Seventeen NIEHS fellows were among 199 National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers to win a 2018 Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE).
FARE candidates include predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows who submit abstracts of their research, which are then peer reviewed during a blind competition. The top 25 percent of submitted abstracts are selected for recognition. The award comes with a $1,000 stipend that allows the winners to attend a scientific meeting of their choice. "The travel awards strengthen their training experience here," said NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D.
Tammy Collins, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows' Career Development, emphasized the role of writing a good abstract. "One focus of our NIEHS training environment is to support consistent and focused practice in communicating science," she said. Winners receive yet another opportunity to polish their communication skills — they are invited to present their work at the annual NIH Research Festival in September.
Franziska Bollmann, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in the Post-Transcriptional Gene Expression Group, had an additional reason to be thankful for her award. "Knowing that I can be both a recognized researcher and a new mom really means a lot," she said.
The research conducted by the NIEHS fellows spanned a wide variety of scientific interests, including embryonic stem cells; high fat diet-induced obesity, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance; how certain cells can disrupt ovarian function and fertility; how chronic inflammation can increase arthritis severity; breast cancer-specific mortality in Louisiana; and autism spectrum disorders.
Mentorship is key
Mentors are an important part of the training environment. Awardee Kelly Carstens is a predoctoral fellow in the lab of Serena Dudek, Ph.D., deputy chief of the NIEHS Neurobiology Laboratory. Last year, Dudek had two winners in her group. Such consistent success points to the high quality of her mentorship.
"I'm so proud of Kelly," Dudek said. "She is a graduate student competing with mostly postdoctoral fellows, so the award really says something about the quality of her work."
"The FARE award is an exceptional opportunity for trainees to receive travel support for meetings they would not normally be able to attend," said Carstens, who also thanked Dudek. "I am honored to have been recognized."
Multiple winners for some mentors
Four NIEHS mentors each had two fellows named this year. One of them was Robin Stanley, Ph.D., head of the Nucleolar Integrity Group, where Yu-Hua "Daisy" Lo, Ph.D., and Monica Pillon, Ph.D., are both visiting fellows.
"I'm thrilled that two of my postdocs won FARE awards this year," Stanley said. "This award will enable both Daisy and Monica to attend an extra meeting in the coming year."
Three other NIEHS researchers also mentored two winners each.
- Anton Jetten, Ph.D., head of the Cell Biology Group.
- Raja Jothi, Ph.D., head of the Systems Biology Group.
- Humphrey Yao, Ph.D., head of the Reproductive Developmental Biology Group.
The foundations of FARE
The FARE Awards began in 1995 and are sponsored by the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education, Fellows Committee, and scientific directors, who fund the awards from their budgets. Judges include previous FARE winners, NIH Fellows Committee members, faculty and staff scientists, and clinicians.
The awards ceremony will take place Sept. 14, during the 2017 NIH Research Festival. Awardees will also be recognized at the annual NIEHS awards ceremony.
Abstract titles and mentors
Franziska Bollmann, Ph.D., mentored by Perry Blackshear, M.D., D.Phil. — Decreasing reactive oxygen species during chronic inflammation increases arthritis severity.
Rachel Carroll, Ph.D., mentored by Shanshan Zhao, Ph.D. — Analyzing breast cancer-specific mortality in Louisiana SEER data via a spatial accelerated failure time model.
Kelly Carstens, mentored by Dudek — Perineuronal nets: a critical regulator of developmental plasticity in the autism spectrum disorder Rett Syndrome.
Qing Chen, Ph.D., mentored by Guang Hu, Ph.D. — Cnot3 is required for male fertility and germline stem cell maintenance.
Amanda Conway, Ph.D., mentored by Jothi — Identification of nuclear export receptor CRM1 as a novel regulator of developmental genes in embryonic stem cells.
Brian Deskin, Ph.D., mentored by Jothi — GABP-alpha regulates transcriptional circuitry controlling ESC identity.
Kerry Dorr, Ph.D., mentored by Jetten — Deletion of JAZF1 protects against high fat diet-induced obesity, glucose intolerance and insulin resistance.
Chunfang Gu, Ph.D., mentored by Stephen Shears, Ph.D. — Programming of cancer cell metabolism by the inositol pyrophosphate IP7.
Juhee Haam, Ph.D., mentored by Jerrel Yakel, Ph.D. — Acetylcholine regulates the hippocampal output to the entorhinal cortex to gate memory consolidation.
Wan-Chi Lin, Ph.D., mentored by Michael Fessler, M.D. — Epithelial membrane protein 2 regulates transepithelial migration of neutrophils into the inflamed airspace.
Yu-Hua “Daisy” Lo, Ph.D., mentored by Stanley — Structural analysis reveals the features of ribosome assembly factor WDR74 important for localization and interaction with the AAA-ATPase NVL2.
Oswaldo Lozoya, Ph.D., mentored by NIEHS Deputy Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D. — Mitochondrial dysfunction results in remodeling of the epigenome and transcriptome.
Kathryn McClelland, Ph.D., mentored by Yao — Loss of COUP-TF/1 (NR2F2) affects fetal testicular development.
Bart Phillips, Ph.D., mentored by Traci Hall, Ph.D. — Identification of testis proteins that positively and negatively regulate Tnp1 and Tnp2 translation.
Monica Pillon, Ph.D., mentored by Stanley — Grc3 programs the essential endoribonuclease Las1 for specific RNA cleavage.
Emmi Rotgers, M.D., Ph.D., mentored by Yao — Aberrant expression of steroidogenic factor 1 (Sf1) in the ovarian somatic cells disrupts ovarian function and fertility.
David Scoville, Ph.D., mentored by Jetten — The role of the transcription factor Glis3 in directing pancreatic beta-cell development and function.
(Wendy Anson, Ph.D., is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)