Emily M. Mace, Ph.D.


The featured outstanding New PI for May 2018 is Emily M. Mace, Ph.D.!

Dr. Mace is an Assistant Professor of Pediatric Immunology at Columbia University in New York. Her lab works onunderstanding human NK cell development with a focus on the relationship between NK cell development and cell migration.Dr. Mace’s work is currently funded by multiple NIH grants and foundation awards, including the American Society for Hematology Junior Faculty Scholar Award. She additionally has an R01 pending from NIAID on studying the relationship between cell migration and NK cell development.

Dr. Mace received her B.S. in Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Saskatchewan and herPh.D. University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.  During her Ph.D. studies, Dr. Mace began working on the cell biology of natural killer (NK) cells. This work led to multiple first author papers, including one that was selected for “In This Issue” of the Journal of Immunology.  After receiving her Ph.D., Dr. Mace moved to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and then to Baylor College of Medicine for her postdoctoral work with Dr. Jordan Orange.  Dr. Mace published multiple excellent papers on the function and formation of the NK cell lytic immunological synapse. Dr. Mace was one of the first to use super-resolution stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy to probe the NK cell immune synapse. One of her greatest scientific achievements to date includes her discovery of a role for the canonical identifier of human NK cells, CD56, in NK cell migration and interactions with the microenvironment. This work has been published in multiple impactful papers.In 2016, Dr. Mace started her independent lab at Baylor College of Medicine.  Since 2016, she has combined hercutting-edge biophysical and cell biological techniques to make much-needed advances in our understanding of human NK cell development. Dr. Mace’s success is illustrated by her recent recruitment to Columbia University.

Dr. Mace’s lab recently published a paper in Molecular Biology of the Cell entitled “Acquisition of cell migration defines NK cell differentiation from hematopoietic stem cell precursors.” This work defines the progressive acquisition of motility in human NK cells developing from hematopoietic stem cell precursors. This work was Chosen for a Research Highlight in the FEBS Journal last year.  The study highlights Dr. Mace’s love for “experiencing that rare joy of scientific discovery” and “thinking about how cells work”. You can read the paper here.

In addition to being an excellent scientist, Dr. Mace is actively involved in in the ASCB and Biophysical Society’s committees that promote women in science. She is deeply committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in science and enjoys the opportunity to nurture traditionally under-represented groups. She is also a strong advocate for her trainees. Her commitment to her diverse team is evident as she states, “My favorite thing about being a PI is seeing an idea advanced by a team of talented and dedicated people. When we are all pulling together towards a common goal that we believe in, there is an amazing synergy. It is humbling to me that we are advancing a concept that is driven by my own ideas and fueled by everyone’s diverse talents.”

Learn more about Dr. Mace’s research here.




Elana J. Fertig, PhD

EJFHeadshotSmallThe newest featured outstanding New PI is Elana Fertig, Ph.D.!

Dr. Fertig is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.  Her lab develops genomics analysis tools to study therapeutic response in cancer and model time course data in other biological systems.  Dr. Fertig’s research is currently funded by multiple grants, including an R01 from NCI.  Her strong collaborative spirit is also illustrated by many co-investigator grants.  Just last week, it was announced that Dr. Fertig has received a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to develop computational tools as a part of the Collaborative Computational Tools for the Human Cell Atlas.  You can read the press release here.

Dr. Fertig received a Bachelor’s of Science from Brandeis University in physics and mathematics. She received her M.S. and Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland, College Park.  During her graduate work, she developed mathematical algorithms for meteorology. Dr. Fertig moved to industry briefly before doing her postdoctoral training at Johns Hopkins University. While a postdoctoral fellow, she transitioned from applied math to cancer biology and used that training as a springboard for her independent career.  In 2010, Dr. Fertig became an Instructor in the Department of Oncology at Johns Hopkins University.  She received a highly competitive K25 from the NCI to develop computational tools to understand biological processes underlying the development and maintenance head and neck tumors.  In 2013, Dr. Fertig was promoted to Assistant Professor. Since then, she has published extensively on novel bioinformatics algorithms in integrated computational-experimental framework to enable precision medicine in cancer.

Dr. Fertig’s lab recently released a preprint on bioRxivIntegrated time course omics analysis distinguishes immediate therapeutic response from acquired resistance. This work focuses on computationally modeling the time course of molecular changes during the development of acquired resistance in head and neck tumors. These models could allow for the development of alternative therapies before drug resistance occurs, which would be a major advancement for the field. The computational tools in this paper are broadly applicable to learning the timing of molecular changes occurring over time in other complex biological systems. This study highlights the enthusiasm Dr. Fertig has for computational research while at the same time focuses on her mission of helping patients.  She says, “Cancer systems biology provides a home where I can get that feeling of solving a complex puzzle, while at the same time helping to advance therapeutic options for patients”.

You can read the preprint here and a review of the broader context for the method here.

Learn more about Dr. Fertig’s research: https://fertiglab.com

Joshua N. Bembenek, Ph.D.


The featured outstanding New PI for April 2018 is Joshua N. Bembenek, Ph.D.!

Dr. Bembenek is an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  His lab focuses on understanding cell division with an emphasis on a novel pathway regulated by separase that controls vesicle trafficking during cell division.Dr. Bembenek’s work is currently funded by an R01 from NIGMS.

Dr. Bembenek received his B.S. in Molecular Biology at Texas A&M University and his Ph.D. from UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, TX.  During his graduate studies, Dr. Bembenek received multiple awards, including theAlfred Gilman Scholarship, which recognizes a student for an outstanding Ph.D. thesis project.  Additionally, his Journal of Biochemistry article was recommended by the Faculty of 1000. After receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Bembenek moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for his postdoctoral work.  He received an NRSA F32 Postdoctoral Fellowship to study the role of separase during cytokinesis in C. elegans.  He continued his postdoctoral studies at the Carnegie Institute of Washington and University of Michigan.  Dr. Bembenek published multiple excellent papers on cytokinesis during mitosis and meiosis during his postdoctoral training. One of his greatest scientific achievements is the discovery that the core cell cycle machinery controlling chromosome segregation has an additional function in membrane trafficking. In 2012, Dr. Bembenek started his independent lab at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  Since then, he has made great strides towards understanding the regulation of the separase pathway.  His lab is also actively collaborating with others to look at programmed patterns of cytokinesis during embryo development.

Dr. Bembenek’s lab recently published a paper in G3 entitled “Identification of Separase Regulators in Caenorhabditis elegans”. In this elegant work, Dr. Bembenek and his lab discovered novel suppressors of separase function. This study truly highlights Dr. Bembenek’s excitement for the basic discoveries in science. He says, “While science is very difficult and success comes after many failures, if it was predictable I wouldn’t do it. I want to keep finding the surprising unexpected results that lead in new directions.” The findings from this study will be critical towards fully elucidating the multiple pathways that separase is involved in. You can read the paper here.

Learn more about Dr. Bembenek’s research here. 




Liana F. Lareau, Ph.D.


The featured outstanding New PI for March 2018 is Liana Lareau, Ph.D.!

Dr. Lareau is an independent fellow in the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences at the University of California, Berkeley.  Her lab uses a mix of computational methods, such as machine learning, and experimental approaches to understand mRNA splicing and translation.  Dr. Lareau’s research is currently funded by an R21 from the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Lareau received a Bachelors of Science from MIT, earning dual degrees in biology and mathematics.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.  During her graduate work, she identified a novel regulatory system of the mRNA splicing proteins (SR proteins).  This led to a first author Nature paper that opened up a new field in regulation of RNA binding proteins.  Dr. Lareau then moved to Stanford University for her postdoctoral training.  While a postdoctoral fellow, she used ribosome profiling to measure translation while simultaneously developing the computational methods to extend her findings into the human system.  This work was published in multiple papers, including in Cell and eLife.  During this time, she was funding by a highly competitive Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.

Dr. Lareau moved back to Berkeley where she started her own lab as an independent fellow after her postdoc advisor closed his lab to start Impossible Foods partway through her postdoc.  She has used the opportunity to expand the scope of her research and has “enjoyed mentoring a lab full of amazing young scientists.”  As her fellow position nears its end, she is looking forward to seeing where her academic career takes her next.

Her lab recently released a preprint on bioRxiv, “Accurate design of translational output by a neural network model of ribosome distribution.”  In this work, Dr. Lareau’s team used neural networks to understand what affects a ribosome’s motion along an mRNA.  This work shifts the field because it shows that simply changing the synonymous codons in a gene to control the speed of translation can dramatically change protein expression from that gene.  This is one of the ideas that Dr. Lareau finds fascinating about the complexity of biology.  She says, “I work on really basic Central Dogma concepts that we all learned about in high school and yet there’s so much mystery still about how the ribosome works, how the right information (in the form of mRNA) gets from the genome to the ribosome, how all these processes combine to make sure each cell gets exactly the right proteins at the right time.”

You can read the preprint here.

Learn more about Dr. Lareau’s research here: http://www.lareaulab.org/



Jason D. Shepherd, Ph.D.

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The featured outstanding New PI for January 2018 is Jason D. Shepherd, Ph.D.!

Dr. Shepherd is an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah with adjunct appointments in Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences and Biochemistry.  His lab investigates the role of activity-dependent processes, and the requisite gene programs, involved in synaptic plasticity and how these processes go awry in neurological disorders. Dr. Shepherd’s work is currently funded by the NIMH, NIGMS, NSF, and the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation for the Blind.

Dr. Shepherd grew up in South Africa and New Zealand and received his B.S. in Neuroscience at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.  He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University where his investigated the physiological function of Arc and its role in AMPA receptor trafficking and synaptic dysfunction. During his graduate studies, Dr. Shepherd received multiple awards, including The Paul Erlich Young Investigator Award. After receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Shepherd moved to MIT for his postdoctoral work, which focused on investigating the in vivo role of Arc in visual cortex plasticity.  He received an HHMI Postdoctoral Fellowship and multiple travel and young investigator awards.  In 2011, he was awarded a highly-competitive K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders to continue his studies on Arc in the mouse visual cortex.  During his training, Dr. Shepherd published multiple impactful papers in the field of synaptic plasticity.

Dr. Shepherd’s lab recently published a Cell paper “The Neuronal Gene Arc Encodes a Repurposed Retrotransposon Gag Protein that Mediates Intercellular RNA Transfer”.  Dr. Shepherd and his lab discovered that the Arc protein, which is critical for brain function, acts like a viral capsid to transfer genetic information to adjacent cells. The paper received wide acclaim and was highlighted by multiple scientific outlets.  The findings from this study could potentially lead to a better understanding of neurodevelopmental diseases and Alzheimer’s.  Dr. Shepherd considers this paper one of his greatest accomplishments to date.  He states, “This work represents a team effort from my lab, which I’m really proud of”.  He says that it’s these exciting experiments, which could potentially change the field, that drive his scientific curiosity. You can read the paper here.

Learn more about Dr. Shepherd’s research here: http://shepherdlab.org

Ilya J. Finkelstein, Ph.D.

The featured outstanding New PI for October 2017 is Ilya J. Finkelstein, Ph.D.!

Dr. Finkelstein is an Assistant Professor of Molecular Biosciences and a CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research at The University of Texas-Austin. His lab’s long-term mission is to understand the pathways that allow cells to reprogram and repair their genomes with extraordinary fidelity. Current lab interests include the biophysical mechanisms of human DNA repair, CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity, and cellular aging. Dr. Finkelstein’s interdisciplinary team of biologists, physicists, and engineers also develops new microfluidic and single-molecule imaging tools to tackle these questions with unprecedented resolution.

Dr. Ilya Finkelstein received his B.S. from the University of California at Berkeley and his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Stanford University with Professor Michael D. Fayer. Dr. Finkelstein’s graduate research tackled the question of how a protein’s structural fluctuations are coupled to the solvation environment. Dr. Finkelstein discovered that proteins retain most of their mobility even when surrounded by as few as two aqueous solvation layers. Indeed, protein dynamics persist even when a protein is encapsulated in a glassy matrix at room temperature.

In 2007, Dr. Finkelstein moved to the group of Prof. Eric C. Greene at Columbia University Medical Center as an NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow. At Columbia University, Dr. Finkelstein’s research focused on addressing a fundamental and unresolved question in nucleic acid biochemistry: How does molecular crowding alter the behavior of DNA-binding proteins? Dr. Finkelstein focused on how DNA-binding motor proteins move on crowded DNA. His work directly visualized collisions between proteins as they travel along crowded DNA and provided a mechanism underpinning how these molecular traffic jams may be resolved in our genomes.

Dr. Finkelstein is a recipient of the NIH “Pathway to Independence” (K99/R00) award, and was named a Fellow by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. He was named a Junior Fellow by American Federation for Aging Research in 2014 and received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2015.

Learn more about Dr. Finkelstein’s research here:


Rebecca B. Riggins, Ph.D.

The featured outstanding New PI for July 2017 is Rebecca B. Riggins, PhD!

Rebecca B. Riggins is an Assistant Professor of Oncology at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center (LCCC), Georgetown University Medical Center. Her laboratory studies estrogen-related receptors – orphan members of the nuclear receptor superfamily – in breast and brain cancers. Her group’s long-term mission is to translate their knowledge of the cellular and molecular functions of these proteins in cancer into actionable therapeutic approaches. Dr. Riggins also has a long-standing interest in invasive lobular breast cancer, a special histologic subtype of breast cancer with distinctly different underlying biology, clinical presentation, and treatment response when compared to the more common invasive ductal breast cancer.

Dr. Riggins received a B.A. in Biochemistry from Hood College, and a Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Virginia. Supported by an NCI-funded T32 fellowship, her graduate research focused on molecular mechanisms of c-Src tyrosine kinase activation and cell migration. Dr. Riggins then joined the Tumor Biology Training Program at Georgetown University as a postdoctoral fellow, where she studied molecular mechanisms of endocrine therapy-resistant breast cancer supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from Susan G. Komen for the Cure. In 2006, Dr. Riggins became a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Oncology, LCCC supported by an award from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program. In 2011, she was promoted to Assistant Professor on the Tenure Track, supported by the NIH and a Career Catalyst Research Grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure. In addition to her research, Dr. Riggins co-directs the Interdisciplinary Training Program in Tumor Biology’s core course, Cellular and Molecular Aspects of the Transformed Cell, and serves on the LCCC Biospecimen Use and Protocol Review and Monitoring System (PRMS) Scientific Committees.

Dr. Riggins was awarded the 2014 John Eisenberg Career Development Award by Georgetown Women in Medicine, and selected to attend the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Early Career Women Faculty Professional Development Seminar. Dr. Riggins is a multi-year finalist for the Georgetown University Gerald R. Mara Faculty Mentoring Award, and in 2014 she received the Tumor Biology Training Program Excellence in Teaching Award.

Learn more about Dr. Riggins’ research here: https://sites.google.com/georgetown.edu/rigginslab