Department of Human Genetics creates new fund for student development

Emory’s Department of Human Genetics recently announced the creation of the Heyman Family Fragile X Trainee Fund, to give students access to critical professional development, research, and travel opportunities that they may use to further their careers researching or working with people with Fragile X syndrome. Fragile X syndrome is a disorder caused by the mutation of a single gene, FMR1, that affects a person’s development, especially that person’s behavior and ability to learn. Fragile X can also affect communication skills, physical appearance, and sensitivity to noise, light, or other sensory information.

The fund was established by the Fragile-X Association of Georgia and Gail Heyman, a long-time supporter and advocate of Emory’s Fragile X research. Heyman’s son, Scott, was diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome in 1989 at the age of 9. Fragile X gave Gail and her family a cause to fight for and they have become advocates for inclusion and translational research.

Emory’s Fragile X Syndrome Clinic meets the unique needs of individuals with Fragile X syndrome from birth through young adulthood with physicians, scientists, and staff who have expertise in genetics, neurodevelopment, and neurobehavior. The Clinic is also actively establishing "best practice" recommendations for evaluation and ongoing care in fragile X, enrolling fragile X families into a national registry to be used for research and building a nationwide network for collaborative research efforts.

Three GMB graduate students named 2023 Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society Scholars

The National Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society is named for the first African American doctoral recipient in the United States, Dr. Edward Alexander Bouchet (Physics, Yale University, 1876). The Society honors outstanding scholarly achievement and promotes diversity and excellence in doctoral education and the professoriate. Inductees at Emory are doctoral and postdoctoral scholars who are committed to contributing to the development of their field(s) of study and to the application of that knowledge into action to improve the lives and conditions of the community. Members exhibit the highest values of Emory University—through their integrity, honor, and exemplary conduct and behavior.

The GMB inductees are:

Yemko Pryor (she/they) is a Ph.D. candidate at Emory University in the Genetics and Molecular Biology doctoral program. At Emory, Yemko works in an Ancient DNA lab where her dissertation research is focused on mapping the evolutionary histories of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas.

In 2021, Yemko was awarded both the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship and the Nation Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF-GRFP). In 2022, they were awarded the Emory Laney Graduate School Emory Diversifying Graduate Education (EDGE) Fellowship and now work with Laney's Associate Dean of Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to maintain programming centering diverse graduate students on Emory's campus. In 2018, Yemko gained a B.A. in Biology and Africana Studies from Oberlin College, graduating with High Honors in Africana Studies. Following graduation, she worked as a post-baccalaureate researcher in Human Genetics at the University of Chicago in the NIH Post-Baccalaureate Research Program (PREP).

Yemko has always been very involved in university service and community engagement. They have volunteered with Emory's Office of LGBT Life since January 2020 and currently facilitate the Queer Grads Community Group through the office. Yemko enjoys mentoring and building community with other graduate students, by helping students access campus recourses or reviewing fellowship and grant applications. Her future goal is to continue leading DEI-centered initiatives in higher education.

Kedamawit Tilahun is a candidate for the Ph.D. in Genetics and Molecular Biology (GMB) at Emory University. She earned her bachelor's degree in integrated neurobiology and physiology at North Carolina State University and conducted research that involved studying the role of endocrine disruptors on reproductive capacity and sexual development in Japanese Medaka. From her work, she earned her first co-authorship in a publication.

After graduating, Kedamawit worked at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI) as a research technician and analyst. She was able to identify neutralizing monoclonal antibodies from vaccinated Rhesus macaques that recapitulated characteristics of monoclonal antibodies from naturally infected individuals. Her time at DHVI led to two co-authorships in Cell reports and Science Translational Medicine. Her current research focuses on elucidating the mechanisms of TMEM106B neurotoxicity using in vitro and in vivo methods.

Kedamawit was awarded the Centennial Scholar Award from Laney Graduate School as well as the NIH T32 pre-doctoral award. Throughout her time at Emory, Kedamawit has been involved in leadership roles that contribute to diversity and inclusion in the academy by serving as the executive and DEI committee representative in the GMB community.

Kedamawit has been active in outreach programs outside of Emory, she has participated in Science ATL's SPSP program where she partners up with a teacher at a local school to bring engaging and enriching science lessons to the classroom. Kedamawit continues to provide service to her school and outside community by participating in teaching high schoolers as well as Emory undergraduates.

Keenan Wiggins is a Ph.D. candidate at Emory University in the program of genetics and molecular biology. His research focuses on the epigenetic and molecular regulation of memory B cells that are part of the adaptive immune system. Keenan completed his Bachelor of Science in biology at Indian River State College, FL where for two years he volunteered for earth day.

Keenan has received the Santander Scholarship at the University of Birmingham, UK where he received his Master of Science in biotechnology. At Emory, Keenan teaches biology labs to share his passion with the upcoming undergraduates. He has also been volunteering for the black graduate student association and GDBBS involved in volunteerism at Emory. As a research scientist, Keenan wants to further the field of how memory B cells are programmed after natural infections compared to vaccines. He believes this is a huge area in immunology that is poorly understood and with his expertise in molecular biology techniques, Keenan is confident that he can lead the way for this public health issue.

Ultimately, Keenan would like to give back to underrepresented communities by collaborating on health issues that disproportionally affect underrepresented communities.

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