From left to right: Flavian D. Brown, Mariam El-Ashmawy, Rachel A. Johnston, Silvia N. Kariuki, and Lisandro Maya-Ramos.
New Gilliam Fellows
HHMI has selected five exceptional individuals to receive 2010 Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study: Flavian D. Brown of Carleton College, Mariam El-Ashmawy of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Rachel A. Johnston of New Mexico State University, Silvia N. Kariuki of the University of Chicago, and Lisandro Maya-Ramos of the University of California, San Diego. These students will join a dynamic group of 30 fellows who share a passion for science and a commitment to increasing diversity in the sciences.
The Gilliam Fellows program aims to enrich science research and increase the diversity of college and university faculty members. Fellows, who come from groups underrepresented in the sciences or from disadvantaged backgrounds, have worked in the labs of top HHMI scientists as undergraduates and are committed to pursuing a doctoral degree in science.
HHMI established the fellowships in 2004 in honor of the late James H. Gilliam Jr., a charter trustee of the Institute who spent his life nurturing excellence and diversity in education and science. Gilliam fellows receive $44,000 each in graduate school support annually for up to five years to help them move forward in their careers in science research and teaching.
Bonnie Bassler and Baldomero “Toto” Olivera
On the Hunt for New Medicines
HHMI’s 2009 Holiday Lectures, “Exploring Biodiversity: The Search for New Medicines,” featured two leading biologists who captivated a crowd of Washington, D.C., area high school students with tales of how the natural world informs research into new medicines.
At first glance, the research of Bonnie Bassler and Baldomero “Toto” Olivera might not seem relevant to human disease. Bassler, an HHMI investigator at Princeton University, works on marine bacteria that glow in the dark, whereas Olivera, an HHMI professor at the University of Utah, studies venomous snails that hunt by harpooning fish. Yet, their findings show what science has revealed time and again—knowledge that can be used to unlock medical secrets is often hidden in unlikely places.
Olivera lectured on researching the potential pharmacological value of marine snail venom. Bassler spoke on using quorum sensing, the molecular communication that produces bioluminescence and other sophisticated response systems in bacteria, to develop new antibiotics against pathogens, or probiotics for industrial applications.
Med Into Grad Grants Bridge Clinic and Classroom
Equipping doctoral students in the biomedical sciences to translate scientific discovery into clinically relevant treatments and practices is the goal of HHMI’s Med Into Grad initiative, which was launched in 2005. This year HHMI committed to a $16 million investment in the initiative; each of 23 institutions will receive up to $700,000 over four years to integrate medical knowledge and an understanding of clinical practice into their biomedical Ph.D. curricula.
Through new curricula and clinical experiences, each program takes a different approach to giving doctoral students the skills to investigate the scientific mechanisms of disease and develop treatments, diagnostics, and public health practices.
Another of the initiative’s original goals was to find out whether such programs would attract students. It’s now clear that they do.
“We’ve found this is something students are really hungry for,” says Peter Bruns, HHMI’s former vice president for grants and special programs, who retired this year. “And it’s interesting because most of the programs require that students do work above and beyond the normal graduate curriculum, adding an extra measure of effort without eliminating anything from the basic curriculum.”