Two professors at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine have been recognized as “early career scientists who have great potential to make unique contributions to their field.”
Elissa Hallem, associate professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, and Kathrin Plath, professor of biological chemistry, were among 84 scientists across the country named Howard Hughes Medical Institute Faculty Scholars.
The new award was created by the institute in collaboration with the Simon Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to address the difficulty in securing research funding. The philanthropies will provide about $83 million over five years to this first group of Faculty Scholars, with five-year grants ranging from $600,000 to $1.8 million.
Hallem and Plath are “exceptional young scientists,” said Dr. Kelsey Martin, the medical school’s dean, in an email announcement. “Both are making enormous contributions to the university and to the larger scientific community, and we are fortunate to count them among our colleagues.”
Hallem researches the interactions between animal parasites and their hosts, such as how parasitic worms use sensory cues like heat and odors to find their hosts. Her laboratory also works to understand how the nervous system of a parasite differs from that of a free-living animal. Hallem is a 2013 Macarthur Fellow and a 2012 Searle Scholar, among other honors.
Plath’s lab seeks to understand how cells progress during development from a pluripotent or uncommitted state to a committed and specific cell type with limited potential. She was among the first scientists to reprogram mouse and human adult cells into an embryonic stem cell-like state, a discovery with broad implications for regenerative medicine. Plath serves as on the board of directors of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, and has received NIH’s New Innovator Award.