HaoSheng Sun, Ph.D.

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Credit: UAB

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — HaoSheng Sun, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Alabama in the Birmingham Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology, was named to the inaugural class of Freeman Hrabowski Scholars from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The 31 new scholars from 22 US institutions are all outstanding early-career science educators who have the potential to become leaders in their research fields, as well as promote diversity, equity, and inclusion through their mentoring and understanding the experiences of trainees from races and ethnicities that are underrepresented in US science, HHMI announced.

Freeman Hrabowski Scholars will be appointed to a five-year term, renewable for a second five-year term following a positive progress review. Each fellow will receive up to $8.6 million over 10 years, including full salary, benefits, a research budget and scientific equipment. Additionally, they will participate in professional development to enhance their leadership and mentoring skills.

Diversity and inclusion are central to Sun’s background as an LGBTQ+ Chinese-Canadian immigrant.

“Throughout my science education, excellent opportunities and mentorship allowed me to pursue my dream career of academic research,” HaoSheng said. “I hope to pay this forward to the next generation of science trainees by creating an all-inclusive, fun lab environment where rigorous science is conducted at UAB. Fostering strong mentorship, scientific awareness, and diversity/inclusivity are important components of our lab culture.”

The Sun Lab studies the transcriptional and chromatin-based mechanisms of neural development/plasticity and how they are dysregulated in neural disorders. “Our brains are made up of largely the same composition of neurons from birth to adulthood, yet we show broad behavioral changes throughout our lives,” Sun said. “Our lab aims to identify the genetic timing mechanisms that govern the maturation of our nervous system and how environmental factors influence these mechanisms”.

The research by Sun and his UAB colleagues uses C. elegans and rodent animal models, in combination with genomic, genetic, behavioral and microscopy techniques. C. elegans is a transparent nematode about 1 millimeter long and has been a model that has led to fundamental biological insights and discoveries for over 50 years.

Freeman Hrabowski scholars will be employed by HHMI and will maintain an academic tenure and laboratory at their research institutions, as HHMI researchers. The appointment is for a five-year term as HHMI Laboratory Chief, renewable for an additional five-year term following a positive evaluation of progress. Fellows will receive generous and flexible support from HHMI, including full salary and benefits, a research budget of approximately $2 million in the first five years, and eligibility to participate in HHMI Equipment Purchase Programs

Over the next 20 years, HHMI plans to hire and support up to 150 Freeman Hrabowski scholars, appointing approximately 30 scholars every two years for the next 10 years. The institute has committed up to $1.5 billion for Freeman Hrabowski scholars to be selected over the next decade. HHMI is the largest private biomedical research institution in the nation.

“Each of our Freeman Hrabowski Scholars has demonstrated their unique potential to advance cutting-edge science and carve pathways for the inclusive development of postdocs, students and other researchers,” said Leslie Vosshall, HHMI Vice President and Chief Science Officer. . “We are thrilled to welcome this inaugural cohort to HHMI and are proud to support each scholar’s contributions to the wider scientific community for years to come.”

HHMI named the program in honor of Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president emeritus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a major force in increasing the number of scientists, engineers and physicians from backgrounds underrepresented in science in the United States . HHMI announced the launch of the Freeman Hrabowski Scholars program in May 2022.

Hrabowski grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama and was part of the children’s crusade for civil rights as a 12-year-old in 1963. Both of his parents were teachers, and Hrabowski graduated from Hampton Institute with honors in mathematics when he was 19 years old. .

At UAB, Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology is a department of the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine.

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