Eapen named HHMI international research fellow

In the Haber Lab, Vinay Eapen studies DNA damage response and autophagy

Photo/Mike Lovett

Vinay Eapen is one of 42 international predoctoral students selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to receive fellowships that will support their graduate studies at U.S. universities.

Eapen, of India, studies DNA damage response. In Biology Professor Jim Haber’s lab, he will look specifically at what is known as the DNA damage checkpoint. This is when the cell senses damage and halts cell division to allow time for repair, which he likens to a car breaking to stop the car before it hits an obstacle in the road. But sometimes, Eapen says, as in the case of cancer and other diseases, the cell does not detect the damage and continues to divide “like a runaway car with faulty breaks.”

Last year, Eapen says, he and graduate student Michael Tsabar, senior scientist Neal Sugawara and Haber discovered a gene that is involved in turning off the checkpoint. With the fellowship, he’ll continue to investigate that phenomenon, as well as its connection to another process known as autophagy – when a nutrient-starved cell recycles portions of itself for food.

“Having won the award has given me great confidence in my abilities,” Eapen says. “This is truly a unique award, as it is provided only to international students studying in the U.S. I feel honored to have received it.”

The award is worth $43,000 a year. HHMI established the fellowships in 2011, and is now supporting 140 students from 35 countries during the most critical years of their PhD work.

The institute created the program because it recognized a problem: international students in U.S. graduate schools often have difficulty getting funding to support their studies. For example, they are not eligible for federal fellowships or training grant support, or other governmental opportunities that are generally reserved for U.S. citizens. The institute chose to fund the third to fifth years of graduate school, because by this time most students have chosen a graduate advisor, identified a research project, and demonstrated their potential for success in the lab.

“We hope that the HHMI award will encourage each student to build on their already considerable accomplishments, to apply creativity to current problems and to explore new ideas, to venture forward without fear, and to take risks as they work to solve difficult problems,” said David J. Asai, senior director in science education at HHMI.

Nearly 380 students applied, and were reviewed by a panel of top scientists and graduate educators. Only institutions currently hosting at least one HHMI investigator or those that are recipients of a current HHMI graduate training grant could nominate candidates and host fellows. This year’s fellows are studying at 22 universities across the U.S., and represent 19 different countries.

HHMI has invested nearly $10.8 million in the program over the last three years, including more than $1.8 million to support this year’s fellows. The International Student Research Fellowships build on HHMI’s commitment to funding international scientists.

Categories: Research, Science and Technology

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