Professor of biology and chemistry Liz Hedstrom wins prestigious NIH Transformative Research Award

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2020 Awardees

Peter Adams

Peter D. Adams, B.A. Oxon., PhD.

Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

Project Title: Defining Chromostasis – A Candidate Regulator of Healthy Aging and Longevity
Grant ID: R01-AG071464

Peter Adams has been Full Professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, San Diego, since 2016. Adams’ goal is to develop epigenetic-based interventions that promote healthy aging and suppression of disease. Adams’ lab coined the term “chromostasis” to describe the presumptive mechanisms that confer chromatin and phenotypic stability to achieve healthy aging; discovered “cytoplasmic chromatin fragments (CCF)” produced by senescent cells as pro-inflammatory signals; and with Trey Ideker published the first DNA methylation clock in the mouse, from his studies of aging mouse liver. In 2016 Adams was awarded the Tenovus Scotland Medal, in 2017 a Glenn Award for Research in Biological Mechanisms of Aging, and in 2018 a Glenn/AFAR Breakthroughs in Gerontology Award. Adams is co-Editor-in-Chief of the leading aging journal, Aging Cell.


Brenda Bass

Brenda L. Bass, Ph.D.

University of Utah

Project Title: Unlocking Evolutionarily Latent Immune Functions for Treating Disease
Grant ID: R01-CA260414
Co-PIs: Nels C. Elde, Ph.D., Jane E. Jackman, Ph.D., and Dan Stetson, Ph.D.

Brenda Bass is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Utah. She is known for her contributions in defining double-stranded RNA-mediated pathways, including the discovery of ADAR RNA editing enzymes, and models and experiments that established Dicer’s role in RNA silencing. Dr. Bass obtained a B.A. from Colorado College, a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Dr. Bass is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2007 she was elected and served as President of the RNA Society. She is grateful to her current and former lab members, colleagues, and research support during her career from the Pew Scholars Program, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the National Institutes of Health, who awarded her a Director’s Pioneer Award in 2011.


Brian Brown

Brian D. Brown, Ph.D.

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Project Title: Development of a Platform for Spatial Functional Genomics
Grant ID: R01-AT011326

Brian Brown is the Associate Director of the Precision Immunology Institute and Professor of Genomics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. He did his doctoral training in Canada and postdoctoral fellowship in Italy in the areas of genetic engineering, gene therapy, and immunology. His lab’s research is focused on understanding the molecular and cellular factors that control immunity, inflammation, and tolerance, particularly in tissues and tumors. His lab also has a focus on the development of novel technologies for experimental and therapeutic applications aimed at controlling the direction of immune responses in cancers and inflammatory conditions.


Jerold Chun

Jerold Chun, M.D., Ph.D.

Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

Project Title: Transformative Research on Somatic Gene Recombination in the Normal and Alzheimer’s Disease-Related Dementia Brain
Grant ID: R01-AG071465

Dr. Chun received his MD and PhD (Neuroscience) degrees through the Medical Scientist Training Program at Stanford University School of Medicine, then moved east as a Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research – MIT. He joined the faculty at the UCSD School of Medicine, where he became Professor of Pharmacology and Neurosciences and directed the Neurosciences Graduate Program, then became Department Head of Molecular Neuroscience at Merck Research Laboratories, returning to academia as Professor at The Scripps Research Institute and adjunct Professor at UCSD, before his current position at SBP. He has made important contributions to our understanding of the brain and its diseases, including the discovery of somatic genomic mosaicism and gene recombination in the brain and its involvement in Alzheimer’s disease, with relevance to other brain diseases. In separate work, he identified the first lysophospholipid receptor, which is part of a growing class of lipid receptors underlying new neuroscience medicines (e.g., fingolimod, siponimod, and ozanimod for Multiple Sclerosis), and has contributed to understanding other diseases including hydrocephalus, schizophrenia, neuropathic pain, and fibrosis. Authoring more than 300 scientific publications, Dr. Chun has been recognized in Thomson Reuters’ World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds and Clarivate highly-cited researcher lists and is a member of numerous advisory, review, and editorial boards in both academia and industry.


Bonnie Dittel

Bonnie N. Dittel, Ph.D.

Versiti Blood Research Institute

Project Title: Development of a B Cell Therapeutic
Grant ID: R01-AI160244

Bonnie Dittel is a Senior Investigator at Versiti Blood Research Institute, Milwaukee, WI and a Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical College Wisconsin. She received her B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, her Ph.D, from the University of Minnesota and conducted post-doctoral training at Yale University. She studies immune regulation with an emphasis on the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis with a major focus on the function and therapeutic potential of BDL, a regulatory B cell subset recently discovered by the Dittel lab. She was the recipient of the Louis T. Dosdall Fellowship in Science, pre- and post-doctoral NIH T32 fellowships and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship. Awards from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society include induction into the 2012 Volunteer Hall of Fame-Scientific Researcher, the Stephen C. Reingold Award and Research Partner of the Year.


Nels Elde

Nels C. Elde, Ph.D.

University of Utah

Project Title: Unlocking Evolutionarily Latent Immune Functions for Treating Disease
Grant ID: R01-CA260414
Co-PIs: Brenda L. Bass, Ph.D., Jane E. Jackman, Ph.D., and Dan Stetson, Ph.D.

Nels Elde is an Associate Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Utah. His lab investigates host-pathogen interfaces and the evolutionary impact of these interactions on genomic and cellular complexity. His lab uses integrated phylogenetic and experimental approaches to identify sources of genetic resistance to infectious diseases. The lab also uses experimental evolution to determine the adaptive potential of infectious microbes and understand the rules by which they evolve to overwhelm host defenses. The research reveals fundamental advances for understanding how pathogenic microbes shape host evolution and the genetic mechanisms underlying microbial adaptation to hosts.


Mitchell Guttman

Mitchell Guttman, Ph.D.

California Institute of Technology

Project Title: How Phase-Separation in the Nucleus Organizes 3D Spatial Assembly and Gene Regulation
Grant ID: R01-DA053178

Mitchell Guttman is a Professor in the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering at the California Institute of Technology. He received his PhD from the Department of Biology at MIT and holds two degrees from the University of Pennsylvania: a B.A. in molecular biology and computational biology and an M.S. in computational biology and bioinformatics. He established his lab as an independent Fellow at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard prior to joining the faculty at Caltech in June 2013. He is a recipient of numerous honors and awards including the 2012 NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, was named one of Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30” in science and medicine two years in a row, and is the recipient of the 2014 Wilson S. Stone Memorial Award from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in recognition of his “outstanding contribution to biomedical research.”


Lizbeth Hedstrom

Lizbeth Hedstrom, Ph.D.

Brandeis University

Project Title: Ubiquitin-Independent Targeted Protein Degradation
Grant ID: R01-GM142041

Liz Hedstrom is Professor of Biology and Chemistry at Brandeis University. She received her BS in Chemistry from the University of Virginia, her PhD in Biochemistry from Brandeis University and postdoctoral training in parasitology and protein engineering at UC San Francisco. She is a chemical biologist who has made seminal contributions to understanding enzyme specificity. Her laboratory addresses questions in nucleotide metabolism and protease action, including problems in inhibitor design, enzyme mechanisms and cellular biochemistry.


Jay Hesselberth

Jay Hesselberth, Ph.D.

University of Colorado School of Medicine

Project Title: Biochemistry at Single-Cell Resolution: A New Approach to Understand Functional Heterogeneity
Grant ID: R01-AG071467

Jay Hesselberth is an Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He received a Ph.D. in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. During postdoctoral studies at the University of Washington, he established new molecular technologies to understand chromatin organization and RNA damage. His laboratory studies RNA damage and repair, and develops new approaches to expand the utility of single-cell analysis.


Jane Jackman

Jane E. Jackman, Ph.D.

The Ohio State University

Project Title: Unlocking Evolutionarily Latent Immune Functions for Treating Disease
Grant ID: R01-CA260414
Co-PIs: Brenda L. Bass, Ph.D., Nels C. Elde, Ph. D., and Dan Stetson, Ph.D.

Jane E. Jackman is a Professor and Vice Chair for Research and Administration in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at The Ohio State University. She earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Duke University and completed postdoctoral training in RNA biochemistry at the University of Rochester before joining the faculty at the Ohio State University in 2007. In her lab, she seeks to understand the complex landscape of biological RNA processing reactions and associated enzymes in all three domains of life. Her work has identified new functions for enzymes in RNA maturation and repair, focusing on diverse and mechanistically unusual enzymes that carry out essential non-coding RNA processing reactions. Through her studies, Dr. Jackman hopes to uncover new paradigms for RNA metabolism that can be exploited for fundamental insights into molecular biology and new therapeutic opportunities.


Andrew Kruse


Chang Liu

Chang C. Liu, Ph.D.

University of California Irvine

Project Title: Making Antibody Generation Rapid, Scalable, and Democratic Through Machine Learning and Continuous Evolution
Grant ID: R01-CA260415
Co-PIs: Andrew C. Kruse, Ph.D. and Debora S. Marks, Ph.D.

Chang Liu received his BA in Chemistry from Harvard University in 2005 and his PhD in Chemical Biology from Scripps Research in 2009 as an NSF Fellow and Hertz Fellow. He completed his postdoctoral training as a Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley in 2012. Professor Liu’s independent research is in the fields of synthetic biology, chemical biology, and directed evolution, and focuses on engineering specialized genetic systems for rapid evolution. For example, his group is known for their construction of an orthogonal DNA replication (OrthoRep) system capable of driving the rapid, scalable, and deep evolution of desired proteins in vivo. Professor Liu’s research has been recognized by awards such as the Moore Inventor Fellowship, the Robert W. Vaughan Lectureship at Caltech, the ACS Synthetic Biology Young Innovator Award, the Sloan Research Fellow Award, the NIH New Innovator Award, the Beckman Young Investigator Award, the Dupont Young Professor Award, and others.


Debora Marks

Debora S. Marks, Ph.D.

Harvard Medical School and Broad Institute

Project Title: Making Antibody Generation Rapid, Scalable, and Democratic Through Machine Learning and Continuous Evolution
Grant ID: R01-CA260415
Co-PIs: Chang C. Liu, Ph.D. and Andrew C. Kruse, Ph.D.

Debora is a mathematician and computational biologist with a track record of using novel algorithms and statistics to successfully address unsolved biological problems. She has a passion for interpreting genetic variation in a way that impacts biomedical applications. During her PhD, she quantified the potential pan-genomic scope of microRNA targeting and combinatorial regulation of protein expression and co-discovered the first microRNA in a virus. As a postdoc she and her colleagues cracked the classic, unsolved problem of ab initio 3D structure prediction of proteins using a maximum entropy probability model for evolutionary sequences. She has developed this approach to determine functional interactions, biomolecular structures, including the 3D structure of RNA and RNA-protein complexes and the conformational ensembles of apparently disordered proteins.


Daniel Stetson

Dan Stetson, Ph.D.

University of Washington

Project Title: Unlocking Evolutionarily Latent Immune Functions for Treating Disease
Grant ID: R01-CA260414
Co-PIs: Brenda L. Bass, Ph.D., Nels C. Elde, Ph. D., and Jane E. Jackman, Ph.D.

Dan Stetson is an associate professor of Immunology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Faculty Scholar at the University of Washington. Research in the lab focuses on how cells detect when they are infected with a virus. By identifying and characterizing these pathways, the lab strives to contribute to the development of new medicines, including more effective vaccines, better treatments for autoimmune disease, and new ways to harness inflammation to fight tumors.

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