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UCSF School of Medicine will welcome new Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellows

April 26, 2017

Starting this summer, eight medical students at UCSF’s School of Medicine will begin year-long research fellowships as part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)’s renowned program that helps launch chosen students’ careers in basic, translational, or applied biomedical research at leading institutions nationwide.

Four of those selected to pursue biomedical research at UCSF as part of the HHMI fellowship are ‘UCSF native’ medical students: Amy Ton, Eva Gillis-Buck, Simon Chu, and Jonathan Rick.

“We are excited to welcome these talented medical students and support their aspirations to conduct leading-edge research at UCSF and advance the potential of medicine and scientific discovery to improve patient care,” said Lee Jones, Associate Dean for Students at UCSF’s Medical School.

For the UCSF Class of 2019 students set to begin medical research fellowships this summer, the program is a catalyst toward game-changing discoveries to come.

Our Rising Medical Research Stars:

UCSF student Amy Ton, for example, will train in the lab of Edward Hsiao, MD, in the Metabolic Bone Clinic, studying induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells derived from patients with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (a connective tissue disorder) to understand the disease mechanisms by which soft tissue transforms into bone.

“While devoting my time to this project, I will also be exploring a physician-scientist career,” says Ton. “This experience will shape and inform how I approach hypothesis-driven questions in the laboratory. This is a wonderful opportunity to study intriguing questions while exploring a career as a physician-scientist. I'm ecstatic!”

Eva Gillis-Buck will spend her research year mentored by Tippi MacKenzie, MD and Mark Anderson, MD, investigating the immunology of pregnancy and how this process may be disrupted in recurrent pregnancy loss and preterm birth.

“The laboratory is a joyful and creative space for me, and I’m eager to continue an exciting research project that I began last summer,” says Gills-Buck. “I'm honored to have been selected for this fellowship, receiving foundational training in experimental immunology. This opportunity will prepare me for a career as a physician-scientist and allow me to contribute to an area of science that fascinates me.”

“I am incredibly grateful to the HHMI for giving me the opportunity to pursue dedicated research as part of my medical education,” says Jonathan Rick, who will mentor under neurosurgeon Manish Aghi, MD, PhD. His project will focus on elucidating how glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, invades surrounding tissue.

Simon Chu (at left, photo credit of Alex Goodellwill work in the Division of Transplant Surgery's Transplantation Research Laboratory, co-mentored by Qizhi Tang, PhD, and Peter Stock, MD, PhD, in the Department of Surgery. Chu will study immune responses underlying liver transplant rejection in HIV patients; his project aims to develop new therapies to mitigate rejection and enhance the safety and efficacy of solid organ transplants in people living with HIV. 

“I am honored and humbled to have this incredible opportunity to immerse myself in conducting scientific inquiry in the innovative research environment and community here at UCSF,” says Chu. “This fellowship will be a catalyst in my journey towards becoming a dynamic and effective scientific contributor in the advancement of the health and wellness of the patients I know and serve.”

The HHMI Medical Research Fellows Program
Since its launch in 1989, the HHMI’s Medical Research Fellows Program has helped more than 1,700 medical, veterinary, and dental students establish careers in research. This year, 79 medical and veterinary students were selected nationwide.

The program pairs incoming fellows with mentors, and provides them access to career support and networking opportunities with peer HHMI fellows, alumni, early-career faculty, and senior investigators.

“The HHMI fellowship program is a great opportunity for these students,” says Dr. Hsiao, who will mentor Amy Ton. “It brings together bright, enthusiastic, and eager students from a broad spectrum of institutions, and gives fellows a chance to dig deeply into a research question that inspires them. This chance to build vertical knowledge complements the wide breadth of medicine they have already been exposed to at UCSF. It also gives the fellows a chance to foster life-long relationships with mentors and collaborators. It’s inspiring and a lot of fun to have them as part of our productive research group.”

HHMI scientists, collaborating creatively across the U.S. and worldwide, have made pivotal discoveries that advance both human health and the fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor reflecting the excitement of medical research.