Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program
HHMI seeks to increase diversity in the biomedical research community. We know that the biggest challenges in science call for diverse perspectives and original thinking. The goal of the Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program is to recruit and retain individuals who are from gender, racial, ethnic, and other groups underrepresented in the life sciences, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, early in their careers. We believe these promising scientists have the potential to become leaders in academic research and inspire future generations.
In keeping with HHMI’s “people, not projects” approach to funding, this competition is open to those dedicated to basic research from both doctoral and/or medical training paths in the biomedical and life science disciplines, including plant, evolutionary, chemical and computational biology, as well as biophysics and biomedical engineering. During the duration of the award, Fellows have freedom to change their research focus and follow their own curiosity.
Fellows will receive funding through their academic institution for postdoctoral training and may continue to receive funding during their early career years as independent faculty. The program includes opportunities for career development, including mentoring and networking with others in HHMI’s scientific community.
About Hanna H. Gray
The Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program honors the contributions of Hanna Holborn Gray, PhD, over her 28 years of service as a Trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Gray was one of eight original Trustees appointed to the board in 1984 and went on to serve as chair for a number of years. During her tenure, HHMI made significant changes to its process for identifying and funding scientists, opening our doors to an ever-increasing pool of applicants.
- The program is open to individuals from gender, racial, ethnic, and other groups underrepresented in the life sciences at the career stages targeted by this program, including those individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. This includes, but is not limited to, women of any ethnic or racial group as well as any individual identifying as Hispanic, Black, Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander, or American Indian/Alaska Native.
- The program is open to basic science researchers and physician-scientists in the biomedical and life science disciplines.
- The program is open to applicants of any citizenship or nationality who:
- have a PhD and/or MD or equivalent conferred by an institution in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico) by the start of the grant term.
- have been accepted to join a laboratory as a postdoctoral researcher at a research institution located in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico) at the time of the application due date.
- The postdoctoral training mentor must hold a tenured or tenure-track position (or equivalent) at an institution in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico).
- Applicants can have no more than 12 months of postdoctoral research experience at the time of the application due date.
- If you have a PhD, the date or anticipated date of conferral of your doctoral degree must be on or after January 11, 2017, and before January 15, 2019.
- If you are an MD or MD/PhD in a residency, a clinical fellowship or in postdoctoral training, you must have less than 12 months of postdoctoral training by January 10, 2018. For the purposes of this award, research activities during your residency or clinical fellowship are not considered postdoctoral training.
Components of the Application
- Summary of applicant’s educational and training record
- Personal statement relating past experiences and career goals
- Overview of the applicant’s prior research experience
- A list of publications with statements of significance
- Summary of the applicant’s planned research for postdoctoral phase
- An evaluative statement from the applicant’s research training mentor
- A statement of support with a training plan from the postdoctoral training mentor
- A curriculum vitae and list of prior trainees from postdoctoral training mentor
- One additional letter of reference
Postdoctoral Training Phase
Fellows will receive annual support for salary ($60,000, initial year) and a $20,000 expense allowance, paid through a non-renewable grant to the training institution. This phase of the award has a maximum length of four years and a minimum of two years.
Fellows will receive $250,000 per year in research funding and a $20,000 expense allowance, paid through a non-renewable grant to the institution where they have attained a faculty position. This phase of the award has a maximum length of four years.
Conditions of the Award
- Fellows in both postdoctoral training and faculty phases are required to devote at least 75% of their total effort to research.
- To transition to the faculty phase of the program, fellows must obtain a faculty position in the tenure-track (or equivalent) at a U.S. (including Puerto Rico) research institution with a doctoral-level graduate program in their area of interest.
- Fellows will be expected to attend an HHMI science meeting each year and provide an annual progress report.
Christopher Barnes, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present California Institute of Technology
Mentor: Pamela Bjorkman, PhD
With cutting-edge crystallography and microscopy techniques, Christopher Barnes aims to reveal — in extreme detail — how newly isolated antibodies neutralize HIV-1 by latching onto viral envelope proteins. Barnes also plans to uncover how the virus gains illicit entry into cells by examining the structural changes that help the virus lock into a cellular target. These insights may point out ways to devise even more powerful therapeutics, including rationally designed HIV-1 antibodies, which could help scientists stamp out the shifty virus for good.
John Brooks, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Mentor: Lora Hooper, PhD
John Brooks is investigating how mammals’ internal clocks affect microbes that live in the gut. The mix of microbial species in these communities oscillates throughout the day. Scientists have linked these swings to the circadian clock, the biochemical timekeeper that governs everything from appetite to sleep. Brooks plans to unravel how the circadian clock works with the innate immune system to regulate microbe metabolism. His results could expose how the clock/microbiota interplay shapes the health of the host.
Lynne Chantranupong, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present Harvard Medical School
Mentor: Bernardo Sabatini, MD, PhD
Lynne Chantranupong knows how to get cells to spill their secrets. She has characterized key regulators of a signaling pathway that tells cells to grow, a process that goes awry in cancer and diabetes. Now, she is setting her sights on the brain. Chantranupong plans to isolate intracellular packets that contain neurotransmitters, signaling molecules that carry messages between nerve cells. She wants to probe the contents of these packets using mass spectrometry. This high-resolution method promises to reveal a complex and dynamic atlas of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Chantell Evans, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present University of Pennsylvania
Mentor: Erika Holzbaur, PhD
Mitochondria provide the energy needed for nerve cells to function, but when aged or damaged, these organelles can potentially be harmful to the cell. Chantell Evans will explore the multiple ways neurons sequester and eliminate damaged mitochondria. This cleanup process, called mitophagy, can malfunction in people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases. By studying healthy nerve cells and cells from people with neurodegenerative diseases, Evans plans to find out how nerve cells perform this important quality control, and how the process might be corrected when something goes wrong.
Yvette Fisher, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present Harvard Medical School
Mentor: Rachel Wilson
Yvette Fisher is investigating how nerve cells in the brain perform the myriad computations that underlie perception and behavior. She is particularly interested in the role of voltage-gated ion channels, which regulate the flow of ions in and out of a cell. Fisher is exploring the dynamic interactions between these channels in the fruit fly, by examining their activity in cells that may help the fly navigate using visual cues.
Arif Hamid, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present Brown University
Mentor: Christopher Moore, PhD
Arif Hamid wants to understand how the brain uses a chemical messenger called dopamine to guide behavior. Using a microscopy technique that offers a window into living brain tissue, he will probe dopamine’s actions in different groups of neurons, such as those that signal directly to blood vessels that supply the brain. Hamid’s studies of the interactions between dopamine-producing neurons and blood vessels could deepen our understanding of how blood hormones influence decision-making and goal-directed behavior.
Silvana Konermann, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Mentor: Patrick Hsu, PhD
With powerful new genetic tools, Silvana Konermann plans to untangle the complex web of genes that predispose a person to Alzheimer’s disease. One of the strongest genetic risk factors for the neurodegenerative disease is a gene called APOE. Carrying the APOE4 version of the gene increases risk, while the APOE2 version is protective. Using a gene editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9, Konermann plans to systematically knock out parts of the genome as she hunts for other genes that interact with APOE.
James Nuñez, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present University of California, San Francisco
Mentor: Jonathan Weissman, PhD
James Nuñez is developing new tools to allow researchers to manipulate the activity of multiple genes simultaneously. The CRISPR-based technology will help scientists unravel the tapestry of interactions within complex biological networks. Mammalian cells produce thousands of different RNA molecules that do not code for proteins, and their roles remain largely unexplored. Nuñez plans to identify and examine the function of mysterious molecules called long non-coding RNAs, which can promote the growth of cancer cells and stem cells.
Nicolás Peláez, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present California Institute of Technology
Mentor: Michael Elowitz, PhD
Just a few kinds of signals control the fates of cells that either maintain their stem cell state, divide or differentiate in a developing organism. Nicolás Peláez is investigating whether the timing and dynamics of these signals encode critical information. He plans to figure out how and if the sequence of developmental signals directs embryonic stem cells to transform into more specialized cell types. His findings could help researchers devise ways to repair or replace damaged tissues by directing cells into specific differentiation paths.
Harold Pimentel, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present Stanford University
Mentor: Jonathan Pritchard, PhD
Harold Pimentel is scoping out what happens when cells fail to prune RNA copies of genes. These copies contain interrupting sequences called introns that are usually spliced out before an RNA molecule serves as a template for protein production. Neglecting to trim away introns is sometimes associated with abnormal cellular behavior and disease. Pimentel plans to use computational methods he developed to analyze a vast set of RNAs in healthy and cancerous tissues to discover whether lingering introns play a part in cancer.
Florentine Rutaganira, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present University of California, Berkeley
Mentor: Nicole King, PhD
Florentine Rutaganira wants to use chemical tools to decipher the roles of key signaling networks in choanoflagellates, single-celled organisms that are the closest living relatives of animals. Choanoflagellates produce a large number of tyrosine kinases, molecular signals essential for intercellular communication in animals. The presence of these molecules in choanoflagellates suggests that signaling components needed to communicate between cells is evolutionarily ancient. Tyrosine kinases may regulate choanoflagellate colony formation. Rutaganira expects her studies will spark new understanding of animal development, physiology, and disease.
Francisco J. Sánchez-Rivera, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Mentor: Scott Lowe, PhD
The p53 gene is the most commonly mutated gene in human cancers. Francisco J. Sánchez-Rivera plans to comb through human tumor data to systematically identify recurring—but understudied—p53 mutations, and figure out how they wreak havoc in the body. Many of these mutations are known to inactivate the p53 protein and eliminate its role as a tumor suppressor. But Sánchez-Rivera is particularly interested in mutations that create proteins with new abilities. His studies may kindle new therapeutic strategies relevant to a broad range of cancers.
Molly Schumer, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present Harvard Medical School
Mentor: David Reich, PhD
Biologists once thought that hybridization between species was rare and an evolutionary dead end. But recent advances in genomics have revealed that closely related species frequently exchange genes and pass them on to future generations. Molly Schumer wants to understand how these instances of hybridization shape the evolution of genomes and species. Combining work in the lab and field, she is building an understanding of factors that influence hybrid ancestry in the genome.
Autumn York, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present Yale University
Mentor: Richard Flavell, PhD
Unchecked inflammation is the hidden culprit behind many diseases — including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer's. Autumn York is investigating how the immune system interacts with the body’s metabolic pathways to control inflammation. She wants to expose how immune cells sense pathogen-triggered changes in fatty acid synthesis and then relay the message to limit inflammation. Her work may lead to new ways to prevent disease progression and suggest novel strategies to control infection.
Wendy Yue, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2017–Present University of California, San Francisco
Mentor: David Julius, PhD
Debilitating migraine headaches, which afflict up to 15 percent of the world’s population, are thought to be sparked by nerve cells called trigeminal ganglion neurons. Wendy Yue aims to find out what activates these pain-sensitive cells. By exciting, shutting down, or genetically altering these neurons in mice, Yue will explore their contribution to migraine pain. Her experiments will also clarify whether and how blood vessels participate in the generation of migraine headaches.