New Salk Researcher Named 2010 Rita Allen Scholar
Less than six months after he joined the Salk's faculty, assistant professor Ye Zheng was named a 2010 Rita Allen Scholar. He will receive $500,000 over a five-year period to study how regulatory T cells prevent the immune system from attacking the body's own tissue and causing autoimmune disease.
"It is really an honor for me to have been chosen as a Rita Allen Scholar. I feel I'm following the footsteps of some of the top scientists today, including Salk faculty member Greg Lemke and non-resident fellow Tom Jessell," Zheng said. "One of the obstacles in the process of starting a lab is the difficulty to obtain external funding, especially grants from NIH. This award will significantly boost the bottom line of my nascent lab and put my research program on the fast lane."
Scholars are nominated by premier institutions and then selected by the Rita Allen Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee and ratified by the organization's Board of Directors. Out of 40 applicants reviewed this year, only seven were designated Rita Allen Scholars.
"Anyone aware of the caliber of the members serving on our Scientific Advisory Committee and Board of Directors knows the vetting process for Scholars is a rigorous one," said Elizabeth G. Christopherson, president and CEO of the Rita Allen Foundation.
"A significant part of our mission is to promote the common good through the work of our Scholars. The Scholars Program concentrates on medical research, and we also hope to advance understanding of the human condition," she said.
Zheng joined the Salk's Nomis Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis in November 2009 after spending four years at the University of Washington and a short stint at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
His lab's goal is to tease apart how the body's regulatory T-cells are generated and maintained so that new therapeutic approaches can be developed for a wide range of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Zheng will use the support from the Rita Allen Foundation to generate an autoimmune mouse model that will him allow to dissect the cellular and molecular mechanisms. In addition to providing a better understanding of regulatory T cells, his experiments will suggest new therapeutic approaches, how to improve organ transplant survival, and boost the immune system's response to tumors.
A native of China, Zheng is a graduate of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Peking University. He received is master's degree and doctorate in Biological Sciences from Columbia University before completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the recipient of the Cancer Research Institute Fellowship and the John S. Newberry Prize.