Associate Professor Dr. Daniel Stetson Named HHMI Faculty Scholar

Dr. Daniel Stetson, Associate Professor, Department of Immunology

Daniel Stetson, associate professor of immunology. Stetson studies how our cells detect infection by a virus. Sensors of foreign DNA and RNA are essential for activating immune responses to viruses, but they can also cause autoimmune disease if not properly regulated. Stetson’s lab explores this dichotomy of protective immunity and autoimmunity activated by the same antiviral sensors.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Simons Foundation(link is external), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation(link is external) today announced the selection of 84 Faculty Scholars, early-career scientists who have great potential to make unique contributions to their field. The scientists represent 43 institutions across the United States.

“We are very excited to welcome these accomplished scientists into the HHMI community,” said HHMI President Erin O’Shea. “We’re equally gratified to work alongside our philanthropic partners to help these early-career scientists move science forward by pursuing their bold ideas.”

Through the new Faculty Scholars Program, the philanthropies will spend about $83 million over five years to support the first cohort of scientists selected to receive grants. The range of five-year grant award totals is $600,000-$1.8 million, including indirect costs. The awards are subject to applicants and their institutions fulfilling the requirements of the grant-making organizations. Faculty Scholars are required to devote at least 50 percent of their total effort to the direct conduct of research.

"Support for outstanding early-career scientists is essential for continued progress in science in future years,” said Marian Carlson, Director of Life Sciences at the Simons Foundation.

This is the first collaboration between HHMI, the Simons Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The philanthropies joined forces to create this program in response to growing concern about the significant challenges that early-career scientists are facing. The career trajectory for early-career scientists has become much less certain as competition for grant support intensifies. In the last two decades, the U.S. has witnessed a dramatic decline in the National Institutes of Health research award success rate for scientists, as well as a striking increase in the average age at which an investigator receives his or her first R01-equivalent grant.

“We are delighted to help enable superb early-career scientists to bring transformative innovation to priority global health problems,” said Chris Karp, Director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In today’s constrained research funding environment, the creativity and energy that researchers bring to starting their own labs can quickly be sapped by the time-consuming and often frustrating quest for grant funding. Within a few years of a new faculty appointment, a researcher's institutional start-up funds typically come to an end. Pressure to secure federal grant money may lead to “safe” grant proposals. As a result, creative and potentially transformative research projects may fall by the wayside.

“This program will provide these scientists with much needed flexible resources so they can follow their best research ideas,” said HHMI Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer David Clapham.

Early-career researchers with more than 4, but no more than 10, years of experience as faculty members were eligible to apply for this competition. Faculty at more than 220 institutions were eligible. Distinguished scientists reviewed and evaluated more than 1,400 applicants on their potential for significant research productivity and originality, as judged by their doctoral and postdoctoral work, results from their independent research program, and their future research plans.

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