In Case You Missed It—Recognizing the Next Generation of Women Scientists

The Women Scientists Advisors Scholars presented their research virtually in 2021.

Credit: WSA

By Eimear Holton, NIAID Training Social Media/Web/Outreach Program Specialist

Celebrating the accomplishments of NIH’s women scientists is just one of the ways the Women Scientists Advisors (WSA) strives to celebrate and increase the visibility of women scientists across the intramural campuses—especially at the pivotal onset of their careers. The 11th Annual Women Scientists Advisors Scholars Symposium took place on Thursday, April 29, 2021, with the goal of highlighting the scientific contributions of female predocs and postdocs. The three awardees, who were selected from the female NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) winners, gave a virtual presentation of their work to scientists ranging from senior scientists to postbacs. NIAID’s women scientists have been well represented of late—with Victoria Avanzato receiving the award in 2021 and Alix Warburton, Ph.D., receiving the award in 2020. Read on to learn about NIAID’s talented women scientists.

The first talk of the symposium came from Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML)’s Victoria Avanzato (Vicky), a graduate student pursuing her M.D./Ph.D. at Emory University, RML, and the University of Oxford. Introduced by her mentor, Vincent Munster, Ph.D., Avanzato detailed how she is using structural biology to characterize the neutralizing antibody response to Nipah virus (NiV). Though her work has since shifted to focus on optimizing SARS-CoV-2 spike protein production and serology assays, Vicky's thesis work identified a site of vulnerability on the Nipah virus surface, specifically on the fusion glycoprotein, that may make an attractive target for the development of vaccines and therapeutics. When asked about her pathway to becoming a WSA scholar and what this award means to her, she said, “I have been interested in science from a young age and grew up completing science fair projects with my dad. It's been a lot of hard work and growth from that curious child to the scientist I am today, soon to defend my Ph.D., but I've had a lot of support from mentors and family along the way. Receiving the WSA award means a lot and I'm very grateful to have this work recognized. It's a nice way to conclude my time as a graduate student before moving on to the next phase of my training.”

The two other winners of this year’s scholars award were Marta Markiewicz-Potoczny, Ph.D., of NCI, who presented her work on telomere damage and their deprotection in pluripotent stem cells, followed by Francesca Barone, Ph.D., of NEI, who detailed her work on retina reconstruction using induced pluripotent stem cells. WSA member and symposium organizer, Mary Kearney, Ph.D., noted how “different each topic is”—a true testament to the broad range of research performed across the NIH Intramural Research Program.

In the not-so-distant past, Alix Warburton, Ph.D., a postdoc in the Laboratory of Viral Diseases, was awarded the WSA scholars award in October 2020 for her work on human papillomavirus and its role in the development of cervical cancer—a delayed presentation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said, “I was incredibly honored that my postdoctoral work was merited by the WSA scholars award. The WSA symposium is an invaluable platform for junior female scientists to showcase their work to the wider NIH community. I was extremely grateful of the opportunity to present and discuss my data and for the positive feedback that I received.”

WSA member and symposium organizer Mary Kearney, Ph.D., noted that she “loves this symposium” and that it’s just “one initiative to highlight the impactful research of women fellows in the NIH.”

Even in a virtual environment, it was obvious that each presenter was excited and proud to present their outstanding contribution to science and that the symposium and award are both meaningful to the development and encouragement of the next generation of women scientists.

The 2021 WSA Scholar Awardees

Victoria Avanzato, NIAID

A structural basis for neutralization of Nipah virus via antibody-mediated targeting of the fusion glycoprotein

Marta Markiewicz-Potoczny, Ph.D., NCI

TRF2-independent telomere protection in pluripotent stem cells

Francesca Barone, Ph.D., NEI

Outer retina reconstruction using a tissue engineered transplant

See the full list of winners

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