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HHMI announces the selection of 15 exceptional early career scientists as the first group of HHMI Hanna Gray Fellows. The 2018 Hanna Gray Fellows competition is now open, with applications due on January 10, 2018.
HHMI announces the selection of 15 exceptional early career scientists as the first group of HHMI Hanna Gray Fellows. The 2018 Hanna Gray Fellows competition is now open, with applications due on January 10, 2018.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute today announced the selection of 15 exceptional early career scientists as the first group of HHMI Hanna Gray Fellows. These recent PhD recipients will continue their training as postdoctoral fellows at 11 institutions in the U.S. Their research interests span a range of disciplines, including chemical biology, computational biology, genetics, immunology, microbiology, neuroscience, structural biology, and systems biology.

Each fellow will receive up to $1.4 million in funding over eight years, with mentoring and active involvement within the HHMI community. In this two-phase program, fellows will be supported from early postdoctoral training through several years of a tenure-track faculty position.

“Being a Hanna Gray Fellow is going to provide me support through what can be quite a hard transition. From postdoctoral researcher, which I am right now, towards starting my own lab and actually becoming a principal investigator,” said new fellow Yvette Fisher, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School.

HHMI’s Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program seeks to encourage talented early career scientists who have the potential to become leaders in academic research. In particular, this program aims to recruit and retain emerging scientists who are from gender, racial, ethnic, and other groups underrepresented in the life sciences, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“I’m excited about this program because I think it will have a positive impact on science,” said HHMI President Erin O’Shea. “We have so many challenges in keeping the best people from diverse groups in the professoriate. But I think this program can drive real change in academia and have a catalytic effect on the next generation of students.”

The Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program represents HHMI’s strong commitment to investing in early career scientists who are poised to make significant and important contributions to science in the years to come. This program will support these early career scientists at critical transitions in their academic careers. In keeping with HHMI’s long-standing approach to support “people, not projects,” fellows will have flexibility to change research focus and follow their curiosity during the duration of the award.

A competition for the next group of Hanna Gray Fellows opens immediately. With continued commitment to support and promote diversity in the life sciences, the Institute will again select up to 15 fellows investing a total of up to $25 million for their support over eight years. This grant competition is open to all eligible applicants, and no nomination is required. Grants in support of fellows will be awarded only to institutions within the U.S (including Puerto Rico).

The program is named for Hanna Holborn Gray, former chair of the HHMI Trustees and former president of the University of Chicago. Under Gray’s leadership, HHMI developed initiatives that foster diversity in science education. HHMI continues to carry forward this work on college and university campuses across the U.S. “Hanna Gray is a remarkable person – a Renaissance historian and one of the first female presidents of a major research university,” said O’Shea. “We thought it fitting to name this program after her because of her many years of service to HHMI and her prominence as a female leader in academia.”

Applicants may obtain more information and eligibility requirements at The deadline for applications is January 10, 2018, at 3:00 PM (Eastern Time). The selection of fellows will be made by the end of June 2018 and grants can start as early as September 18, 2018, but no later than January 15, 2019.


The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays an important role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. HHMI’s headquarters are located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.


2017 Hanna Gray Fellows

Christopher Barnes, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

Harvard Medical School
Mentor: Rachel Wilson, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

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, PhD

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.