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 from gender, racial, ethnic, and other groups underrepresented in the life sciences, including those individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. Through their successful careers, HHMI Hanna Gray Fellows will become leaders in academic research and inspire future generations of scientists from America’s diverse talent pool.
Following the “people, not projects” philosophy of HHMI, the 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 biology, evolutionary biology, biophysics, chemical biology, biomedical engineering, and computational biology. Fellows have freedom to change their research focus and follow their own curiosity for the duration of the award.
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 provides opportunities for career development, including mentoring and networking with others in the HHMI 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 HHMI. A former chair of the trustees, she was one of the eight original trustees appointed in 1984 to govern the Institute. During her tenure, the Institute made significant changes to its process for selecting the scientists in which it invests, opening its doors to an ever-increasing pool of applicants.
- The program application is open to individuals who:
- are from gender, racial, ethnic, and other groups underrepresented in the life sciences, 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.
- are basic science researchers and physician-scientists in the biomedical and life science disciplines.
- hold a PhD and/or MD (or equivalent), which must be conferred by the start of the grant term.
- U.S. citizens must have a degree from a research institution in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico) or an international research institution.
- Non-U.S. citizens and applicants with other nationalities must have a degree from a research institution in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico).
- 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.
- PhD applicants can have no more than 16 months of postdoctoral research experience at the time of the application due date.
- The date or anticipated date of conferral of the doctoral degree must be on or after September 1, 2017, and before January 21, 2020.
- MD or MD/PhD applicants in residency, clinical fellowship, or postdoctoral training can have no more than 16 months of postdoctoral training by January 9, 2019.
- For the purposes of this award, research activities during residency or clinical fellowship are not considered postdoctoral training.
- The postdoctoral training mentor must hold a tenured or tenure-track position (or equivalent) at an institution in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico).
Components of the Application
- Summary of the 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 provided by the applicant’s research training mentor
- A statement of support with a training plan provided by the postdoctoral training mentor
- A curriculum vitae and list of prior trainees provided by the postdoctoral training mentor
- One additional letter of reference
Postdoctoral Training Phase
Fellows will receive annual support of a $60,000 salary for the initial year and a $20,000 expense allowance, paid through a non-renewable grant to the training institution. This phase of the award is for a minimum of two and maximum of four years.
Fellows will receive $250,000 in research funding and a $20,000 expense allowance per year, 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 tenure-track (or equivalent) faculty position 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.
Jose L. Alejo, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Mentor: Kate Adamala, PhD
Jose L. Alejo is investigating one of nature’s most important molecular machines, the ribosome. All living cells use ribosomes to translate the genetic code into proteins. Alejo plans to develop techniques for generating synthetic cells that contain different versions of the ribosome and its molecular partners. He seeks to build a platform for engineering new biomaterials from antibiotics to polymers. Alejo’s work could also shed light on the origin of life on Earth and how life might emerge elsewhere in the universe.
Thiago Monteiro Araújo dos Santos, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present Harvard University
Mentor: Daniel Kahne, PhD
Thiago Monteiro Araújo dos Santos finds the invisible world of microbes captivating. By figuring out how bacteria build their outer walls, he hopes to inhibit the process. Such interference may ultimately lead to new ways to stop deadly infections. Santos aims to uncover how some bacteria’s cellular machinery manufactures and installs stabilizing protein “bricks” into cell walls. Weakening these walls could one day form the basis of new antibiotics, a development that could thwart antimicrobial resistance.
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.
Sara Campbell, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present University of California, Berkeley
Mentors: Holger Müller, PhD and Eva Nogales, PhD
Using high-power lasers, Sara Campbell wants to manipulate the beam of electrons used in cutting-edge microscopy techniques. This could help scientists make ultra-precise measurements of various biological molecules and visualize how they interact at the atomic level. Campbell hopes to reveal, for example, how cancer drug candidates bind to and influence cellular machinery. The work could help researchers develop molecular treatments to repair this machinery when something goes awry.
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.
Yiyin Erin Chen, MD, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present Stanford University
Mentor: Michael A. Fischbach, PhD
Yiyin Erin Chen doesn’t believe in “good” or “bad” microbes; she considers the context. Chen, a dermatologist and scientist, explores the interplay between our immune system and the microbes that inhabit our skin. Her focus is how a microbe’s context – its genetic makeup and the roster of microbes nearby – influences its potential for maintaining health or causing inflammation. By decoding the mechanisms that govern these interactions, Chen’s work could lead to engineered microbes as a new way to treat skin diseases such as eczema.
Carolyn Elya, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present Harvard University
Mentor: Benjamin de Bivort, PhD
Carolyn Elya is studying how microbes hijack insect nervous systems. Insects with certain parasitic fungal infections end their lives like zombies, somehow compelled to climb to a high point before spores explode from their bodies. Elya discovered and developed a model system for laboratory studies of this phenomenon using a fungus that infects fruit flies. Her neural and molecular probing of parasitic mind-control is advancing understanding of how animal brains produce behavior, with potential long-term applications for mental health treatment.
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.
D’Juan Farmer, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present University of Southern California
Mentor: Gage Crump, PhD
D’Juan Farmer hopes to establish the origins of vertebrate birth defects. His interest in how organs develop prompted a focus on stem cells – namely, their life span and maintenance. Farmer thinks birth defects like craniosynostosis, when the bones of a baby’s skull fuse prematurely, might result from an inability to maintain stem cells in the long-term. By studying craniosynostosis in zebrafish, he plans to uncover if and how stem cell depletion and dysfunction cause disease.
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.
Melanie McReynolds, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present Princeton University
Mentor: Joshua Rabinowitz, MD, PhD
Every living cell relies on the molecule NAD+ to keep itself running. Low levels of NAD+ have been linked to both aging and a wide range of diseases, including type-2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. Using sophisticated tools that can track the molecule’s metabolic origin and fate, Melanie McReynolds aims to figure out how NAD+ is produced and used up. Uncovering what governs NAD+ metabolic flux inside cells may clarify – and eventually counter – diseases and aging.
Shan Meltzer, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present Harvard Medical School
Mentor: David Ginty, PhD
Though the sense of touch is vital in daily life, it’s still a mystery how the nerve circuitry underlying this sense develops. Shan Meltzer is revealing how sensory neurons form the exquisite structures and connections that govern these cells’ functions. Using new genetic tools, she plans to find and manipulate the molecules that control touch sensory neuron development in mice. Her research could lead to new therapies for restoring touch in people with nervous system disorders or injuries.
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.
Adriane Otopalik, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present Columbia University
Mentor: Oliver Hobert, PhD
Adriane Otopalik is probing how nerve cells communicate. She’s investigating electrical synapses, or gap junctions – protein communication channels that pass ions directly between nerve cells. Otopalik is using the transparent roundworm, C. elegans, and its associated genetic and imaging tools to decode these synapses’ molecular underpinnings. The results could reveal how electrical synapses assemble during development, an unsolved mystery in neuroscience. Otopalik hopes to illuminate the diverse roles these synapses play in nervous system function and behavior.
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.
Michelle Richter, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present Harvard University
Mentor: David Liu, PhD
Michelle Richter wants to improve the genome editing toolkit that includes CRISPR. These protein tools can add or remove portions of mutated genetic information – and could potentially treat diseases such as cystic fibrosis and cancer. Richter plans to engineer proteins that can switch one class of DNA building block into the other. About 20 percent of genetic diseases are caused by a single one of these switches and are currently untreatable with genome editing.
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.
Jarrett Smith, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Mentor: David Bartel, PhD
Jarrett Smith wants to understand how stress impacts cells. In stressed cells, many ingredients for protein synthesis clump into enigmatic structures called stress granules. These granules are thought to slow down cells’ protein-making machinery and may be tied to disease – but their exact role is unknown. Smith plans to identify the molecules that compose stress granules and to investigate their effect on cellular function. The results could clarify granules’ link to cancer, viral infection, and neurodegenerative disease.
Quinton Smith, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mentor: Sangeeta Bhatia, MD, PhD
Quinton Smith wants to engineer stem cell-derived “mini livers” in the lab. He plans to recreate the biliary tree, an essential liver structure that secretes digestive enzymes and exports toxins. By incorporating a biliary tree into a mixture of liver-specific cell types, Smith aims to create engineered tissue that grows and responds to regeneration cues in injured mouse livers. He hopes the results will translate into new therapies for humans and offer hope for liver failure patients on the organ donation waiting list.
Jeannette Tenthorey, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Mentor: Harmit Malik, PhD
Jeannette Tenthorey is investigating how mammals’ immune systems stop bacterial invaders from growing. One family of immune proteins unravels molecular strings that some bacteria use to travel through infected cells. Tenthorey has identified rapidly evolving changes in these immune proteins – a sign that they are mutating to counteract bacterial attempts to evade or destroy them. She plans to determine the specific mutations that help these proteins resist attack. The work could offer new tools for halting bacterial growth.
Matheus Victor, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mentor: Li-Huei Tsai, PhD
Scientists often rely on mice to probe neurodegenerative diseases. But the neural rules that hold true in mice don’t always translate to humans. Matheus Victor wants to study the genetic mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease. He’s reprogramming human skin cells in the lab to grow into brain immune cells called microglia. These cells orchestrate inflammatory responses in the brain, a key feature of Alzheimer’s. Victor hopes that the lab-grown microglia will help researchers understand how Alzheimer’s progresses in humans.
Arielle Woznica, PhDHHMI Hanna Gray Fellow / 2018–Present The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Mentor: Julie Pfeiffer, PhD
Arielle Woznica wants to know what happens when choanoflagellates get sick. These single-celled organisms are the closest living relatives of animals. Discovering viruses that infect choanoflagellates will let Woznica study how they fend off infection. She aims to understand how these organisms – as well as evolutionarily ancient animals including sponges, comb jellies, and sea anemones – sense and respond to viruses. The work could provide insight into the origins and evolution of animal innate immunity, our first-line defense against microbial threats.
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.