7 researchers from UC system named Pew scholars, fellows

Michel DuPage/Courtesy

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The Pew Charitable Trusts chose 39 researchers to be recognized as Pew scholars and fellows, seven of whom come from the UC system, according to a press release from the UC Office of the President on Friday.

Every year, the Pew Charitable Trusts offer young researchers the honor of being Pew scholars. The chosen Pew-Stewart Scholars for Cancer Research and the Pew Biomedical Scholars receive a grant of $300,000 over four years to continue their research. The trusts also offer a Latin American Fellows Program for young scientists from Latin America receiving postdoctoral training in the United States.

One researcher who has received the honor of Pew-Steward Scholar for Cancer Research is Michel DuPage, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley whose research involves looking at the immune system in the tumor microenvironment.

“What we’re trying to do is high-risk, high-reward research,” DuPage said. “It takes foundations like Pew to take a leap of faith and support young investigators.”

DuPage’s research specifically delves into what impedes immune cells from killing cancer. He hopes to use mouse models to study this process, a method that differs from the typical way of observing the process.

Also honored as a Pew scholar is UCSF assistant professor Mazen Kheirbek. Kheirbek received the award because of his biomedical research on anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders.

According to a member of the Kheirbek Lab, Jeremy Biane, the research done at the lab can be explained with the example of hearing a C note.

“Hearing a C note may have little significance for you and thus minimally affect your behavior,” Biane said in an email. “But if every time you heard that specific note somebody popped up and gave you $100, you’d develop a very positive disposition to that sound.”

According to Biane, studying how the brain responds to sound can help researchers begin to study how signals in the environment can become “imbued” with emotional significance. For example, it could help lessen the effects that loud sounds have on soldiers with PTSD.

Pew named 39 scholars and fellows this year. Of those, seven were from the UC system, making the UC responsible for almost 18 percent of the recipients of the prize.

According to Biane, the UC system recruits “top talent” and gives researchers enough freedom to pursue “novel ideas.”

Kheirbek echoed this sentiment, saying that the UC system helps support young researchers in innovative research.

“A lot of focus is put into cutting-edge research. So what we see is a lot of young scholars … that are very well supported in asking big questions to understand human disease,” Kheirbek said.

Contact Lev Gordon-Feierabend at [email protected].