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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – ย— An assistant professor of dermatology at the UC Davis School of Medicine is among the recipients of a $375,000 grant awarded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as part of its effort to ensure that young, promising physician-scientists have the resources they need to launch their careers.

Emanual Maverakis, who graduated in June from the UC Davis Department of Dermatology residency program, will use the grant funds, which will cover a five-year period, to study autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus. These diseases are caused when the immune system attacks the body’s ‘self’ proteins.

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‘Physician-scientists are uniquely positioned to translate research discoveries into direct benefits for patients,’ said Ann Bonham, executive associate dean for research and education at the UC Davis School of Medicine. ‘The research that Emanual is doing has the potential to have a tremendous impact on public health.’

The UC Davis School of Medicine is among 17 innovative institutions across the country chosen to receive funds from HHMI to encourage individuals with medical training to pursue research careers. The $7.5 million national initiative supports a cadre of physicians who have demonstrated an early interest in research by taking time off from medical school to spend a year or more in the laboratory.

Maverakis studies how the self-reactive pathogenic T-cell responses involved in autoimmune diseases are initiated, driven and controlled. He is designing new technologies to study these autoreactive T cells inside the body. He also is screening novel molecules for their ability to inhibit the immune system, with the ultimate goal of finding new pathways to control pathogenic immune responses.

For example, Maverakis has found that a fragment of the protein fibrinogen, which is involved in blood clotting and wound healing, can counteract autoimmune diseases in animal models. In its intact state, fibrinogen promotes inflammation. However, there is evidence that a particular fragment of the protein has an anti-inflammatory effect. Maverakis will explore how this fragment might inhibit the induction of autoimmunity and evaluate its therapeutic potential.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute this year selected a total of 20 awardees to receive the $375,000 grants. The funds must be used for direct research expenses and are meant to provide resources during a critical time for scientists: when they have completed their mentored training and are working toward establishing and obtaining funding for their own laboratories. The recipients’ institutions must agree to let their young physician-scientists, who are in tenure-track positions, spend at least 70 percent of their time doing research.

Applications were reviewed by a panel of leading physician-scientists. In evaluating each applicant’s ability and promise for a research career, the panel considered the quality and quantity of formal research training, the commitment of the applicant’s research institution, the quality of the research environment, the applicant’s commitment to pursuing a biomedical research career and the quality of the proposed research plan.

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