Fifteen of America’s Most Promising Biomedical Researchers Chosen as Pew Scholars

Contact: Kip Patrick, 202.552.2135, Silvia Montano, 415.476.5116


Philadelphia, PA - 06/27/2005 - The Pew Charitable Trusts and the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) announced today that 15 gifted researchers have been selected as 2005 Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences. As a Pew Scholar, each scientist receives a $240,000 award to help support his or her research over a four year period and joins a unique community of scientists that facilitates collaboration and exchange of ideas. The program is funded by the Trusts through a grant to UCSF. “This year opens the third decade of our support of the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences program and we enter it committed to supporting the crucial role science plays in society,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “We are humbled by the accomplishments of the scholars over the past 20 years and the potential their work holds for humankind. Their scientific discoveries have led to advances in the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disability and we are pleased that many scholars have also gone on to serve as impassioned advocates for quality science.”

The Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences program was launched in 1985 to provide crucial early support to investigators in the early- to mid-stages of their careers who show outstanding promise in the basic and clinical sciences. While many grants available to scientists have strict guidelines governing how and on what funds must be spent, this award has become coveted for its intended flexibility, as it is designed precisely to enable scientists to take calculated risks, expand their research and follow unanticipated leads. Since 1985, the Trusts has invested more than $100 million to fund nearly 400 scholars.

“Science involves risk-taking and entrepreneurship,” said Rimel, “and we hope that by following their intuition and going where their research leads them, Pew Scholars will be able to make important breakthroughs that will benefit the health of humankind.”

The Pew Scholars selection process is rigorously competitive, as all applicants are highly talented researchers in their fields. Applicants must be nominated by an invited institution (currently there are 136) and must demonstrate excellence and innovation in their research. The scholars are selected by a distinguished national advisory committee, chaired by Dr. Torsten N. Wiesel, president emeritus of Rockefeller University, and a 1981 Nobel laureate. The committee will welcome its newest member, Dr. Roderick MacKinnon, Pew Scholar alumni and 2003 Nobel laureate in chemistry, this fall.

 The 2005 Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences are: (link connects to background information)

Scholar Institution 
Goncalo R. Abecasis, Ph.D. University of Michigan
Stephen A. Baccus, J.D., Ph.D. Stanford University
Craig H. Bassing, Ph.D. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Laura M. Calvi, M.D. University of Rochester
Shane P. Crotty, Ph.D.La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology
Jenny E. Gumperz, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin
Martin W. Hetzer, Ph.D. The Salk Institute
Karin M. Hoffmeister, Ph.D. Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Deborah A. Hogan, Ph.D.Dartmouth Medical School
Soo-Kyung Lee, Ph.D. Baylor College of Medicine
Katsuhiko Murakami, Ph.D. Pennsylvania State University
Franck Polleux, Ph.D.University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Thaddeus S. Stappenbeck, M.D., Ph.D. Washington University in St. Louis
Lambertus Van den Berg, Ph.D. University of Massachusetts
Rachel I. Wilson, Ph.D. Harvard University
 

The Pew Charitable Trusts serves the public interest by providing information, advancing policy solutions and supporting civic life. Based in Philadelphia, with an office in Washington, D.C., the Trusts will invest $204 million in fiscal year 2006 to provide organizations and citizens with fact-based research and practical solutions for challenging issues.

The Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences program is part of a portfolio of projects funded by the Trusts that focuses on science and technology. Other programs include the Science and Society Institute, which trains biomedical scientists so they can effectively contribute to science policy discussions and solutions, and three science policy initiatives that address the benefits and challenges raised by emerging technologies – the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, the Genetics and Public Policy Center, and the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

2005 Pew Biomedical Scholars Background Information

Goncalo R. Abecasis, Ph.D., received his doctorate in human genetics from the University of Oxford, England, in 2001. He did postdoctoral research at the University of Michigan from 2001 to 2002, then joined the faculty as an assistant professor of biostatistics. Dr. Abecasis intends to identify the genetic changes that lead to psoriasis, a chronic skin condition characterized by red, scaly patches on the knees, elbows, scalp, hands or feet. Because psoriasis has a strong genetic component, prior research has focused on comparing the active genes in skin samples from people with and without the disorder. Dr. Abecasis now proposes to examine which genes are turned on or off (to show the genetic profile) in skin samples from large families that show susceptibility for psoriasis. Using powerful statistical methods he developed for identifying and characterizing genes involved in human disease, Dr. Abecasis will try to find the master regulatory genes that give rise to the gene expression profile characteristic of psoriasis. In addition, he hopes to pinpoint the specific genetic alterations linked with an enhanced susceptibility to psoriasis. If successful, this work could provide scientists with a new method of understanding the links between genes and disease and possibly lead to more effective treatments for psoriasis. Return to List 

Stephen A. Baccus, J.D., Ph.D., received his law degree and his doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Miami in 1989 and 1998, respectively. He pursued postdoctoral studies at Harvard University from 1998 to 2004, then joined the faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine as an assistant professor of neurobiology. Dr. Baccus plans to investigate how neurons in the retina translate a visual scene into a complex series of impulses that convey a picture to the brain. Much is known about the neural circuitry of the retina: photoreceptors that line the back of the eye detect incoming light and send signals to a dense layer of interconnected intermediary cells, which then communicate with ganglion cells that forward information to the brain. What researchers do not know is how, and to what extent, the intermediary cells refine the message they receive from the photoreceptors before passing it along. Using a sophisticated device that can record the activity of 100 neurons in an intact, isolated retina in a culture dish, Dr. Baccus plans to determine how a specific cell in the intermediary layer—an amacrine cell—transmits information about the motion, brightness and contrast of images to the ganglion cells. Dr. Baccus’ results could aid in the development of visual prosthetic devices and sensitive new methods for detecting retinal degeneration.Return to List

Craig H. Bassing, Ph.D., received his doctorate in biological sciences from Duke University Medical School in 1997. He was a research fellow at three Boston institutions—Children’s Hospital, the CBR Institute for Biomedical Research (formerly the Center for Blood Research), and Harvard Medical School—from 1997 to 2002. He then worked as a junior investigator at the CBR Institute through 2003 and an assistant professor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in 2004. He is currently an assistant professor of pathology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Bassing plans to determine how cells repair double-strand breaks, the most common and hazardous type of DNA damage that can lead to more widespread DNA damage, cell death or cancer. In previous work, Dr. Bassing discovered that a protein called H2AX (one of a family of proteins around which DNA wraps like thread around a spool) is essential to repair double-strand breaks, and that mice that lack both H2AX and the tumor suppressor p53 gene develop tumors and lymphomas. Using a novel genetic system that will allow him to introduce double-strand breaks at select sites on the chromosomes of living mice, Dr. Bassing will examine the ability of different engineered forms of H2AX to participate in DNA repair and whether this protein acts as a molecular glue that holds broken ends of DNA together until they can be rejoined. His findings on DNA repair could significantly advance our understanding of cancer biology.Return to List

Laura M. Calvi, M.D., received her medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1995. She performed an internship, residency and clinical training at the Massachusetts General Hospital from 1995 to 1999, and postdoctoral studies there from 1999 to 2001. In 2001, she was an instructor in medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and, in 2002, became an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. Dr. Calvi will explore how bone-forming cells influence the replenishing of blood cells. Chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapies used prior to organ transplant can kill off the specialized hematopoietic (blood-producing) stem cells (HSCs) that give rise to the different types of blood cells in the body. Patients who undergo these treatments often receive bone marrow transplants to help restore their blood cells, but how they respond can depend on whether the HSCs they receive thrive and expand. In prior research, Dr. Calvi discovered that treating bone-forming cells with parathyroid hormone enhances the expansion of HSCs and greatly improves the survival of mice receiving bone marrow transplants. Using state-of-the-art genetic and molecular technologies, Dr. Calvi intends to analyze the specific molecular pathways involved in parathyroid hormone stimulation and explore whether human HSCs respond in the same way that mouse HSCs do. Her results could lead to treatments that will boost stem cell expansion and improve the survival rate of patients who receive bone marrow transplants. Return to List

Shane P. Crotty, Ph.D., received his doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of California, San Francisco, in 2001. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University from 2001 to 2003 and then accepted a position as an assistant member of the vaccine discovery group at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in San Diego. Dr. Crotty plans to investigate the molecular mechanism underlying X-linked lymphoproliferative disease (XLP), a rare, inherited and often fatal childhood disorder that results in increased susceptibility to a variety of infections. This disease is caused by a defect in the SAP gene. In previous studies, Dr. Crotty discovered that mice lacking SAP create strong antibodies after an infection, but fail to produce the long-lived immune cells that allow the body to remember and respond to viruses it has encountered in the past. Using genetic and microscopic techniques, Dr. Crotty aims to clarify the molecular and cellular defects that prevent memory-cell formation in SAP-deficient mice. His studies may shed light on why patients with XLP are so vulnerable to fatal infections and could suggest novel antiviral therapies. Return to List

Jenny E. Gumperz, Ph.D., received her doctorate in immunology from Stanford University in 1996. She engaged in postdoctoral studies at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School from 1996 to 2000, and was an instructor in medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital from 2000 to 2003. In 2003, she accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin Medical School as an assistant professor of medical microbiology and immunology. Dr. Gumperz intends to investigate how a certain type of immune cell called NKT can help to both combat infections and curb autoimmune responses. NKT cells can stimulate an immune response that will wipe out invading microbes, but they also can reign in inappropriate immune responses that cause the body to attack itself, resulting in diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Using an array of cell biological techniques along with a novel series of NKT cell clones that she has developed, Dr. Gumperz plans to test the hypothesis that certain molecules signal “danger” and trigger an aggressive immune response, whereas others signal “self” and direct NKT cells to induce tolerance. Her work could lead to the development of powerful new therapies for treating both infections and autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes. Return to List

Martin W. Hetzer, Ph.D., received his doctorate in molecular biology from the University of Vienna, Austria, in 1995. He pursued postdoctoral studies there from 1995 to 1997 and at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, from 1997 to 2000. In 2000, Dr. Hetzer accepted a staff scientist position at EMBL and, in 2003, joined the faculty at the Salk Institute as an assistant professor of molecular and cell biology. Dr. Hetzer proposes to identify the molecules that guide the assembly of the membranous envelope that surrounds the cell nucleus. When a cell divides, its DNA replicates, and the resulting copies separate into two daughter cells. In the process, the nuclear envelope disassembles, only to reassemble around the segregated chromosomes in the daughter cells. Very little is known about the molecular mechanism that mediates this critical process. Dr. Hetzer has previously identified two proteins involved in nuclear envelope fusion, and he now plans to use advanced protein identification techniques to generate a comprehensive list of all the proteins associated with the nuclear envelope. His studies could provide fundamental information about cell division and how nuclear envelope assembly goes awry in many human diseases, including cancer. Return to List

Karin M. Hoffmeister, M.D., received her medical degree from the Technical University of Aachen, Germany, in 1993. She then performed her clinical training, residency and postdoctoral research at the same institution, and, in 2004, accepted a position as assistant professor of hematology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Hoffmeister plans to study how sugar residues found on the surface of blood platelets affect their activity and survival. Blood platelets control the clotting process and are a critical part of blood transfusions, but cannot be refrigerated because the cold affects their ability to perform once transfused. In her clinical work, Dr. Hoffmeister noted that the inability to refrigerate platelets led to wastage, inconvenience and increased susceptibility to bacterial infection. Her interest aroused, she undertook some laboratory analysis and discovered, contrary to prevailing wisdom, it was not that chilling changed the shape of platelets and rendered them useless once transfused, but that it created sugars that were then attacked by the recipient’s liver once the transfusion occurred. She further found that the platelets appear to possess an enzyme capable of masking these immune-attracting sugars if fed a molecule called UDP-galactose. Dr. Hoffmeister now proposes to identify and characterize the masking enzyme and investigate whether modifying different types of surface sugars enhances the survival of platelets transfused into mice. Her findings could revolutionize the field of blood storage and lead to increased survival rates for transfused patients. Return to List

Deborah A. Hogan, Ph.D., received her doctorate in microbiology from Michigan State University in 1999. She engaged in postdoctoral studies at Harvard Medical School from 2000 to 2004 and then joined the staff at Dartmouth Medical School as an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology. Dr. Hogan intends to explore how the hundreds of different microbial species that reside in the human intestinal tract influence human health. Because these bacteria are difficult to grow in culture, researchers have studied only 20 to 40 percent of them directly. Dr. Hogan proposes to address this problem by taking genes from previously unstudied intestinal bacteria and cloning them into E. coli. She will then grow the bacteria with yeast—a novel culture she developed as a postdoctoral fellow—and identify and study molecules the bacteria secrete as they grow. Her results could advance our knowledge of how gut flora influence human health and lead to treatments for disorders that arise when this relationship is disturbed, including Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Return to List

Soo-Kyung Lee, Ph.D., received her doctorate in molecular biology from Chonnam National University in Korea in 2001. She pursued postdoctoral training at the Salk Institute from 2001 to 2004, then accepted a position as assistant professor in molecular and cellular biology at the Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Lee intends to research the network of molecules that directs the development of the motor neurons responsible for muscle contraction. In preliminary work, Dr. Lee discovered that LMO4, a molecule that helps to regulate gene activity, is present in large quantities in nerve cells in the developing spine that are destined to become motor neurons. She also found that motor neurons in mice that lack LMO4 have trouble locating and connecting with their muscle cell targets. Using a variety of genetic, biochemical and molecular biological techniques, Dr. Lee plans to determine how LMO4 directs the development and activity of motor neurons. Her work could help clarify the mechanisms that control the proper formation and wiring of the nervous system, which could provide novel approaches to the treatment of spinal cord injury. Return to List

Katsuhiko Murakami, Ph.D., received his doctorate in genetics from the Graduate University of Advanced Studies in Japan in 1997. He engaged in postdoctoral studies at the National Institute of Genetics in Japan from 1997 to 1998 and at Rockefeller University from 1998 to 2003. He then joined the faculty of Pennsylvania State University as an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. Dr. Murakami plans to determine the three-dimensional crystal structure of the protein complex that transcribes DNA into an RNA copy. This process—the first step in reading out a gene’s instructions—involves the assembly of a large collection of proteins, including RNA polymerase that does the actual copying, onto a stretch of DNA. To date, scientists have been unable to determine the structure of RNA polymerase because the complex is so large. But archeabacteria—single-celled organisms that live in extreme environments such as hot springs or sewage, have similar RNA polymerase structures. Using innovative protein purification protocols he developed previously, Dr. Murakami will work with archeabacteria to produce a set of structures that will capture—like a series of still photographs—the action of the RNA polymerase complex as it recognizes its target DNA and carries out transcription. This work could provide new understanding about one of the most important processes central to all life. Return to List

Franck Polleux, Ph.D., received his doctorate in cellular and molecular neuroscience from Claude Bernard University in Lyon, France, in 1997. He performed postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine from 1997 to 2000, then completed his postdoctoral training at INSERM, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, from 2000 to 2002. In 2002, he joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, as an assistant professor of neuroscience research and pharmacology. Dr. Polleux will explore the molecular mechanisms that guide how different neurons make connections in the developing neocortex, the region of the brain generally associated with intelligence. The neocortex is comprised of two main types of neurons, each with vastly different structures and connection responsibilities. But little is known about the molecules that direct their activity. In previous research, Dr. Polleux determined that a molecule called Neurogenin2 is essential in directing one type of neuron to form the appropriate connections. Now, using cutting-edge genetic techniques and a novel method he designed for watching individual neurons form networks in culture, Dr. Polleux plans to establish how Neurogenin2 actually works, and to identify the molecule that directs the other neuron type. The results could help scientists and clinicians better understand diseases like autism and schizophrenia, where the connections go awry. Return to List

Thaddeus S. Stappenbeck, M.D., Ph.D., received his medical degree and doctorate in cellular and molecular biology from Washington University in St. Louis in 1995. At the same institution, he completed a residency in anatomic pathology from 1995 to 1997, pursued postdoctoral research from 1997 to 2003, and accepted a position as assistant professor of pathology and immunology in 2003. Dr. Stappenbeck plans to explore the mechanisms that allow the intestine to recover from injury. Bacterial infection, radiation and certain drugs can all assault the gut, causing erosion and ulcer formation. In most cases, the body repairs these lesions by prompting “good” cells that surround the damage to divide. In previous studies, Dr. Stappenbeck found that repair depends not only on the proliferating cells themselves, but also on bacteria that reside in the gut and on macrophages, a specialized type of immune cell that ingests invading microbes and damaged cells. Using a suite of genetic and molecular biological techniques, Dr. Stappenbeck proposes both to test the hypothesis that macrophages are critical to regeneration, and to identify the molecules that promote “good” cell proliferation. His results could lead to a better understanding of inflammatory bowel disease, where healing is impaired, and colon cancer, where proliferation of damaged cells runs rampant. Return to List

Lambertus van den Berg, Ph.D., received his doctorate in biochemistry and enzymology from the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 1994. He engaged in postdoctoral studies at the University of Oxford in England from 1995 to 1997 and again from 1998 to 2000, at the University of Granada in Spain from 1997 to 1998, and at Harvard Medical School from 2000 to 2004. He joined the faculty at the University of Massachusetts Medical School as an assistant professor in molecular medicine in 2004. Dr. van den Berg is interested in determining the structures of proteins that influence the productivity of mitochondria, the cell’s principle energy source. Mitochondria harness energy from the burning of food to generate ATP, the molecule that powers the cell’s activities. Mitochondria also harbor certain proteins, called UCPs, that uncouple food burning from energy production and direct it instead to be used for heat production, regulation of metabolism and control of insulin secretion. Using a suite of innovative purification and crystallographic techniques, Dr. van den Berg hopes to obtain a detailed picture of the structure of a UCP, information that could lead to the development of treatments for obesity and diabetes. Return to List

Rachel I. Wilson, Ph.D., received her doctorate in neuroscience from the University of California, San Francisco, in 2001. She pursued postdoctoral work at the California Institute of Technology from 2001 to 2004, then accepted a position as assistant professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Wilson proposes to explore the cellular mechanisms that underlie the fruit fly’s sense of taste. A fly’s tongue is studded with an array of sensory projections, each of which contains four taste receptor neurons. These receptor neurons communicate taste signals to a set of secondary neurons in the brain that interpret the gustatory signals. In previous work, Dr. Wilson developed sophisticated methods for monitoring the activity of single neurons in the brains of living flies. Combining this technique with advanced approaches in genetics and imaging, Dr. Wilson plans to determine what information the gustatory receptor neurons encode—for example, whether they respond to single classes of taste molecules, such as bitter, sweet or salty—and to identify and characterize the secondary neurons in the brain to which these primary receptor cells report. Her results will expand our understanding of how the brain recognizes flavor and could have clinical applications for controlling body weight and designing more palatable medications. Return to List

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