February 18, 2021

Dr. David Martinez

Dr. David Martinez

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced today that David Martinez, PhD, postdoctoral researcher at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is part of a cohort of 21 early career researchers who were named 2020 Hanna H. Gray Fellows. These researchers are taking on some of the biggest challenges in the life sciences, such as understanding the inner workings of the brain or the complexities of the immune system. By unlocking basic principles, their work could one day ease symptoms in patients with chronic pain, treat kids suffering from pediatric leukemia and spark new therapeutics for emerging infectious diseases.

“These promising researchers are poised to do groundbreaking work and ready to inspire the next generation of scientists,” said HHMI President Erin O’Shea. “HHMI is excited to welcome our new Hanna Gray Fellows into our community and to support them in their career journeys, as individuals and as a network of leaders changing the face of science.”

HHMI’s mission is to advance scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made discoveries relevant to human health and the fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research.

Martinez examines the quirks of the human immune system that make antibody responses to dengue virus infection so different from the defenses mounted against its cousins, which include Zika virus, yellow fever virus and West Nile virus. When people infected with dengue virus later become infected with a second variant of the virus, they can experience severe, sometimes hemorrhagic reactions. Martinez seeks to understand how the immune mechanisms causing these reactions can be exploited to prevent or cure viral disease.

“David is an incredibly insightful scientist who has great instincts that immediately recognize the key high-impact questions and design experiments that provide definitive answers,” stated his mentor Ralph Baric, PhD, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of epidemiology and professor microbiology and immunology. “He is not only making powerful contributions to our understanding of dengue virus immunity but is also making substantive contributions to SARS-CoV-2 immunity, pathogenesis, antiviral therapy and vaccine performance.”

The Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program aims to increase diversity in science by recruiting early-career scientists who represent a variety of racial, ethnic, gender, ability and other underrepresented backgrounds. As of 2021, HHMI has committed more than $105 million to increase academic faculty diversity through the program, which currently includes 64 fellows and 62 faculty mentors. That investment continues to grow through regular competitions.

Martinez joins a growing community of Hanna Gray Fellows, all at a critical time in their academic careers ­– the postdoctoral training phase through the transition to becoming a principal investigator. Each fellow will receive up to $1.4 million over eight years.

In keeping with HHMI’s basic science mission, the program gives fellows the freedom to explore new scientific territory and follow their curiosity, seeking answers to challenging scientific questions. In addition, HHMI staff work to purposefully build a community that can provide professional development and interactive support.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the selection of the 2020 cohort until December 2020. A competition for the 2022 cohort of Hanna Gray Fellows will open late this summer.

Read the full list of fellows.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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