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Postdoc Katherine Deets wins prestigious fellowship supporting her antiviral research

Reposted from U of U Health.

Katherine Deets, a University of Utah postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Human Genetics, has won a prestigious fellowship to support her work seeking to understand how viruses break through organisms’ defenses to cause disease.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has named Deets a 2023 Hanna Gray Fellow, awarding her up to $1.5 million over eight years spanning postdoctoral training through an early career faculty position.

The 2023 Hanna Gray Fellowship cohort, announced on Sept. 19, includes 25 young scientists from across the country.

A headshot of Katherine Deets, a white women wearing a yellow scarf in a park.


Katherine Deets

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Deets’s research also investigates how infected hosts, in turn, develop new mechanisms to protect themselves from viral infection over evolutionary time. Studying host-pathogen interactions can lead to innovative ways to prevent and treat infectious diseases.

Deets studies antiviral responses in ciliates—single-celled eukaryotes that play an important role in moving nutrients throughout aquatic ecosystems. She is also developing a new model system to determine how these ciliates might concentrate and transmit viruses or other pathological microbes between fish.

“I am immensely honored to be selected as an HHMI Hanna Gray Fellow. This fellowship will give me an incredible amount of support to explore the evolutionary history of the eukaryotic immune system and build my future career as an academic scientist,” Deets said. Earlier this year, she earned another prestigious fellowship from the Jane Coffin Childs Funds for Medical Research. She carried out her graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Hanna Gray program allows fellows to follow their curiosity while seeking answers to challenging scientific questions. In keeping with HHMI’s “people, not projects” philosophy, they have the freedom to change their research focus in pursuit of their evolving interests at any point through the duration of the award.

“Katie will be an outstanding Hanna Gray Fellow and is one of the most promising scientists anywhere,” said Deets’s advisor Nels Elde, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Human Genetics at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine and HHMI investigator. “She has a killer taste for exciting science and combines her daring approaches with patience and resilience. She also invests great energy promoting inclusion as she actively works to make science a better place.”

The program is named for Hanna Holborn Gray, former chair of the HHMI board of trustees and former president of the University of Chicago. Under Gray’s leadership, HHMI developed initiatives that foster inclusion in science education. The goal of the Hanna Gray fellowship program is to reach, recruit, and retain individuals from the diverse talent pool of early career scientists in the U.S. with the idea that these fellows will become leaders in academic research who inspire, train, and mentor future generations of scientists.