Tufts structural virologist awarded new five-year HHMI grant to map herpesviruses

Ekaterina Heldwein has been named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Faculty Scholar, a new five-year grant program for early-career scientists who bring innovative approaches to the study of biological problems.
September 22, 2016

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Lisa LaPoint


BOSTON (September 22, 2016)—Ekaterina Heldwein, Ph.D., at Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts, has been awarded a Faculty Scholars grant as part of a national program sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Simons Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The five-year grant will support Heldwein’s work seeking to identify how herpesviruses manipulate cells during replication.

Herpes simplex viruses infect humans for life, can lie dormant in the body for years and can cause oral and genital herpes (a sexually transmitted disease or STD), ocular ailments and a rare, deadly encephalitis. The World Health Organization estimates that, in 2012, more than four billion people under the age of 50 were infected with a type of herpes simplex virus. Available treatments only lessen the frequency, duration and severity of symptoms; no treatment exists to prevent or to completely expel the infection from the body. In her lab at Tufts University School of Medicine, Heldwein, an associate professor of molecular biology and microbiology, is working to obtain detailed pictures of how herpesviruses enter and exit cells, with the goal of developing antiviral drugs and vaccines to combat these persistent viruses.

“We want to understand how the herpesviruses manipulate host cells as they enter and exit them so that we can find new ways to either prevent the virus from awakening from dormancy and causing disease or to keep these viruses from ever getting in in the first place. I am thrilled to receive research support from HHMI, which will be of great help as we try to find answers to the many questions about the biology of these viruses,” said Heldwein.

Ekaterina Heldwein, Ph.D.

“With this new grant program, three renowned philanthropies are opening up great possibilities in infectious disease work, and for talented researchers such as Dr. Heldwein,” said Naomi Rosenberg, Ph.D., dean of the Sackler School. “These early-career scientists have the potential to discover and develop new diagnostic and preventative tools, but the work is expensive and funding can be difficult to secure. This financial support will allow them to focus their time on pursuing and developing more innovative science.”

The Faculty Scholars Program grant is a five-year award ranging from $600,000 to $1.8 million, including indirect costs, to early-career scientists with research endeavors seeking to identify and pursue significant biological questions; expand the boundaries of research; develop new tools, methods and resources; and build bridges between basic biological or physical sciences and medicine. From more than 1400 applications, Heldwein’s grant is one of 84 awarded this year.

About Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences

Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences are international leaders in medical and population health education and advanced research. Tufts University School of Medicine emphasizes rigorous fundamentals in a dynamic learning environment to educate physicians, scientists, and public health professionals to become leaders in their fields. The School of Medicine and the Sackler School are renowned for excellence in education in general medicine, the biomedical sciences, and public health, as well as for innovative research at the cellular, molecular, and population health level. The School of Medicine is affiliated with six major teaching hospitals and more than 30 health care facilities. Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School undertake research that is consistently rated among the highest in the nation for its effect on the advancement of medical and prevention science.