Biologist Elaine Hsiao named Blavatnik National Award Laureate

September 21, 2022


Elaine Hsiao, the De Logi professor of Biological Sciences and an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College, has been named a 2022 Blavatnik National Awards Laureate in life sciences by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences. The award honors Hsiao’s pioneering and interdisciplinary research that connects the gut microbiome and immune system to brain development and behavior.

Hsiao’s research seeks to understand how biomolecules called metabolites produced by gut microbes influence the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Microbes that live harmoniously in our digestive tracts produce metabolites as byproducts of their normal biological functions. Some of these metabolites moderate the levels of neuromodulatory molecules, including neurotransmitters and neuropeptides. Hsiao has shown that changes in the gut microbiome can therefore have far-reaching effects on neurological function and complex behaviors.

The award comes with $250,000, the largest unrestricted scientific award for America’s most innovative, young faculty-ranked scientists and engineers. The Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists will celebrate the 2022 laureates and finalists in a ceremony on Sept. 19 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

$500,000 gift from the Charles Huang Foundation will support research focused on infection, immunity, cancer and metabolism

September 13, 2022

The UCLA Division of Life Sciences has received a $500,000 gift from the Charles Huang Foundation to support the research of Genhong Cheng, a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics and a member of the UCLA Molecular Biology Institute, California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA and the Tumor Immunology Program at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Dr. Cheng’s work exemplifies a key mission of our division: exploring the most important scientific questions we face today,” said Tracy Johnson, Dean of Life Sciences at UCLA. “The last few years have clearly illustrated the need to understand the way the immune system works, and Dr. Cheng’s research has far-reaching implications — from understanding infection and inflammation to uncovering new approaches to treating cancer.”

“We are grateful for the Charles Huang Foundation’s gift, which not only supports faculty and their research, but will also help drive innovation in infectious disease and cancer science,” said Jerome Zack, UCLA distinguished professor and MIMG department chair.

“Supporting basic science research is incredibly important,” said Charles Huang, chairman of the Charles Huang Foundation. “We are pleased to support Genhong Cheng, an accomplished faculty member who’s making important strides in cancer research.”

Cheng’s laboratory hopes to understand both the similarities and differences in host immune responses to infections by different types of pathogens. In addition, the lab aims to better appreciate how we balance immune and inflammatory responses, and how these responses influence other homeostatic and metabolic processes, with the ultimate goal of developing novel strategies to enhance our immune system against infections and tumor challenges while preventing or inhibiting inflammatory and metabolic diseases.

“Support from the Charles Huang Foundation will enhance our ability to perform pioneering research, ensure inclusive teaching and accelerate basic discoveries to translation,” said Cheng.

The Charles Huang Foundation was established in 2020 by entrepreneur Charles Huang with a mission to accelerate and encourage education, health-related research and entrepreneurship on a global platform. Through the foundation, Huang has also made substantial donations to the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, Wuhan University in China, the Chinese Hospital in San Francisco and USC Arcadia Hospital in Arcadia.


MIMG Faculty Dr. Anthony J. Covarrubias wins 2022 AFAR Junior Faculty Grant Award

September 2, 2022

We are proud to announce that MIMG faculty member Dr. Anthony J. Covarrubias is the latest recipient of the 2022 Junior Faculty Grant Award 🎉🙌

The grant is awarded by the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research and American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR). Please join us in warmly congratulating Dr. Covarrubias!



MIMG Faculty Dr. Lili Yang and Dr. Donald Kohn among UCLA scientists to receive CIRM Quest Awards 

June 27, 2022

Associate Professor of MIMG Lili Yang and Distinguished Professor of MIMG are among a group of UCLA scientists to receive the Quest Award from the Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research (CIRM) for their work in developing novel stem cell-based technologies.

Dr. Yang’s award of $1.4 million will fund her efforts to develop stem cell-engineered off-the-shelf chimeric antigen receptor-invariant natural killer T cells, or CAR-iNKT cells, to treat ovarian cancer, which accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. She aims to produce CAR-iNKT cells that target mesothelin, a protein that is found in high levels on the surface of ovarian cancer cells. The proposed immunotherapy builds on Yang’s work to generate blood stem cell-derived CAR-iNKT cells to target multiple myeloma, a project that received funding from CIRM in 2021. Yang will collaborate on this project with Dr. Sanaz Memarzadeh, a UCLA physician-scientist who specializes in ovarian cancer treatment.

Dr. Kohn’s $1.3 million award will support his research to develop a blood stem cell gene therapy to treat severe alpha thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder that causes a patient’s body to make less hemoglobin than normal. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to all parts of the body, so severe alpha thalassemia could lead to fetal death or a lifelong need for blood transfusions. If there is a team capable of creating an ex vivo gene therapy treatment for alpha thalassemia and bringing it to a clinical trial, this is the team, CIRM reviewers said.

For more information, click here.

MIMG Undergraduate Siyah Shah Receives 2022 Philip Whitcome Summer Research Fellowship Award

June 24, 2022 

Please join us in congratulating Siya, who will be conducting biological research with Dr. Timothy O’Sullivan in Summer 2022. 


Xinyuan Chen receives 2021-2022 John W. Philips Legacy Award
May 31, 2022
The Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics (MIMG) is pleased to announce the 2021-22 John W. Phillips Legacy Award recipient, Xinyuan Chen.
Xinyuan Chen is fourth-year doctoral student in Molecular Biology working with Dr. Douglas Black in MIMG. Her research focuses on dissecting the mis-regulation of alternative splicing in Myc-driven prostate cancers. Her work contributes important new understandings of genetic misregulation in cancer. Xinyuan has worked closely with cancer biology experts, Dr. Owen Witte, and also Dr. John W. Phillips, whose memory is honored by this award. According to Xinyuan, “Dr. Phillips has greatly impacted my project and his mentorship motivated me as a graduate student to continue my cancer biology research.” Following in the footsteps of her mentor, Xinyuan is dedicated to teaching and mentoring underrepresented students, and promoting diversity and inclusion in science.
Please join us in sharing our gratitude with the Phillips family for the award and congratulating Xinyuan Chen and the other stellar nominees!
The John W. Phillips Legacy Award honors the life, work, and principles of Dr. John W. Phillips. The award provides funds to graduate students and continues Dr. Phillips’ support of mentorship of individuals in the field. It recognizes outstanding graduate students in all disciplines included in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics, including cancer research.
Dr. John W. Phillips was a teacher and mentor in UCLA’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics who was committed to promoting diversity and equity in the field. Dr. Phillips devoted his considerable brilliance and hard work to cancer research, principally working in the lab of Dr. Owen Witte.
Dr. Phillips dedicated his formidable writing talent and passion for teaching to graduate students. He taught graduate students in the lab and he was a mentor to many, with a special emphasis on organizing their science and helping with their writing of paper and grants.
To honor his legacy and dedication to advancing diversity and equity, the John W. Phillips Award was established to support outstanding graduate students working in a laboratory within the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics.

MIMG Students Recognized for Phages they Isolated and Characterized

January 18th, 2022

MIMG students in the Path 1 research track publish two articles in PLoS ONE about phages they isolated and characterized, under the supervision of Drs. Amanda Freise, Kris Reddi, and Jordan Moberg Parker. Articles available HERE and HERE.


Lili Yang lab licenses cell-therapy tech to start-up, receives CIRM TRAN1 award, and publishes two papers in Science Immunology and Nature Communications. 

June 16th, 2021

The Yang lab recently published two papers back-in-back on Science Immunology and Nature Communications, reporting the identification of a new immune checkpoint and the repurposing of an old antidepressant for cancer immunotherapy. Details HERE and HERE.

The Yang lab also received CIRM TRAN1 award worth $5.9 million supporting the development of an off-the-shelf CAR-iNKT cell therapy for multiple myeloma. Read more HERE.

Additionally, the Yang lab’s off-the-shelf cell therapy technology was licensed by a biotech startup, Appia Bio, for commercial development. The company recently launched with $52 million Series A financing. You can read more about the licensing agreement HERE.


Timothy O’Sullivan receives Excellence in Research Award

June 7th, 2021

Excellence in Research Award for an Untenured Professor
Timothy O’Sullivan – Assistant Professor, Microbiology, Immunology, & Molecular Genetics
Dr. O’Sullivan is awarded for his paper, “ILC1 Confer Early Host Protection at Initial Sites of Viral Infection” Cell 2017. In this impressive paper, Dr. O’Sullivan and colleagues show that a unique subset of immune cells within tissues represents the first line of defense to viral infections. Without this rapid tissue-resident immune cell response, the immune system cannot efficiently control viral replication resulting in more severe infections.