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UC San Diego’s Samara Reck-Peterson Awarded Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Simons Grant

Award will advance studies of cellular transport systems and related neurological disorders

Samara Reck-Peterson

UC San Diego molecular biologist Samara Reck-Peterson, PhD, was awarded a Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Simons grant.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Simons Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has named Samara Reck-Peterson, PhD, an HHMI-Simons Faculty Scholar. Reck-Peterson, a professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Division of Biological Sciences at University of California San Diego, will receive a total of $1.5 million over five years in support of her studies on cargo transport within cells, a system that helps cells to move, divide, communicate and maintain health — as well as the neurological conditions that result when they malfunction.

“Samara is a rising star in the molecular biology field and I’m glad to see her work recognized by HHMI,” said David Brenner, MD, vice chancellor of health sciences and dean of the UC San Diego School of Medicine. “We are lucky to have her on our team.”

Reck-Peterson was one of 84 scholars across the nation chosen this year by the institute from more than 1,400 applicants. The HHMI Faculty Scholars program supports early career researchers who have strong potential to make groundbreaking contributions to fundamental problems in diverse areas of biology. The goal is to provide basic researchers and physician scientists with the time and freedom to pursue difficult, long-range questions in creative, collaborative and interdisciplinary ways.

“Dr. Reck-Peterson is a world leader in identifying the mechanisms of molecular motors that power movements within cells,” said Don Cleveland, PhD, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine and head of Ludwig Cancer Research’s Laboratory for Cell Biology. “It is highly gratifying that her accomplishments have been recognized by her selection as an HHMI-Simons Faculty Scholar.”

Tracks called microtubules are used to transport proteins, organelles and other molecules from place to place within a cell. Reck-Peterson and her lab are interested in dyneins and kinesins — molecular motors that drive this transport. They are studying how these motors work, how they are regulated and how defects in transport cause human neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases.

“I’m thrilled to be an HHMI-Simons Faculty Scholar. This funding will allow me to tackle big questions and take risks that I could not have done otherwise,” said Reck-Peterson.

With this grant, she and her team will use state-of-the-art light microscopy to build the first three-dimensional maps of the dynein transport network in human cells, and determine how trafficking is altered in disease states.

Reck-Peterson earned her PhD at Yale University and completed her postdoctoral training at the University of California San Francisco. She was a faculty member and the associate director of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program at Harvard Medical School. She joined the UC San Diego faculty in 2015. Reck-Peterson was also the recipient of a National Institutes of Health New Innovator Award.


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