2007 BHS Graduate Michelle Richter named a HHMI Hanna H. Gray Fellow

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Submitted by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) today announced that 2007 Bedford High School Graduate Michelle Richter, Ph.D. is among the 15 outstanding early career scientists named as HHMI Hanna H. Gray Fellows to support diversity in science.

Working with her mentor David Liu, Ph.D. at Harvard University, Richter wants to improve the genome editing toolkit that includes CRISPR. These protein tools can add or remove portions of mutated genetic information – and could potentially treat diseases such as cystic fibrosis and cancer. Richter plans to engineer proteins that can switch one class of DNA building block into the other. About 20 percent of genetic diseases are caused by a single one of these switches and are currently untreatable with genome editing.

These recent PhD and MD/PhD recipients will continue their training as postdoctoral fellows at 12 institutions in the U.S. They have various research interests, including developing cutting-edge microscopy techniques, engineering new biomaterials, studying parasites and host behavior, and decoding the nerve circuitry underlying the sense of touch.

Each fellow will receive up to $1.4 million in funding over eight years, with mentoring and active involvement in the HHMI community. In this two-phase program, fellows will be supported from early postdoctoral training through several years of a tenure-track faculty position. This year’s fellows join 15 Hanna Gray Fellows selected in 2017, the program’s first year.

HHMI’s Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program seeks to encourage talented early-career scientists who have the potential to become leaders in academic research. In particular, this program aims to recruit and retain emerging scientists who are from gender, racial, ethnic, and other groups underrepresented in the life sciences, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“This program will help us retain the most diverse talent in science,” says HHMI President Erin O’Shea. “We feel it’s critically important in academia to have exceptional people from all walks of life, all cultures, and all backgrounds – people who can inspire the next generation of scientists.”

The Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program represents HHMI’s strong commitment to investing in early career scientists who are poised to make significant and important contributions to science in the years to come. This program will support these scientists at critical transitions in their academic careers. In keeping with HHMI’s long-standing approach to support “people, not projects,” fellows will have the flexibility to change their research focus and follow their curiosity for the duration of the award.

A competition for the next group of Hanna Gray Fellows opens immediately. With continued commitment to support and promote diversity in the life sciences, the Institute will again select up to 15 fellows, investing up to $25 million total for their support over eight years. This grant competition is open to all eligible applicants, and no nomination is required. Grants in support of fellows will be awarded only to institutions within the U.S. (including Puerto Rico).

The program is named for Hanna Holborn Gray, former chair of the HHMI trustees and former president of the University of Chicago. Under Gray’s leadership, HHMI developed initiatives that foster diversity in science education. HHMI continues to carry forward this work on college and university campuses across the U.S.

About the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the 2019 Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program

HHMI plays an important role in advancing scientific research and education in the U.S. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. HHMI’s headquarters are located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.

Applicants may obtain more information and eligibility requirements at www.hhmi.org/programs/hanna-h-gray-fellows-program. The deadline for applications is January 9, 2019, at 3:00 p.m. (ET). The selection of fellows will be made by the end of June 2019, and grants can start as early as September 17, 2019, but no later than January 21, 2020.