Six senior PhD students in the School of Medicine were awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence for outstanding accomplishments in basic science research. Elizabeth Fleming, Kyle Gibbs, Siqi Li, Morgan Parker, Atul Kaushik Rangadurai, and Amy Webster were recognized at a virtual ceremony on Monday, November 16, 2020, 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, impact on the research trajectory of their labs, and positive influence on their local academic communities.
“This year's nineteen Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence (CARE) nominees represented outstanding research and scholarship that reflects Duke's high standard of biomedical graduate training,” said Beth Sullivan, PhD, professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and associate dean for research training. “The six awardees excelled in their innovative, high caliber science in key areas of biomedical research. Even at this early stage, their strong publication records have shifted paradigms and opened new avenues of research in their respective fields. Their nominators praised their independence, creativity, scientific rigor, intellectual engagement in their labs and the academic community. I was also impressed by the extraordinary tenacity, resilience, and professionalism that each has exhibited throughout their training experiences here at Duke.”
Elizabeth Fleming is a PhD candidate in Neurobiology the laboratory of Court Hull, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology, where she studies the role of local inhibition on sensory encoding by cerebellar granule cells. Elizabeth uses calcium imaging in combination with cell-type specific pharmacology in awake, behaving mice to test how local synaptic inhibition contributes to pattern separation and learning specificity. She was awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health and elected co-chair of the 2021 Cerebellum Gordon Research Seminar.
Kyle Gibbs is a PhD candidate in the lab of Dennis Ko, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. Kyle studies how host and pathogen factors regulate Salmonella replication inside human cells. In his recently published work, Kyle discovered that a Salmonella protein, SarA, is injected into host cells where it mimics an active cytokine co-receptor to reprogram host transcription. This reprogramming promotes Salmonella replication inside human cells and increases virulence in mice. Concurrently, he discovered that intracellular Salmonella replication is also regulated by human genetic variation affecting expression of a divalent cation channel. Thus, his work demonstrates novel mechanisms by which pathogen and host diversity generate divergent outcomes during Salmonella infection.
Siqi Li successfully defended her thesis in October 2020 and expects to graduate in December 2020. Working with her mentor Christopher Counter, PhD, professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Siqi researches the mechanisms that contribute to the mutational bias of cancer genes, including tissue-specific occurrence of particular driver mutations, using a mouse model. Her recently published work applied a highly sensitive mutation detection technique to capture mutations in Ras genes, the most frequently mutated oncogenes in cancer, in mouse tissues immediately after carcinogen exposure to evaluate the mutagenic specificity of the carcinogen. She discovered that the mutagenesis bias by carcinogen at the nucleotide and tissue level contributes significantly to the mutational bias observed in the tumor. Siqi’s current work focuses on determining how additional factors active in the processes following mutagenesis limit the spectrum of mutations observed in the tumor. Her ultimate goal is to answer the fundamental question of how cancer arises, in particular what processes are causing the mutations and what factors are determining the outcome of these mutations.
Morgan Parker is a PhD candidate in the lab of Maria Ciofani, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Immunology. Parker’s research has focused on trying to understand the transcriptional regulation governing the development and plasticity of tissue-resident group 3 innate lymphoid cells (ILC3s). Parker found that the transcription factor c-Maf limits ILC3 plasticity by restraining the type 1 master regulator T-bet to maintain ILC3 identity. She was awarded an NIH F31Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award to continue researching how the type 1 program is regulated during ILC3 plasticity. ‘
Atul Kaushik Rangadurai is a 6th year Biochemistry graduate student working in the lab of Hashim Al-Hashimi, PhD, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry. Atul's research focusses on studying conformational changes of nucleic acids using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy and other biophysical techniques. He is interested in the development of new methods to visualize these conformational changes and understanding their roles in biology.
Amy Webster is a PhD candidate in the University Program in Genetics and Genomics, and her advisor is Ryan Baugh, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Biology. For Webster's dissertation research, she uses the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans to understand the genetic and gene regulatory mechanisms that facilitate starvation resistance. In her published work, she identified transgenerational effects of extended starvation and natural genetic variation underlying starvation resistance. She was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to support her research in the lab.