Two UT Southwestern scientists selected as HHMI Hanna Gray Fellows

Two UT Southwestern postdoctoral fellows – Gabriel Muhire Gihana, Ph.D., and Victor Lopez, Ph.D. – are among 25 early career scientists in the United States selected as 2022 Hanna H. Gray Fellows. The fellowship program, run by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), aims to increase diversity in the biomedical sciences by recruiting and retaining individuals from underrepresented groups in the life sciences and disadvantaged backgrounds.

This year’s fellows will receive financial support for up to eight years and participate in professional development, mentorship, and networking with peers and the broader HHMI community. In addition to UTSW, they were selected from more than a dozen of the nation’s leading universities including Stanford University, Harvard Medical School, Yale University, and The Rockefeller University.

“We are delighted that Drs. Lopez and Gihana have been selected as Hanna H. Gray Fellows,” said Joan Conaway, Ph.D., Vice Provost and Dean of Basic Research at UT Southwestern. “This prestigious award recognizes their outstanding accomplishments and potential as future leaders in the scientific community. We are fortunate that they have chosen to pursue their research training at UT Southwestern.”

Dr. Gihana, who works in the lab of Gaudenz Danuser, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Lyda Hill Department of Bioinformatics, studies the role of cell morphology in regulating the molecular signaling of RAS, a prevalent human oncogene. He is seeking to understand how RAS-induced cell morphological changes contribute to the potential of RAS to cause cancer. Because direct inhibition of this gene has proved very difficult, studying other cellular parameters that promote RAS-related cancers could lead to novel therapies. Last year, Dr. Gihana was named as a recipient of the Damon Runyon Fellowship.

Dr. Lopez, who works in the lab of Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and an HHMI Investigator, and in the lab of Joshua Mendell, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Molecular Biology and an HHMI Investigator, uses a combination of bioinformatics and biochemistry to identify and characterize new members of a family of proteins known as ATP-grasp. These proteins are responsible for many essential biological reactions. Characterizing their biochemical functions, Dr. Lopez said, will help scientists understand their role in health and disease.

“It is a great honor to receive the HHMI Hanna H. Gray Fellowship, and I am very grateful to HHMI and to all my mentors who have supported me to this point,” said Dr. Gihana. “The financial support from this fellowship, the exposure, and the participation in the HHMI community will underpin the success of my research, and I could not be happier as a postdoc. I also recognize how privileged I am to work with an outstanding and interdisciplinary team of experts here at UTSW.”

“Becoming a Hanna Gray Fellow is an incredible opportunity, and I am both honored and humbled to receive such a prestigious award,” said Dr. Lopez. “I am grateful to HHMI, my mentors, colleagues, friends, and family who have motivated and encouraged me to pursue my scientific career.”

With the selection of Drs. Gihana and Lopez, UTSW has had four scientists named as Hanna H. Gray Fellows since the fellowship was launched in 2017. The program is named for Hanna Holborn Gray, former chair of the HHMI trustees and former president of the University of Chicago. Under Ms. Gray’s leadership, HHMI developed initiatives that foster diversity in science education.

In 1986, the HHMI selected UT Southwestern to house one of its 12 principal laboratories nationwide. UT Southwestern is now home to 21 of 27 HHMI-affiliated scientists in Texas, including 14 of Texas’ 17 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators, three HHMI Faculty Scholars, three HHMI Hanna Gray Fellows (including the new recipients), and one HHMI-Simons Faculty Scholar. Since 2018, UT Southwestern has also been home to three recipients from HHMI’s Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study, which support the development of their scientific leadership and commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the sciences. HHMI is the largest private biomedical research institution in the nation.

Dr. Conaway holds the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair in Cellular and Molecular Biology. Dr. Danuser holds the Patrick E. Haggerty Distinguished Chair in Basic Biomedical Science. Dr. Mendell holds the Charles Cameron Sprague, M.D., Chair in Medical Science. Dr. Tagliabracci is a Michael L. Rosenberg Scholar in Medical Research.



About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.