Next generation of outstanding researchers recognized through prestigious fellowships and awards

From left to right:
Tamara Potapova, Guangbo Chen, Inês Mendes Pinto

Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers play a pivotal role in the day-to-day business of conducting world-class research. These young scientists benefit from immersion within one of the world’s premier basic research institutions, but equally important, their mentors benefit from the opportunity to work with bright young minds who bring unbridled enthusiasm and an unending stream of fresh ideas to the lab. In recognition of their achievement, three successful young Stowers scientists have been named the recipients of highly competitive awards.

Tamara Potapova, PhD, submitted a winning fellowship proposal to the American Cancer Society to study aneuploidy or abnormal chromosome number, a prominent hallmark of cancer cells. The prestigious $150,000 fellowship is intended to encourage the nation’s most promising young investigators to pursue innovative research projects that have the potential to transform the way we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

Potapova, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Stowers Investigator Rong Li, PhD, will be using the funds to uncover the molecular mechanisms that allow cells with extra sets of chromosomes to slip through a “ploidy”-checkpoint and produce aneuploid progeny. She hopes that her work may lead to a better understanding of carcinogenesis and potentially translate into new targets for anti-cancer drug development.

Inês Mendes Pinto’s doctoral thesis was recognized for its outstanding level of scholarship by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. In a wide-reaching interdisciplinary approach, Mendes Pinto, PhD, combined traditional imaging and genetic tools with physics and mathematics to study the biomechanics of the molecular machinery that physically separates cells during cell division and the signals that initiate the process.

The work, which Mendes Pinto performed under the mentorship of Stowers Investigator Rong Li, broke new ground in the field of cytokinesis, the final stage of the process that separates dividing cells. It also provided new insight into the mechanisms that generate contractile forces in non-muscle cells, which play an important role in cell division and also in many other processes such as cell shape changes, cell adhesion and motility.

Guangbo Chen, a graduate student at the University of Kansas Medical School, who conducts his dissertation research in the lab of Stowers Investigator Rong Li, has been selected by the Genetics Society of America as one of only six students to receive a DeLill Nasser Award for Professional Development in Genetics. The award is named in honor of DeLill Nasser (1929-2000), who was instrumental in promoting genetics research during her tenure as National Science Foundation Program Director in Eukaryotic Genetics. Nasser was particularly supportive of young scientists, those at the beginning of their careers, and those trying to open new areas of genetic inquiry.

As part of his graduate thesis, Chen was able to show that under stressful conditions yeast cells’ genomes become unstable, readily acquiring or losing whole chromosomes to enable rapid adaption to changing environments. He will apply the funds toward attending the course “Gene Regulatory Networks for Development” held at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts