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Three Students Win New Howard Hughes Funding

Posted Sunday, 27 November 2011

Three GSAS students are among the 48 total winners in a new fellowship competition from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute that awards full-time funding to exceptional international students in the third, fourth, and fifth years of their graduate programs in science and engineering. Offered for the first time this year, the HHMI’s International Student Research Fellowships will allow these talented students to devote their full attention to research at a critical time during their professional development. The awards serve a particularly important role, according to the HHMI, since much of the available funding for graduate education is reserved only for US citizens. Below, meet the new HHMI fellows from GSAS.

For Nataly Moran Cabili, an Israeli computational biologist and PhD student in the systems biology program, winning the HHMI Fellowship will provide “an opportunity to contribute to the development of interdisciplinary research in biology.” Cabili’s main interest is in genomics, specifically in studying the function of a new set of genes called long intergenic non-coding RNAs (lincRNAs). Over the past two years, she has been working with John Rinn, an assistant professor of stem cell and regenerative biology, to characterize a large fraction of lincRNAs expressed in human cells. Cabili is also a member of the Regev Lab at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which studies biological circuits, gene regulation, and evolution. Her research has most recently been published in Genes and Development.



Mehmet Fisek, from Turkey, is a PhD candidate in neuroscience who works in Associate Professor Rachel Wilson’s lab in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Fisek’s research focuses on understanding how sensory information is processed by the olfactory system of the fruit fly, which is “ remarkably similar to vertebrate olfactory systems in anatomy and physiology, but is smaller and simpler,” Fisek explains. By studying these simple brains, Fisek hopes to gain insights into similar problems in more complex brains and to contribute to the greater picture of how information flow is organized in neural circuits in general. “I’m very glad that this funding opportunity exists for international students, who are often ineligible for other fellowships,” he says.


Le Cong, who came to Harvard from Beijing, is a PhD candidate in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program in the Division of Medical Sciences, GSAS’s interfaculty program with Harvard Medical School. His main research interest is in developing novel synthetic biological tools and technologies for engineering the human genome and epigenome. Cong hopes to combine these tools with stem cell and optogenetic technologies to model neuropsychiatric disorders such as bipolar diseases, autism, depression, and schizophrenia. Cong works in Professor George Church’s lab at Harvard Medical School. “Being granted this fellowship has been one of the most encouraging moments for me since coming to the US,” says Cong. “I feel that this is not just a recognition of my work at Harvard, but more importantly, it reflects a commitment to support researchers with a genuine interest in helping others and who can contribute to biomedical research, regardless of nationality.”


Story credit: Joanna Grossman