2012 Nominata winner honored as first Kaluza Prize recipient

By Lin Lofley

Dr. Tina Han
Dr. Tina Han

Dr. Tina Han, a 2012 graduate of the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, has won the inaugural Kaluza Prize from the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB).

“I’m very happy to have won this award,” Dr. Han said. “I applied for it months ago, and in the meantime there’s work to be done in the lab, so I had kind of forgotten about it.

“A classmate sent me a Facebook message congratulating me, and I wasn’t sure what it was about. It turned out that I had missed the phone message from the ASCB and the email they sent to tell me of the award got caught up in the spam filter here at the University of California, San Francisco. But now I know, and I’m very grateful.”

Dr. Han, who won the Nominata Award in 2012 as the top graduate school student, was born in Taiwan, attended Plano Senior High School and earned an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

The award recognizes Dr. Han’s “breakthrough work on the functional characterization of RNA granules,” research done in the laboratory of Dr. Steven McKnight, Chairman of Biochemistry.

“I sent Tina on one wild goose chase after another for upwards of four years,” Dr. McKnight said. “That she finally struck gold late in her graduate training is a testament to Tina’s exceptional resolve. How sweet it is to see her honored as the inaugural winner of the Kaluza Prize from the ASCB.”

The Kaluza Prize is supported by Brea, Calif.-based Beckman Coulter Inc., an industry leader in biomedical testing. The prize and a check for $5,000 will be presented Dec. 15 at the ASCB’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

Now a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF, Dr. Han distinguished herself while at UT Southwestern as “a terrific, fearless young scientist,” Dr. McKnight said. She also achieved an unusual “double” that year when, in a single issue of Cell, she was the lead author on one published study and a co-author on another.

The ASCB selection committee chose her work unanimously, calling her “a future leader in cell biology.” The committee’s statement further said her research “has broad implications for the study of synaptic transmission and neurodegenerative disease” and “presents a novel way of thinking about cellular organization.”

Nine other young researchers from around the country, including two who studied at UT Southwestern, were awarded ASCB Beckman Coulter Distinguished Graduate Student Achievement Prizes. The two honorees from UT Southwestern were:

  • Ruei-Jiun Hung, a 2013 graduate who is now a postdoctoral researcher in the genetics laboratory of Dr. Norbert Perrimon at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) at Harvard Medical School. Earlier this year, Dr. Hung was one of two UT Southwestern students to win a Harold M. Weintraub Award, presented by the Basic Sciences Division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. While in graduate school, she worked in the lab of Dr. Jonathan Terman, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Pharmacology.
  • Jiaxi Wu, a fourth-year graduate student who works in the lab of Dr. Zhijian “James” Chen, Professor of Molecular Biology in the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense. Mr. Wu also won a 2013 HHMI International Student Research Fellowship.

“Three of the 10 awardees are current or former UT Southwestern graduate students, more than any other institution,” said Dr. Andrew Zinn, Dean of the graduate school. “That attests to the fact that the quality of our graduate research is second to none.”

Dr. Sandra Schmid, Chair of Cell Biology, was likewise exultant at UT Southwestern’s showing: “These awards, as do our Nobel Prizes, reflect the stimulating and supportive research environment here. This is a place where talented scientists can realize their full potential.”

Dr. Han said, “I’m especially pleased that three of us from UT Southwestern were honored this year. It makes me feel good for my fellow students and for our school.”

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Dr. Chen holds the George L. MacGregor Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science.

Dr. McKnight holds the Sam G. Winstead and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry, and the Distinguished Chair in Basic Biomedical Research.

Dr. Schmid holds the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair in Cellular and Molecular Biology.

Dr. Terman is a Rita C. and William P. Clements Jr. Scholar in Medical Research.

 

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