The biochemistry assistant professor is investigating how inflammatory proteins called NLRs establish the first line of defense against viral infection in bacteria and humans
Aaron Whiteley, an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder, has been selected to join the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences, the Pew Charitable Trusts announced today.
“I am truly thrilled to be named a Pew Scholar,” said Whiteley. “Support from this grant will help my lab pursue high-risk/high-reward research on how the immune system recognizes pathogens. I hope one day our findings can inform design of the next generation of vaccines and antiviral treatments.”
This award follows a recent publication from the Whiteley lab in the journal Cell that identified unexpected similarities between how bacteria and human cells fight off viruses. The article reveals that a part of the human immune system, called “NLRs,” actually originated from bacteria.
“Like studying a fossil, understanding bacterial ancestors of our NLRs will help us understand the human immune systems,” Whiteley said.
He added, “One of the most impactful aspects of being a Biomedical Scholar is connection to the fantastic network of Pew-supported scientists from across the country. This award is career milestone—I am grateful for the recognition and opportunity.”
Whiteley is one of 22 early career scientists who will receive four years of funding to spearhead innovative studies exploring human health and medicine.
This award is career milestone—I am grateful for the recognition and opportunity.”
The 2023 class—all early career, junior faculty—joins a rich legacy of more than 1,000 scientists who have received awards from Pew since 1985. Current scholars have opportunities to meet annually with fellow Pew-funded scientists to exchange ideas and forge connections across a wide variety of disciplines.
“From vaccine development to treatments for complex diseases, biomedical research is foundational to solving some of the world’s greatest challenges,” said Susan K. Urahn, Pew’s president and CEO. “Pew is thrilled to welcome this new class of researchers and support their efforts to advance scientific knowledge and improve human health.”
Scholars were chosen from 188 applicants nominated by leading academic institutions and researchers throughout the United States. This year’s class includes scientists who are studying how external and internal factors affect the gut microbe, what causes HIV to re-emerge when treatment is halted and how living an urban lifestyle affects long-term health.
“This new class of scholars embodies the creativity and curiosity that is key to science discovery,” said Craig C. Mello, a 1995 Pew scholar, 2006 Nobel Laureate in physiology or medicine and chair of the national advisory of committee for the scholars’ program.
“With support from Pew and its network of colleges and advisors, I am confident this group will do great things to advance biomedical science.”