Fall 2013

Among the Best in the World

Two Sackler School students named Howard Hughes Fellows

Two students in the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, both born in Africa, are among 42 international students chosen as 2013 Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) International Research Fellows. The fellowships provide financial support as they complete their graduate studies at U.S. universities.

Jennifer Nwankwo

Jennifer Nwankwo

“A graduate student’s worst nightmare is failing because you didn’t try. It’s ok to fail, but you don’t want to fail because the dearth of financial resources prevented you from testing your hypothesis to the fullest extent possible,” said Jennifer Nwankwo, a student from Nigeria who is studying pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the Sackler School.

The other HHMI fellow, Seblewongel Asrat, a molecular microbiology student from Ethiopia, studies the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease, specifically by exploring how specific cells in the immune system inhibit replication of the bacterium that causes the disease, a severe form of pneumonia. She has identified a novel strategy that immune cells use to overcome an attack by the pathogen.

Seblewongel Asrat

Seblewongel Asrat

Her advisor is Ralph Isberg, professor of molecular biology and microbiology at the medical school and an HHMI investigator. Asrat is a participant in the MERGE-ID track (Medically Oriented Research in Graduate Edition—Infectious Disease) at the Sackler School. Her co-advisor in the program is Jennifer Chow, assistant professor of medicine and attending physician in infectious disease at Tufts Medical Center.

Nwankwo investigates red blood cell dehydration in sickle cell disease, a group of red blood cell disorders that includes sickle cell anemia. She is examining the role of enzymes that cause red blood cell dehydration and cell adhesion—events that play a critical role in the development of sickle cell disease. Her goal is to identify enzymes that could be targeted effectively by new drug treatments. Her adviser is Athar Chishti, a professor who works in the cellular and molecular physiology, molecular microbiology and pharmacology and experimental therapeutics programs at the Sackler School.

Launched in 2011, the HHMI International Student Research Fellows program has invested nearly $10.8 billion in the fellowships, which now support 140 graduate students from 35 countries.

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