Five mid-career researchers receive Biosciences Initiative award

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The University of Michigan’s Biosciences Initiative has selected five accomplished scientists as the 2024 recipients of the Mid-career Biosciences Faculty Achievement Recognition Award.

Launched in 2021, MBioFAR is an annual accolade designed to promote innovative and high-risk research. It is bestowed upon mid-career faculty members as a testament to their exceptional contributions in the biosciences.

Each awardee receives $250,000 per year for two years as discretionary funds to advance their groundbreaking research endeavors.

“The MBioFAR award recognizes exceptional mid-career U-M faculty and provides them with support at this critical stage in their careers to continue their pursuit of the types of novel, boundary-pushing research that can address major challenges in the biological sciences,” said Roger Cone, vice provost, director of the Biosciences Initiative and Mary Sue Coleman Director of the Life Sciences Institute.

“I’m so pleased to join in honoring our MBioFAR awardees,” said President Santa J. Ono. “These exceptional members of our faculty are opening new horizons, uplifting our society, and sustaining and strengthening our place as a world-leading public research university.”

The Biosciences Initiative Annual Community Celebration, which took place Jan. 16, highlighted U-M’s commitment to bioscience research excellence, and showcased the 2024 MBioFAR awardees’ field-leading work.

“Those looking to be inspired about advances in the biosciences need only explore the research of this year’s MBioFAR award winners,” said Laurie McCauley, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

“Each of these scientists is advancing their field in ways that have tremendous potential to tackle persistent challenges to human health. To learn about their work is to be energized about what is possible when we combine a robust research initiative with top-tier faculty.”

The 2024 MBioFAR awardees are:

Kelly Bakulski

A photo of Kelly Bakulski
Kelly Bakulski

Associate professor of epidemiology, School of Public Health

Bakulski’s research in molecular epidemiology focuses on the interaction between environmental factors and genetics in neurological diseases.

Her work, especially relevant in conditions like autism spectrum disorder and Alzheimer’s disease, is pivotal in understanding how environmental chemicals influence these disorders. Her team develops innovative biomarker and cell-specific tools for population-based studies, contributing significantly to the field.

Her commitment to mentoring is reflected in her receipt of the School of Public Health Excellence in Teaching Award, underscoring her role in developing future scientists.

Santhi Ganesh

A photo of Santhi Ganesh
Santhi Ganesh

David J. Pinsky M.D. Professor in Cardiovascular Medicine, professor of internal medicine and of human genetics, Medical School

Ganesh is distinguished in her field as a physician-scientist, particularly known for her pioneering work in the genetics of vascular diseases.

Awarded the National Institutes of Health MIRA R35 award, Ganesh’s research is defining new frontiers in understanding critical genetic influences on diseases like hypertension, fibromuscular dysplasia, and spontaneous coronary artery dissections.

Her work is crucial in addressing unmet clinical needs in cardiovascular health, especially among women, and integrates computational and functional approaches to unearth the underlying mechanisms of these diseases.

Ganesh’s laboratory focuses on the genetics of vascular remodeling and arterial dysplasia, key processes in various cardiovascular diseases. Using gene-discovery methods such as genome sequencing and statistical genetic analysis, along with model systems of the discovered genetic effects, her team aims to elucidate the genetic basis of these conditions and their translational potential. This research is vital in developing novel treatment strategies for vascular diseases.

Kristin Koutmou

A photo of Kristin Koutmou
Kristin Koutmou

Dow Early Career Professor of Chemistry and associate professor of chemistry, LSA

Koutmou’s expertise in biochemistry centers on the intricate processes of protein synthesis in cells.

Her innovative research uncovers how RNA chemical modifications affect protein production, a crucial factor in both understanding and treating various diseases. This area of study is fundamental for advancements in mRNA-based therapies and vaccines.

Her lab’s approach is multidisciplinary, blending mechanistic enzymology, biophysical chemistry and genome-wide techniques.

Koutmou’s work is pivotal in decoding the “RNA epigenetic code,” revealing the connections between mRNA modifications and diseases like cancer and diabetes, and potentially guiding new treatment methodologies.

Joshua Welch

A photo of Joshua Welch
Joshua Welch

Associate professor of computational medicine and bioinformatics, Medical School; associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, College of Engineering

Welch is a computational biologist specializing in machine learning and AI for single-cell genomic and spatial transcriptomic datasets. His work in developing software tools like LIGER and MultiVelo has been transformative in the field.

Welch’s contributions are significant in national and international efforts to map human body cell types, such as the NIH BRAIN Initiative and the Human Cell Atlas network.

His areas of interest include the development of tools for high-throughput sequencing technologies, understanding cell differentiation and gene dysregulation in diseases. Welch’s lab focuses on open-source software for single-cell sequencing data analysis, contributing to stem cell differentiation and brain studies.

Xiang Zhou

A photo of Xiang Zhou
Xiang Zhou

Professor of biostatistics, School of Public Health

Zhou, a leading biostatistician, excels in developing statistical and computational methods for genetic and genomic studies.

His innovative research tackles large-scale, high-dimensional data from genomewide association and functional genomic sequencing studies. His aim is to uncover the genetic underpinnings of phenotypic variations in human diseases.

Zhou’s areas of expertise include Bayesian methods, machine learning and analysis of complex genomic data. His projects span GWAS, TWAS, single-cell, and spatial multi-omics, advancing our understanding of genetics and genomics in health and disease.

His contributions are integral to the field of genomic data science and the Precision Health initiative at the university.

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