The University of Michigan has welcomed 13 postdoctoral researchers as new Michigan Pioneer Fellows, a highly competitive postdoctoral program that recruits and prepares exceptional early-career scientists for independent careers.
Spanning the Life Sciences Institute, Medical School, College of Pharmacy and LSA, the Michigan Pioneer Fellows program emphasizes multidisciplinary collaboration and focused mentorship.
Fellows receive a stipend as well as funding for independent research and travel, guidance from mentors, regular meetings with their cohort members and professional development relevant to their independent career paths.
“I think what’s most unique about this program is the fact that, while most fellowships provide financial support, the Michigan Pioneer Fellows program also provides an impressive amount of in-person mentorship and opportunities for collaboration,” said Carole Parent, the program’s director and the Raymond W. Ruddon Collegiate Professor of Cancer Biology and Pharmacology in the Medical School.
“Between their mentors, their connections across the cohort and regular program activities, the fellows really get to understand the best way to prepare themselves for the next chapter of their life — mainly, becoming the future academic leaders in the life sciences.”
The new program merges two previous fellowship programs — the Michigan Life Sciences Fellows and the Michigan Pioneer Postdoctoral Program — to combine the strengths of each and build connections across larger cohorts.
“The power of getting to know people who are going through the same thing as you at the same time is amazing,” said Parent, who also is a professor of pharmacology and of cell and developmental biology in the Medical School and a research professor at the LSI.
“By merging these two programs, we can bring more outstanding scientists to the university’s research enterprise while also increasing the diversity of expertise and the potential for collaboration across each cohort.”
The new program is administratively housed in the LSI, with additional support from the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology in the Medical School, and is led by Parent and co-directors Yatrik Shah, professor of molecular and integrative physiology and internal medicine in the Medical School, and Wenjing Wang, assistant research professor at the LSI and assistant professor of chemistry in LSA.
The following are the 2023 Michigan Pioneer Fellows and their project descriptions:
• In a project that spans the LSI and the Medical School’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Christophe-Sebastien Arnold will use metabolomics, high-content imaging and machine learning to understand parasite-host interactions under nutritional stress. Arnold received a Ph.D. in virology, immunology and microbiology from the Université Grenoble-Alpes, France, before coming to U-M.
• Working in the Medical School’s Department of Neurology, Merci Best aims to uncover how specific genetic mutations can damage the architecture of the central nervous system and thus promote neurodegeneration. Best received a Ph.D. in pharmacology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
• Maurinne Bonnet completed her graduate studies in medicinal chemistry at the Institut de Chimie de Nice, France. Now, in the College of Pharmacy’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry, she plans to develop new approaches to RNA-targeted drug discovery.
• In the LSI, Brian Curtis will apply protein engineering to overcome a bottleneck that hinders scientists’ ability to efficiently develop biologically important natural product analogues. Curtis comes to the LSI from Cornell University, where he received a Ph.D. in chemistry and chemical biology.
• Fabio Andrés Gómez-Cano received a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Michigan State University. He joined LSA’s Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, where he intends to unravel the intricate mechanisms through which living organisms respond to stress by studying the co-evolution of cis-regulatory regions and environmental stress.
• In the Medical School’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, John Han will explore the role of lipid droplets and mitochondrial metabolism in lipoprotein particle formation and secretion in age-related macular degeneration. Han received his Ph.D. in cell biology and regenerative medicine from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
• Working across LSA’s departments of Biophysics and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Medical School’s Department of Internal Medicine, Jacob Moran will investigate how bacterial communities coordinate across different length and time scales to resist antibiotic treatments. Moran comes to U-M from Washington University in St. Louis, where he received a Ph.D. in physics.
• Siva Kumar Natarajan received his Ph.D. in molecular and cellular pathology from U-M, where he identified metabolic vulnerabilities in pediatric brain cancers to develop new therapies. Now, in the Medical School’s Department of Pathology Medical, he will build on his graduate work by exploring how the crosstalk between tumor cells and immune cells contributes to aggressive forms of brain cancer.
• Morgan Pimm has joined the Medical School’s Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, where she will study how one class of cytoskeletal filaments, known as microtubules, are regulated to promote directed cell migration, which is essential for tissue formation, immune responses and wound healing. Pimm received a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University.
• Working in the Medical School’s Department ofPharmacology, Hitarthi Vyas aims to discover cellular mechanisms that heart cells use to release atrial natriuretic peptide, with the goal of identifying potential targets for treating heart failure and hypertension. Vyas comes to U-M from The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India, where she received a Ph.D. in cardiovascular biology.
• In the LSI, Jingcheng Wang is characterizing protein receptors that facilitate the movement of specific proteins (cargos) along the secretory pathway to the surface or outside of the cells, with a particular interest in the mechanisms that enable receptors to recognize their corresponding cargos. Before coming to U-M, Wang completed his graduate studies at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
• Kristina Weaver received her Ph.D. in molecular and integrative physiology from U-M. Expanding on her graduate studies, she now plans to establish new animal models to study how environmental changes, such as touch, can reprogram neural states in the brain and impact aging.
• In the Medical School’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Guolei Zhao is investigating the mechanisms that drive skin colonization in Candida auris, which can cause life-threatening infections. Prior to joining U-M, Zhao received her Ph.D. in biological sciences from the State University of New York-Buffalo.