BOSTON (August 14, 2013) — The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded two doctoral students from the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University with 2013 International Student Research Fellowships. Seblewongel Asrat, from Ethiopia, studies the bacterium that causes Legionnaires' disease while Jennifer Nwankwo, from Nigeria, studies red blood cell dehydration in sickle cell disease. The HHMI fellowship program provides support for international pre-doctoral students who are conducting outstanding research in the biomedical and related sciences.
Asrat, a molecular microbiology student, seeks to understand how specific cells in the immune system inhibit replication of the bacterium that causes Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia. She has identified a novel strategy that immune cells use to overcome pathogen attack. Her advisor is Ralph Isberg, Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator and professor of molecular biology and microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM), and member of both the genetics and molecular microbiology program faculties at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts. Asrat is in the MERGE-ID track (Medically-oriented Research in Graduate Education - Infectious Disease) program at the Sackler School. Her co-advisor in this program is Jennifer Chow, M.S., M.D., attending physician in infectious diseases at Tufts Medical Center as well as an assistant professor at TUSM.
Nwankwo studies sickle cell disease, a group of red blood cell disorders that include sickle cell anemia. She specifically studies the role of enzymes that cause red blood cell dehydration and cell adhesion – critical events that lead to the painful crises that are the hallmark of sickle cell disease. Her goal is to identify enzymes that could be targeted by new drug treatments for the disorders. Nwankwo is a student in the Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics program at the Sackler School, advised by Athar Chishti, Ph.D., professor in the department of integrative physiology and pathobiology at TUSM and member of the cellular & molecular physiology; molecular microbiology; and pharmacology & experimental therapeutics program faculties at the Sackler School.
Asrat and Nwankwo are two of 42 international students selected to become 2013 HHMI International Student Research Fellows. Invited students must be in the third or fourth year of a Ph.D. program at a designated nominating institution.
"These highly-competitive fellowships support the training of students who are committed to high-quality research that advances science and human health. This honor reflects the excellence of their work and the dedication of our faculty to provide the best training possible for our students," said Naomi Rosenberg, Ph.D., dean of the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences and vice dean for research at Tufts University School of Medicine.
Launched in 2011, the HHMI International Student Research Fellows program has invested almost $10.8 million in these fellowships, now supporting 140 graduate students from 35 countries. Selected students each receive $43,000 for the first year with the opportunity for renewal for two more years. International students, not eligible for most federal and state loans or grants, have very limited options for funding their studies. Through the program, HHMI continues to fulfill its mission of advancing biomedical research and science education by supporting exceptional scientists and students.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is a non-profit, medical research organization that ranks as one of the nation's largest philanthropies. HHMI was established in 1953 by aviator and industrialist, Howard R. Hughes.
About Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences
Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University are international leaders in innovative medical education and advanced research. The School of Medicine and the Sackler School are renowned for excellence in education in general medicine, biomedical sciences, special combined degree programs in business, health management, public health, bioengineering and international relations, as well as basic and clinical research at the cellular and molecular level. Ranked among the top in the nation, the School of Medicine is affiliated with six major teaching hospitals and more than 30 health care facilities. Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School undertake research that is consistently rated among the highest in the nation for its effect on the advancement of medical science.
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