Elena Gracheva, PhD, associate professor of cellular and molecular physiology and of neuroscience, has been awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The White House announced its complete list of recipients on July 2.
The PECASE award, which comes with funding from a nominating government agency for up to five years of research, “is intended to recognize some of the finest scientists and engineers who, while early in their research careers, show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of science,” according to the National Science Foundation’s website.
Gracheva, who was nominated by the Department of Health and Human Services, is one of four Connecticut-based scientists—three from Yale—to win the award. Her research focuses on mammals’ ability to regulate their internal temperatures for hibernation, in particular the ground squirrel’s hibernation patterns.
The applications of her research, she says, hold great potential for improving medical interventions that require lowering a patient’s core temperature, like induced hypothermia during heart surgery.
“The current window for reducing core body temperature is really narrow, and doctors can only do it for really short periods of time,” Gracheva says. “If we can prolong this window of hypothermia for humans during these conditions, this will dramatically increase survival rates and also decrease negative side effects.”
Gracheva received her PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California San Francisco, where she says she first became involved in mammalian adaptation research. She arrived at Yale in September 2012.
Gracheva credits Yale for understanding her vision and giving her the opportunity to begin studying the thermoregulatory mechanisms of squirrels.
“When I was ready to start my lab, I was thinking that I needed something broad and related to temperature and physiology,” she says. “Yale trusted me. They offered me a position knowing that I had never worked on ground squirrels before.”
Receiving the PECASE, she says, is thanks to a group effort from everyone in her lab, and to the continued support of her husband and parents.
The two additional Yale faculty members who received the PECASE award this year are Fengnian Xia, PhD, Barton L. Weller Associate Professor in Engineering and Science, and Mary-Louise Timmermans, PhD, professor of geology and geophysics.