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U of U Human Geneticist Named One of 22 Pew Scholars in Biomedical Sciences


(SALT LAKE CITY)—A University of Utah assistant professor of human genetics who studies the evolutionary conflicts that arise between animal cells and pathogens has been named a 2012 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences.

Nels C. Elde, Ph.D.,is one of just 22 scientists nationwide to receive the honor, the Pew Charitable Trusts announced on Thursday, June 14, 2012. The scholarship comes with an award of $240,000 ($60,000 annually for four years) for Elde to pursue his research. Rebecca W. Rimel, president and CEO of the Pew Charitable Trusts, said the Pew Scholar funding helps back some of the nation's most promising young scientists at a time when research dollars are hard to come by.

"During these challenging budgetary times when traditional sources of funding are becoming even harder for scientists to obtain, we are proud to back our country's most promising scientists," Rimel stated in a Pew news release. "This funding comes at points in the Scholars' professional lives when they often are the most innovative. While this program is a bold investment for us, it has paid incalculable dividends due to our Scholars' record of producing groundbreaking research."

Elde describes his work as a mixture of evolutionary and cell biology.

To reproduce and survive, pathogens have evolved a variety of ways to enter into cells over millions of years. In return, animal cells have evolved various mechanisms to defend against pathogens. This constant struggle produces changes in cells and genes that have influenced evolution. Understanding how these invasive organisms have affected human evolution could open up new targets for drugs to treat malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other infectious diseases. It also could shed light on how pathogens promote or cause cancer, according to Elde, who also holds the Mario Capecchi Endowed Chair in Human Genetics, which was established in honor of Capecchi, a human geneticist who in 2007 became the U of U's first Nobel Prize winner for his work in gene targeting.

As a Pew Scholar, Elde will attend yearly meetings to get to know and engage with others who've received the award. He's definitely looking forward to being part of that community. "I'm very grateful for the funding," Elde said. "But the yearly meetings to exchange ideas and compare notes with the other Pew Scholars might be the best part of the award."

To be considered for a Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences award, applicants from all areas of physical and life sciences related to biomedical study must be nominated by an invited institution and demonstrate both excellence and innovation in their research. This year, 179 institutions were requested to nominate a candidate, and 134 eligible nominations were received.

Craig C. Mello, Ph.D.,a 1995 Pew Scholar and 2006 Nobel Laureate in physiology or medicine, said winning a Pew Scholar award can make a significant difference for a scientist.

"Giving young scientists the means and the confidence to pursue outside-the-box research is vital to the advancement of biomedical science," Mello said. "The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences was a critical step in my career, and I am honored to welcome the 2012 awardees into a family of scientists eager to share ideas and to collaborate for years to come."

The Pew Charitable Trusts ( is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. We partner with a diverse range of donors, public and private organizations and concerned citizens who share our commitment to fact-based solutions and goal-driven investments to improve society.