NYSCF Announces 2022 Class of NYSCF – Robertson Investigators

News Press Release

The New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) today announced the 2022 class of NYSCF – Robertson Investigators, welcoming six outstanding stem cell researchers and neuroscientists into the NYSCF Investigator Program.

The NYSCF Investigator Program fosters and encourages promising early career scientists whose cutting-edge research holds the potential to accelerate treatments and cures through the NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Investigator Awards and the NYSCF – Robertson Neuroscience Investigator Awards.

The awards provide critical seed funding – $1.5 million over five years –  for scientists who have established their own, independent laboratories within the last six years. This year, three scientists joined the thirteenth class of NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Investigators and three others joined the twelfth class of NYSCF – Robertson Neuroscience Investigators – both of which were announced this afternoon at the annual NYSCF Conference, currently underway.

“I was fortunate to be a NYSCF – Robertson Investigator early on in my career, as it allowed me to pursue my boldest ideas and take risks that would have otherwise been impossible,” noted NYSCF Interim CEO Derrick Rossi, PhD, who received the award for his pioneering work in mRNA technology that led him to co-found Moderna. “I am thrilled to welcome these six talented early career researchers into the NYSCF family, and I look forward to seeing what advances this award will catalyze for them.”

To date, the NYSCF global community includes 77 NYSCF – Robertson Investigators and Alumni at 48 institutions throughout the world. This community also includes 82 NYSCF – Druckenmiller Fellows and Alumni as well as scientists and engineers conducting research at the NYSCF Research Institute.

“The NYSCF – Robertson Investigator Awards occupy a unique place in the field because they invest in people rather than projects, and prioritize building a community of researchers to foster creative discovery on the bleeding edge of knowledge,” noted 2014 NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Investigator Alumna Jennifer Phillips-Cremins, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania. “The opportunity to be a NYSCF – Robertson Investigator changed the trajectory of my career because I was surrounded by so many talented and unique scientists who have become life-long colleagues. I am excited to welcome the 2022 class into our outstanding community.” 

The NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Investigator Awards selection committee was chaired by Amy Wagers, PhD, the 2013 NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Prize Recipient (Harvard University) and included 2015 MacArthur Fellow Lorenz Studer, MD (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center), recipient of the Inaugural 2011 NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Prize Pete Coffey, DPhil (University College London, University of California, Santa Barbara), and Robert Blelloch, MD, PhD (University of California, San Francisco), along with Dr. Phillips-Cremins.

To further the Program’s commitment to fostering diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in the scientific community, this year additional elements were included in the applications. These include a mandatory ‘commitment to DEIB’ statement from all applicants that reviewers considered alongside scientific merit, and an optional self-identification section that would allow reviewers to account for any undue adversity applicants faced in their careers due to membership in a systematically marginalized group.

“Along with the transformative impact of providing support at a critical career juncture, the NYSCF – Robertson Investigator Program’s emphasis on rewarding DEIB advocacy is a laudable strategy to build a thriving scientific community,” said Husseini Manji, MD, of Janssen Research & Development. “I am heartened to welcome these outstanding Investigators to the program who I know will share and champion these values.”

Joining Dr. Manji on the Neuroscience selection committee were Elli Nedivi, PhD (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Jessica Cardin, PhD (Yale University), and 2015 NYSCF – Robertson Neuroscience Investigator Alumnus Edward Chang, MD (University of California, San Francisco), and Jonathan Flint, MD (University of California, Los Angeles), who chaired the committee.

The 2022 NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Investigators:

Lydia Finley, PhD

Lydia Finley is an Assistant Member in the Cell Biology Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and an Assistant Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College. Her lab studies the links between metabolism and cell fate regulation in both normal stem cells and in cancer cells. She aims to identify the metabolic networks that sustain proliferation of pluripotent stem cells as they navigate entry and exit from the pluripotent state, and to determine whether metabolic interventions provide a novel mechanism to facilitate the generation of cells with defined pluripotency. Dr. Finley completed her PhD at Harvard Medical School and her postdoctoral training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Kara McKinley, PhD

Dr. McKinley is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University. Her lab studies how the lining of the uterus regenerates each month after menstruation. Using ex vivo cultures (human endometrial organoids) and in vivo imaging of the only known menstruating rodent, the African spiny mouse, she aims to unravel the mechanisms of endometrial remodeling, and identify the cells that replenish the uterine lining in humans. Gaining insights into endometrial regeneration is critical to address the longstanding unmet needs of patients with infertility, endometriosis, and adenomyosis, as well as the growing incidence of endometrial cancers. She is also the founder of Leading Edge, an initiative to improve the gender diversity of faculty in the biomedical sciences. Dr. McKinley received her PhD from MIT and completed her postdoctoral training at UCSF. 

Ruben van Boxtel, PhD

Dr. van Boxtel is a Group Leader at the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology in Utrecht, The Netherlands. His lab seeks to understand how mutation accumulation in tissue-specific stem cells fuels somatic evolution and cancer, and has pioneered methods for characterizing this in hematopoiesis. He is investigating the long-term, damaging effects of cancer treatment in tissue-specific stem cells of children, including second malignancies like myeloid leukemia, to understand how the hematopoietic system responds to treatment and identify the molecular determinants underlying adverse late effects in survivors. Dr. van Boxtel received his PhD from the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht and completed his postdoctoral studies at the University Medical Center in Utrecht.

The 2022 NYSCF – Robertson Neuroscience Investigators:

Cate Jensen Peña, PhD

Dr. Peña is an Assistant Professor at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. Her lab focuses on understanding how early life adversity fundamentally changes brain development and imparts risk for psychiatric disorders in adulthood. Leveraging a combination of genome-wide sequencing, unbiased computational approaches, and epigenome editing in mouse models of early life adversity, she aims to uncover the link between changes in trajectories of brain development at the molecular level with stress hypersensitivity. This work will lay the foundation for new therapeutic strategies to prevent onset of mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Peña earned her PhD from Columbia University and completed her postdoctoral training at Mount Sinai.

Amber L. Alhadeff, PhD

Dr. Alhadeff is a Principal Investigator at the Monell Chemical Senses Center and Department of Neuroscience at University of Pennsylvania. She is interested in understanding how the gut and the brain communicate to regulate our food intake, and thus, control our body weight. Building on the technology her lab has developed for measuring neural activity, and in combination with anatomical, physiological, behavioral and molecular methodologies, she is investigating gut-brain signaling through the understudied spinal cord pathway. This work could ultimately redefine our understanding of the neural control of food intake, and pave the way for effective treatment strategies for diseases rooted in body weight control. Dr. Alhadeff is passionate about mentorship and facilitating the advancement of diverse and underrepresented scientists. She received her PhD from and completed her postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania.

Tomasz Nowakowski, PhD

Dr. Nowakowski is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Neurological Surgery and Anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco. His lab applies new molecular engineering technologies to understand the development and function of diverse cell types in the human brain. Specifically, his goal is to answer unresolved questions about human subplate neurons, which play a critical role in cortical circuit development, and express many genes implicated in neurological and psychiatric disorders. Identifying mechanisms underlying their survival, connectivity and role in local circuit dynamics may offer inroads into gene therapy applications. Dr. Nowakowski received his PhD from the University of Edinburgh, UK and completed his postdoctoral training at UCSF.

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