NIH Director's Early Independence Award Recipients

2019 Awardees

Jonathan R. Brestoff

Jonathan R. Brestoff, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.

Washington University in St. Louis

Project Title: Regulation of Innate Immune Cell Responses Through Cell-to-Cell Transfer of Mitochondria
Grant ID: DP5-OD028125

Jon Brestoff is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology and Immunology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. His lab focuses on understanding how immune cells interact with endocrine organs to maintain metabolic homeostasis and contribute to the pathogenesis of metabolic diseases. Jon was an undergraduate at Skidmore College and earned an MPH in epidemiology and biostatistics at University College Cork, Ireland as a Mitchell Scholar. He then earned his MD and PhD from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked with David Artis to study how innate immune cells in adipose regulate energy metabolism and beige fat activation. As a resident in Clinical Pathology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital (Washington University School of Medicine), Jon worked with Steven Teitelbaum to study how adipocytes regulate immune cell responses in adipose through cell-to-cell transfer of mitochondria. Details about the Brestoff Lab can found at https://pathology.wustl.edu/people/jonathan-brestoff-parker-md-phd/.


Zachary C. DeVries

Zachary C. DeVries, Ph.D.

North Carolina State University

Project Title: Histamine in Homes: Exposure Risks and Health Effects
Grant ID: DP5-OD028155

Zachary DeVries is a Research Assistant Professor of Entomology at North Carolina State University. His research is broadly focused on the biology, control, and health impacts of indoor pests, primarily bed bugs and cockroaches. He seeks to understand the epidemiological and mechanistic relationships between these pests and their excretions, the health risks these contaminants pose, and mitigation strategies to minimize exposure and adverse health effects. He completed both his B.S. in Zoology and M.S. in Entomology at Auburn University, and his Ph.D. in Entomology at North Carolina State University. Zach recently accepted and will begin a tenure-track faculty position in Entomology at the University of Kentucky in January 2020.


Gilad D. Evrony

Gilad D. Evrony, M.D., Ph.D.

New York University School of Medicine

Project Title: Single-Cell Genomic Approaches to Study the Cellular Origins of Brain Tumors
Grant ID: DP5-OD028158

Gilad received his undergraduate degree in Brain and Cognitive Sciences from MIT and completed an MD and PhD at Harvard Medical School. His graduate research in the lab of Christopher Walsh at Boston Children’s Hospital developing new single-cell genomics technologies to study somatic mutation in the brain has been recognized by several awards, including the ‘Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology’. After a clinical residency in Pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital, he joined NYU School of Medicine as an Assistant Professor in the Center for Human Genetics and Genomics and the Departments of Pediatrics and Neuroscience. His laboratory’s mission (https://www.evronylab.org) is to understand the pathogenesis of neurologic and psychiatric diseases whose causes are unknown by developing new single-cell and other genomics technologies.


Steven J. Jonas

Steven J. Jonas, M.D., Ph.D.

David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles

Project Title: Nanoscience-Inspired Acoustofluidic Assembly Lines for Gene and Cellular Therapies
Grant ID: DP5-OD028181

Steven J. Jonas received his M.D. and his Ph.D. in Materials Science & Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles through its NIH-supported Medical Scientist Training Program. Dr. Jonas completed his pediatric residency and fellowship training in pediatric hematology/oncology at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital where he was the first trainee in a specialized physician-scientist track established by the Department of Pediatrics at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. He is currently a Clinical Instructor in the UCLA Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology where his multidisciplinary research group targets the design and application of new nanotechnologies and methods to manipulate the permeability of cellular membranes, enabling rapid, safe, cost-effective, scalable, and efficient intracellular delivery of genetic engineering tools and genome-editing machinery to disease relevant cells and tissues. The long-term objective of this research program is to establish manufacturing platforms for emerging gene and stem cell-based therapies, accelerating the discovery and implementation of innovative cellular therapeutic approaches.


Corey Keller

Corey Keller, M.D., Ph.D.

Stanford University

Project Title: Closing the Loop: Development of Real-Time, Personalized Brain Stimulation
Grant ID: DP5-OD028128
Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health

Corey Keller, MD, PhD, is an Instructor and Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychiatry and the Clinical & Translational Neurosciences Incubator at Stanford University. Corey received his MD and PhD in neuroscience from the Medical Scientist Training Program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He completed his residency in psychiatry at Stanford University Medical Center. Using neuroimaging and electrophysiological techniques, his research focuses on improving brain stimulation treatment for neurological and psychiatric disease. Corey's work suggests that brain-based biomarkers may be used to predict non-responders to TMS treatment, monitor brain networks during intervention, and be used to propose novel targets and treatment paradigms.


Kamena Kostova

Kamena Kostova, Ph.D.

Carnegie Institution for Science

Project Title: How Cells Monitor the Integrity of Their Translation Apparatus
Grant ID: DP5-OD028147

Kamena Kostova is a Staff Associate (Principal Investigator) at Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Embryology. She received a B.S. in Biology from MIT, where she worked in Dr. Tyler Jacks’ lab studying p53 restoration in lung cancer. She then obtained her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from University of California, San Francisco in 2018. Working in Dr. Jonathan Weissman’s lab, Kamena studied how yeast and mammalian cells cope with translational failures. Her lab applies biochemical, genetic, and computational approaches to answer the fundamental question of how cells respond when their ribosomes break down.


Michael J. Mina

Michael J. Mina, M.D., Ph.D.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Harvard Medical School

Project Title: Deconvolution and Reconstruction of Immune Histories to Enhance Infectious Disease Prevention and Vaccination Strategies and Optimize Surveillance Efforts
Grant ID: DP5-OD028145

Michael Mina is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public health and of Pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital / Harvard Medical School. His laboratory combines extremely high-throughput serological methods with mathematical and epidemiological modeling to understand dynamics underlying infectious diseases transmission, how immunity develops and persists through life, and how to improve epidemic and outbreak surveillance. His research uncovered long-term immunological consequences of measles that delete acquired immunity and increase risk for all other infections for years. Michael completed his undergraduate degree in engineering and public health at Dartmouth College, his MD and PhD in infectious disease ecology and immunology at Emory University with Keith Klugman as well as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a research fellowship at Princeton University with Bryan Grenfell in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. His medical residency was in clinical pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital during which he was a research fellow with Steve Elledge in Genetics at Harvard Medical School.


Kapil V Ramachandran

Kapil V Ramachandran, Ph.D.

Harvard University

Project Title: Molecular Determinants of Neuronal Protein Homeostasis Through Plasma Membrane-Localized Proteasome Complexes
Grant ID: DP5-OD028133
Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Kapil Ramachandran is a Harvard Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and a Principal Investigator at Harvard University. He completed his B.S. at Duke University and his Ph.D at Johns Hopkins. His laboratory focuses on a new mechanism of neuronal communication that he discovered. In brief, he found that neurons utilize a novel form of protein homeostasis at the plasma membrane to release peptide fragments that directly effect neuronal activity. His laboratory is studying the biochemical, genetic, and cellular mechanisms underlying this novel proteostasis system, with the goal of identifying how the resulting peptide signaling is coded and decoded in the nervous system. Ultimately, the Ramachandran lab will leverage this understanding to develop new therapeutic avenues towards the treatment of neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders.


Robert Samstein

Robert Samstein, M.D., Ph.D.

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Project Title: Dissecting the Influence of DNA Damage Response and Homologous Recombination Deficiencies on Tumor Immunogenicity
Grant ID: DP5-OD028171

Robert Samstein is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology as well as the Precision Immunology Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. Dr. Samstein’s research interests are focused on understanding the interaction between the patient’s immune system and cancer cells in the tumor, elucidating the role of the DNA damage repair and response pathway in altering the tumor’s ability to be recognized and attacked by the immune system. His laboratory will work to identify new strategies to harness the immune anti-tumor response and expand the therapeutic window of traditional immunotherapies. He completed his graduate work with Alexander Rudensky studying the development and function of regulatory T cells. He completed his transitional year internship and residency in radiation oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, NY and during residency, he conducted laboratory research with Dr. Timothy Chan as part of the American Board of Radiology Holman Research pathway.


Jessica L. Schleider

Jessica L. Schleider, Ph.D.

Stony Brook University

Project Title: Harnessing Network Science to Personalize Scalable Interventions for Adolescent Depression
Grant ID: DP5-OD028123

Jessica L. Schleider, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stony Brook University, where she is a core faculty member in the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program and a Faculty Affiliate at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Dr. Schleider directs the Lab for Scalable Mental Health (www.schleiderlab.org), where she and her team develop and evaluate brief, accessible interventions for youth depression and anxiety. Her lab is also testing strategies for matching youths to targeted, single-session psychological interventions based on personalized clinical need. Dr. Schleider has developed or co-developed web-based, virtual reality technology-based, clinic-based, and school-based treatment protocols for youths and parents. After earning her B.A. in Psychology from Swarthmore College, she completed her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Harvard University, along with a Doctoral Internship in Clinical and Community Psychology at Yale University School of Medicine.


Sol Schulman

Sol Schulman, M.D., Ph.D.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Project Title: Functional Genetics of Tissue Factor in Bleeding and Thrombotic Risk
Grant ID: DP5-OD028129

Dr. Sol Schulman is a physician-scientist in the Divisions of Hemostasis and Thrombosis and Hematology and Oncology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard Medical School. After receiving B.S. and M.S. degrees in biochemistry from Brandeis University, he earned his M.D. and Ph.D. at Harvard Medical School in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology Program and in the laboratory of Professor Tom Rapoport. Dr. Schulman subsequently completed Internal Medicine residency training at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and fellowship training in Hematology-Oncology at BIDMC under the mentorship of Drs. Bruce Furie and Robert Flaumenhaft. The Schulman lab integrates functional genetics, genomics, protein biochemistry, and cell biology to identify new mechanisms regulating the initiation of blood coagulation relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of human bleeding and thrombotic disease.


Sydney Shaffer

Sydney Shaffer, M.D., Ph.D.

University of Pennsylvania

Project Title: Decoding Mechanisms of Phenotypic Memory in Single Cells
Grant ID: DP5-OD028144

Sydney Shaffer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her bachelor of science in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech, and her M.D., Ph.D. with Dr. Arjun Raj in the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Her graduate research focused on developing point-of-care diagnostics with single-molecule RNA FISH and understanding non-mutational mechanisms of therapy resistance in melanoma. With researchers from medicine and engineering, her lab (sydshafferlab.com) is developing and applying single-cell technologies to understand how plasticity in rare cancer cells can lead to differences in phenotypes. For this award, her lab will be looking at how individual cancer cells can enter distinct and heritable gene expression states that enables them to be more resistant to therapy.


Haichong (Kai) Zhang

Haichong (Kai) Zhang, Ph.D.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Project Title: Multiparametric Photoacoustic Imaging-Based Identification of Aggressive Prostate Cancer
Grant ID: DP5-OD028162

Dr. Haichong (Kai) Zhang is an Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering and Robotics Engineering with an appointment in Computer Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). He is the founding director of the Medical Frontier Ultrasound Imaging and Robotic Instrumentation (Medical FUSION) Laboratory. The research in his lab focuses on the interface of medical imaging, sensing, and robotics, developing robotic assisted imaging systems as well as image-guided robotic interventional platforms, where ultrasound and photoacoustic imaging are two key modalities to be investigated and integrated with robotics. Dr. Zhang received his B.S. and M.S. in Human Health Sciences from the Kyoto University, Japan, and subsequently earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Johns Hopkins University. He is the recipient of the Early Investigator Research Award from the Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program.

This page last reviewed on October 1, 2019