Students, faculty and alumni gathered for the seventh annual Driskill Day, celebrating the Walter S. and Lucienne Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences (DGP) by welcoming 28 new students and showcasing the program’s strengths in scholarship and scientific investigation.
Current and recently graduated students and faculty accepted awards and shared the details of their investigations, giving new students a taste of life in the DGP and recognizing the transformative gift the Walter S. and Lucienne Driskill Foundation made in 2011.
“Driskill Day highlights the outstanding student scholars, faculty and institutional support, and their interdisciplinary, impactful research that spans modern biomedical science,” said Nicholas Cianciotto, PhD, director of the Driskill Graduate Program and professor of Microbiology-Immunology. “Our program is a challenging yet supportive environment that recognizes, rewards and listens to students, and a community that brings together many different and talented people from across the United States and the globe.”
The event began with presentations from the four Driskill Research Award winners, including Fei Chen, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering, who completed his thesis in the lab of Ali Shilatifard, PhD, chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, the Robert Francis Furchgott Professor, director of the Simpson Querrey Center for Epigenetics and a professor of Pediatrics.
Chen’s investigation was focused on gene transcription, discovering a mechanism that pauses transcription and publishing the findings in Cell and Science.
“The initial experiment took almost a year to set up — imagine spending an entire year to plan one thing, and you find what you were looking for,” Chen said. “I still remember that moment, we gathered in the lab and we were all so excited.”
Other presenters focused on works-in-progress, including Virginia Chu, doctoral candidate in the lab of John Kessler, MD, the Ken and Ruth Davee Professor of Stem Cell Biology and a professor of Neurology in the Division of Comprehensive Neurology and of Pharmacology.
Chu is working to develop a method to create realistic endometrial stromal cells, the cells that make up the inner lining of the uterus.
“Studying the uterus is difficult, and the development of the maternal-fetal interface is very different across different species of animals,” Chu said. “The human interface is very intermingled, so we are working with March of Dimes to try and develop a novel model to study that maternal-fetal interface.”
After the research presentations, students and faculty were recognized with Service and Dean’s Teaching Awards, followed by dinner and short presentations led by third-year students.
The award winners, which included both current doctoral students and recent graduates of the program, were nominated by faculty and selected by the program committee.
Driskill Research Award Winners
- Recent Graduates
- Jonathan Anker, PhD, seventh-year student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), completed his thesis in the labs of Sarki Abdulkadir, MD, PhD, vice chair for Research in the Department of Urology and the John T. Grayhack, MD, Professor of Urological Research and Praveen Thumbikat, PhD, the O’Connor Family Research Professor of Urology, investigating a bacterial strain that may represent a promising path to treating prostate cancer with immunotherapy.
- Fei Chen, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering, who completed his thesis in the lab of Ali Shilatifard, PhD, investigating gene transcription.
- Current Students
- Virginia Chu, doctoral candidate in the lab of John Kessler, MD, who is investigating stem cells to model the maternal-fetal interface.
- Priscilla Yeung, sixth-year student in the MSTP, who investigated ion channel signaling in the laboratory of Murali Prakriya, PhD, professor of Pharmacology.
- Student Service Award
- Tess Pottinger, doctoral candidate in the lab of Elizabeth McNally, MD, PhD, the Elizabeth J. Ward Professor of Genetic Medicine, director of the Center for Genetic Medicine and a professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology and of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics.
- Faculty Service Award
- Cara Gottardi, PhD, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care
- Dean’s Teaching Awards
- Gayle Woloschak, PhD, professor of Radiation Oncology and Radiology and associate dean for Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Affairs
- Hiroaki Kiyokawa, MD, PhD, professor of Pharmacology and of Pathology
Abdulkadir, Prakriya, Shilatifard, Gottardi, Kiyokawa, Kessler and Woloschak are also members of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
Read more about the incoming class of DGP students.