embryonic development and specify different cell types in vertebrates.

Andrew Goodman, Ph.D., associate professor of microbial pathogenesis, who is exploring the mechanisms that human commensal microbes use to cooperate, compete, and antagonize each other in the gut and how manipulating these communities could improve drug responses in patients.

Valentina Greco, Ph.D., associate professor of genetics, who is investigating how stem cells initiate and coordinate tissue regeneration to maintain healthy tissues and restore damaged tissue after injury and how tissues respond to cells with cancer-promoting mutations, which will shed light on the earliest events that lead to cancer.

Carla Rothlin, Ph.D., associate professor of immunobiology and pharmacology, who is studying the biochemical mechanisms that control the immune response and lead to inflammation that can trigger autoimmune disorders or fuel cancer.

The competition for the five-year HHMI Faculty Scholar Award was intense during its inaugural year: out of 1,400 applicants only 84 received awards. Yale was tied with University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center for the highest number of awardees from a medical school. The success of this diverse group, all of whom have been independent researchers for less than a decade, is a testament to the efforts of Carolyn Slayman, Ph.D., deputy dean for academic & scientific affairs, who worked closely with department chairs to recruit these gifted investigators, to the chairs and their faculty who selected and mentored awardees, and of course to the awardees for their outstanding accomplishments.

HHMI investigators are among the nation’s top biomedical researchers and Faculty Scholars were chosen based on their research accomplishments and potential to make unique contributions to their field. I am proud that these individuals have joined the ranks of this illustrious cadre of researchers and look forward to following their progress in the coming years.