Yale School of Medicine (YSM) Assistant Professors of Immunobiology Carrie Lucas, PhD, and Aaron Ring, MD, PhD, recently received Young Investigator Awards from the International Cytokine & Interferon Society (ICIS). Specifically, Lucas was awarded the Christina Fleischmann Award to Young Women Investigators, and Ring received one of the Milstein Young Investigator Awards. The awards recognize notable contributions to either basic or clinical research by ICIS members who have received a PhD or MD within the previous 10 years. The Fleischmann award has the additional requirement that the recipient be a woman.
Lucas’s lab discovers and investigates single-gene mutations in children with severe immune disorders to uncover mechanisms of immune cell function and devise translationally relevant therapies. They use whole-exome sequencing of patients and their family members as an unbiased approach to discovering gene defects. From there, they utilize cellular and molecular approaches to study patient blood cells and also generate new pre-clinical models harboring patient-derived mutations. These studies allow them to start with human disease, discover novel immune gene functions, and dissect mechanisms to build basic knowledge, design precision therapies for our patients, and extend translational concepts to other disease contexts.
Ring explains that his lab uses protein engineering to create drugs they can use to interrogate immunoregulatory pathways and to advance as potential cancer immunotherapeutics.
Lucas and Ring both are grateful for the mentors they have met through involvement with ICIS and at Yale. They both also serve as mentors at Yale, playing active roles with the YSM MD-PhD and Immunobiology PhD Programs.
Lucas feels fortunate to have had “multiple wonderful mentors” including Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, an ICIS member who nominated her for the award. Lucas also cites Joseph Craft, MD, Paul B. Beeson Professor of Medicine (Rheumatology); Jordan Pober, MD, PhD, Bayer Professor of Translational Medicine; and David Schatz, PhD, chair and Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology. She notes that many other informal mentors have helped her in numerous ways, saying “I am grateful to them all.”
Ring describes ICIS’s mentorship opportunities as “phenomenal.” He says that Christopher Hunter, PhD, Mindy Halikman Heyer Distinguished Professor of Pathobiology at the School of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, who nominated him for the award and is the incoming ICIS president, has become both a friend and advisor scientifically and in navigating career path issues.
Barbara Kazmierczak, PhD, MD, Gustavus and Louise Pfeiffer Research Foundation MD-PhD Program Director and professor of medicine (infectious diseases) and of microbial pathogenesis, describes Lucas and Ring as sought-after research mentors for MD-PhD students. They also serve on the MD-PhD faculty committee and, Kazmierczak says “play a central role in selecting and recruiting students to Yale's MD-PhD Program. I'm very proud of them!” Additionally, Lucas and Ring serve on the Immunobiology PhD admissions committees.
Ring feels a strong kinship with YSM’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) students and applicants, having recently gone through the program at Stanford University. Ring says, “I know how challenging but deeply rewarding this training can be. It presents incredible opportunities to make a big impact in the health sciences and I consider it a great honor to welcome new trainees into this track and guide them once they get here.”
Lucas explains she became a professor not only because of her love for science and research, but because she is passionate about teaching and mentorship. She finds her involvement in the MD-PhD and PhD admissions committees allows her “to play a part in bringing bright and eager young scientists from diverse backgrounds to Yale to advance their education, training, and personal/professional development.” In addition to finding it exciting to interact with future colleagues and leaders, Lucas says “when I meet with student candidates, I excitedly share the two greatest aspects of research at Yale – the collegiality and the ambitious go-big mentality. These two things really make Yale a special place.”