Senior PhD Students Receive Chancellor’s Award For Excellence in Basic Science Research

Wednesday, November 14, 2018
By Lindsay Key
 Grace Anderson, Erez Cohen, Tim Darlington, Fan Li

Four senior PhD students in the School of Medicine were awarded the inaugural Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence for outstanding accomplishments in basic science research.  Grace Anderson, Erez Cohen, Tim Darlington, and Fan Li were recognized at a ceremony at the Washington Duke Inn, and also received an engraved plaque with a cash award of $1,500.

The students, who were nominated by faculty members from basic science departments in the School of Medicine, were selected by a committee of faculty members on the basis of their publication records and impact on the research trajectory of their labs.

“This award is highly selective and was created to bring recognition to our most exceptional students, and to highlight the institutional commitment to biomedical graduate student education and training,” said Christopher Nicchitta, PhD, Associate Dean for Research Training in the School of Medicine.

“Each of these students is excelling in discovery by bringing innovative ideas and a ‘can-do’ attitude to their labs,” said A. Eugene Washington, MD, Duke University’s chancellor for health affairs and the president and chief executive officer of the Duke University Health System. “We are excited about the promise that their investigations hold for unlocking some of nature’s best-kept secrets and improving health and health care.”

Grace Anderson completed her PhD in 2018.  Her mentor was Kris Wood, PhD, an assistant professor of pharmacology and cancer biology. Anderson’s research focused on utilizing functional genomics approaches to uncover novel vulnerabilities in therapy-resistant cancers. She is a recipient of many fellowships and awards, including the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, the NCI Pre-to Postdoctoral Transition Award, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Graduate Diversity Enrichment Program.  She recently began a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University.

Erez Cohen is a PhD candidate in the lab of Donald Fox, an assistant professor of pharmacology and cancer biology. In his recently published work, Cohen identified a new Drosophila model where tissue injury responses change from cell division (regeneration) to cell size increase (hypertrophy). By establishing new genetic tools for Drosophila injury, Cohen was able to identify and manipulate genes to allow the tissue to fully regenerate following injury, at the cost of increasing susceptibility to disruption of tissue architecture. His current work focuses on identifying novel organ injury response genes, and how such genes affect specific organ repair programs.

Tim Darlington is a MD/PhD student in the Duke Medical Scientist Training Program. He is currently completing his PhD in the laboratory of Stephen Lisberger, professor and chair of neurobiology. Darlington is using eye movements as a model system to study how the brain controls movement. His most recent work has focused on the neural mechanisms by which expectation based on past experience is combined with current sensory evidence to guide motor behavior. He was awarded an NIH F30 National Research Service Award Fellowship to fund his research in the lab as well as the 2018 Bill Hall Prize for Excellence in Neurobiology Graduate Research. Darlington’s ultimate goal is to bridge his scientific and clinical interests by leading a motor control research laboratory and seeing patients as a neurologist specializing in motor disorders.

Fan (Frank) Li is a PhD candidate in the department of biostatistics and bioinformatics, and his advisor is Fan Li, an associate professor of statistical science.  He is also a student affiliate at the Duke Clinical Research Institute.  Li’s primary research interests include causal inference methods applied to observational studies and pragmatic trials. In his doctoral dissertation, he studied propensity score methods applicable for difference-in-differences design and observational studies with multiple treatments. He is also an active member of the Biostatistics and Study Design core in the NIH Collaboratory of Pragmatic Clinical Trials, established to oversee the statistical issues of ongoing trials. 

Chancellor Washington Speaking at the awards ceremonyChancellor Washington Speaking at the Awards Ceremony at the Washington Duke Inn