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Celebrating Research: 2015 Young Investigators’ Day Winners

A group of 20 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows were honored at the 37th annual Young Investigators’ Day celebration on April 16.

Each trainee had the opportunity to showcase his or her work through oral or poster presentations. The awards — named after notable researchers, including many who were former faculty members or graduate students at The Johns Hopkins University — were granted in recognition of outstanding research. 

As seen in the 2016 Biennial Report. Learn more.

Appy now for the 2016 Young Investigators' Day awards. 

Read more about this year's Young Investigators' Day.

Award Recipients


Chih-Ping Mao - Michael A. Shanoff Award

Mentor: T.C. Wu, M.D.

Project Details: Chih-Ping’s team developed a technology that could activate tumor-specific T cells — immune cells that are responsible for removing infected or irregular cells — and direct them to recognize and attack a tumor. Learn more.

What’s Next: He plans to finish his Ph.D. first, and then return to medical school for two more years.

Howard Choi

Gregory M. Laird - David I. Macht Award

Mentor: Robert Siliciano, M.D., Ph.D. 

Project Details: Greg’s research focuses on identifying chemicals that kick dormant HIV out from their hiding places in DNA so they can be killed off with traditional antiretroviral therapies. 

What’s Next: Greg will finish his Ph.D. within the next year. He plans to remain a part of the HIV-1 cure effort. Learn more.

yulian zhou

Yulian Zhou - Martin and Carol Macht Award

Mentor: Jeremy Nathans, M.D., Ph.D.

Project Details: There are some genes turned on in tumor-associated blood vessels that aren’t found in healthy vessels. Yulian's research found the normal function of one of those genes, which could be a good target for anticancer drug therapy. Learn more

What’s Next: Yulian is currently looking for a postdoctoral position and hopes to continue to work in academia. 

David Herzfeld

David J. Herzfeld - Mette Strand Award

Mentor: Reza Shadmehr, Ph.D.

Project Details: When humans learn a new motor skill, they often make mistakes. David’s research found that the brain keeps a “log” of these errors, which helps people to relearn the task faster when performing it again. Learn more

What’s Next: David will complete his Ph.D. in the next year, but he plans to continue working in the lab as a postdoctoral fellow.

joseph bedmont

Joseph L. Bedmont - Alicia Showalter Reynolds Award

Mentor: Seth Blackshaw, Ph.D.

Project Details: Joe studies a protein essential for the formation of a region in the brain that controls sleep-wake cycles. Learn more.

What’s Next: He will soon start a postdoctoral position at the University of Pennsylvania.

olof lagerlof

Olof Lagerlof - Nupur Dinesh Thekdi Award

Mentors: Richard Huganir, Ph.D., and Gerald Hart, Ph.D.

Project Details:Among its many jobs, the brain regulates food intake by responding to dietary factors, as well as signals from the peripheral organs. Olof's research identified a protein that explains a new way the brain links metabolic need with how much we eat per meal. Learn more

What’s Next: Olof plans to graduate next year. After graduation he wants to find a position continuing his clinical work and basic sciences research.

Ha Nam Nguyen

Ha Nam Nguyen - Paul Erlich Award #1

Mentor: Hongjun Song, Ph.D.

Project Details: Ha Nam studies stem cells generated from patients with a genetic risk factor for severe mental disorders. He watches how these stem cells incorporate themselves in the developing brain to identify what goes wrong in development in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Learn more

What’s Next: Nam plans to finish his Ph.D. and find a postdoctoral position at the end of this year.

kirsten meyer

Kirsten Meyer - Paul Erlich Award #2

Mentor: Theresa Shapiro, M.D., Ph.D.

Project Details: Kirsten tested the effectiveness of Hsp90 inhibitors against Trypanosoma brucei, the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness. The treatment eliminated the infection in mice and cultured cells.

What’s Next: Kirsten will complete her Ph.D. by late fall and plans to start an academic postdoctoral position after that, hopefully in the field of anti-infective drug development for tropical diseases. Learn more

bridget keenan

Bridget Keenan - Paul Erlich Award #3

Mentor: Elizabeth Jaffee, M.D.

Project Details: Bridget’s thesis research focuses on creating a vaccine for pancreatic cancer using a nonpathogenic strain of Listeria. The Listeria was genetically engineered to target a protein that is mutated in 95 percent of the most common type of human pancreatic cancer. Read more

What’s Next: Bridget will be attending the University of California, San Francisco, for her residency, where she will join the internal medicine program. When her residency is complete, she plans to do a fellowship in medical oncology.  

Qing Ma

Qing Ma - Hans J. Prochaska Award

Mentor: Erika Matunis, Ph.D.

Project Details: Qing discovered a gene mutation that changes stem cells from a male to female identity. In fruit fly testes with this mutation, the sperm cells never developed fully and were surrounded by cells normally found in the ovaries. Learn more.

What’s Next: Qing plans to graduate in May, then find a postdoc where she can study mammalian or induced pluripotent stem cells. 

susan stanley

Susan Stanley - Michael Shanoff Award

Mentor: Mary Armanios, M.D.

Project Details: Susan’s research team worked to identify a genetic link between emphysema and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Her research findings provide insight into disease causes and potential treatments. Learn more.

What’s Next: Susan will begin her fourth year of medical school in the fall, during which time she’ll complete her core clerkship and start the process of applying for residency programs.

Danfeng Cai

Danfeng (Dani) Cai - Bae Gyo Jung Award

Mentor:Denise Montell, Ph.D. (formerly of Johns Hopkins)

Project Details: Dani found that a cell adhesion protein, E-cadherin, normally thought to block cell movement, actually aids migration in groups of cells in the developing fruit fly ovary. Learn more.

What’s Next: Dani has begun a postdoctoral fellowship for the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

tim xu

Tim Xu - Paul Erlich Award

Mentor: Martin Makary, M.D., M.P.H.

Project Details: Tim and his team examined complication rates in patients undergoing surgery and the effect on cost and quality ratings of the surgeon. His hope is to make surgical outcomes more transparent so patients can be more informed when selecting a surgeon. Learn more.

What’s Next: Tim will begin his pediatrics rotation this summer and aims to continue his research. Eventually, he hopes to one day open a health care information technology company based on this work. 

zhexing wen

Zhexing Wen - Helen B. Taussig Award

Mentor: Guo-li Ming, M.D., Ph.D.

Project Details: Zhexing’s research team created stem cells from patients at high risk for psychiatric disorders due to a specific genetic mutation. He discovered that these cells don’t turn on the right genes as healthy cells do, and they don’t form connections with other neurons as well as they should. Learn more.

What’s Next: Zhexing is currently searching for a job. His goal is to become a faculty member and run his own laboratory.

ji hoon jim

Ji Hoon Jim - Daniel Nathans Award

Mentor: Elizabeth Chen, M.S., Ph.D.

Project Details: Ji Hoon’s research team uncovered new insight into how cells fuse, a process that happens during normal muscle development. The findings could lead to better treatments for muscular dystrophy. Learn more.

What’s Next: Ji Hoon has begun searching for a faculty position that will allow him to continue his research. 

benjamin singer

Benjamin Singer - A. McGeehee Harvey Award

Mentor: Franco D’Alessio, M.D.

Project Details: Benjamin’s research team focuses on manipulating the immune system to promote resolution of acute lung inflammation. Their findings could lead to treatments for the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Learn more.

What’s Next: Benjamin will finish a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine this summer and start a position as a junior faculty member. 

sudath hapuarachchige

Sudath Hapuarachchige - Alfred Blalock Award

Mentor: Dimitri Artemov, Ph.D.

Project Details: Sudath and his team devised a two-component drug delivery system to treat Her2 breast cancer. Learn more.

What’s Next: Sudath will continue biomedical research, focusing on new chemical strategies in drug delivery.

min sik kim

Min-Sik Kim - Albert Lehninger Award

Mentor: Akhilesh Pandey, M.D., Ph.D.

Project Details: Min-Sik employed state-of-the-art mass spectrometry technology to build a draft map of the human proteome. Learn more.

What’s Next: Min-Sik is continuing his research on mapping the human proteome by employing the multi-omics approach.

john issa

John Issa - David Yue Award

Mentor: David Yue, Ph.D.

Project Details: John and his research team devised a new mapping approach to allow researchers to observe auditory processing in the brain. Learn more.

What’s Next: John attributes his success to his mentor David Yue, who passed away in December. John hopes to continue his research after graduating from the M.D.-Ph.D. program in May.

yong zhang

Yong Zhang - W. Barry Wood Jr. Award

Mentor: Richard Huganir, Ph.D.

Project Details: Yong lead a team that devised a technique of observing specific proteins in live mouse brains and studying how these proteins changed locations in the neuron when memories were created. His work introduces new ways of studying disorders such as autism and Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more.

What’s Next: During the next year, Yong will be searching for a full-time faculty position.



Young Investigators' Day 2015

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently celebrated its 38th Young Investigators’ Day event to recognize the research achievements of students, postdocs and fellows. This year's award-winning biomedical research investigators presented their findings in a slide or poster presentation. Faculty mentors find one key to success is the trainees' ability to maintain a work-life balance and engage in activities outside of the lab.