Rockefeller postdoc named finalist for Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists

Agnel Sfeir, a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University, has been named a finalist in the fourth annual Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists competition. Established by the New York Academy of Sciences and the Blavatnik Charitable Foundation to recognize the contributions of young scientists and engineers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the program awards finalists with awards between $5,000 and $10,000. The winners in each category, to be announced in November, will receive an additional $10,000 to $15,000 respectively.

Sfeir obtained her Ph.D. in cell biology in 2006 from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where she received the Nominata award. She then joined the laboratory of Titia de Lange to work on a fundamental question in cell biology — how telomeres solve the end-protection problem. Telomeres are nucleoprotein structures that shield the natural ends of linear chromosomes from the DNA damage response. Telomeric DNA is composed of long tracts of TTAGGG repeats that act as binding sites for a six-member protein complex termed shelterin. The main focus of Sfeir’s postdoctoral research has been to discern the function of two shelterin proteins, TRF1 and Rap1. She showed that TRF1 is required for the efficient replication of telomeric DNA, whereas Rap1 function to block DNA repair at chromosome ends. Her recent work, supported by a Susan G. Komen For the Cure Postdoctoral Fellowship, was published in Cell in 2009 and in Science in 2010

This year’s 12 finalists — including seven faculty and five postdocs from the Tri-state area — are selected for exceptionally elegant, innovative and significant interdisciplinary research projects in life sciences, physical sciences and engineering. The finalists will be honored and the winners announced at the New York Academy of Sciences’ seventh annual Science and the City Gala on November 15.

Previous Blavatnik Awards went to Leslie B. Vosshall, HHMI investigator and head of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior, in 2007; Tom W. Muir, head of the Selma and Lawrence Ruben Laboratory of Synthetic Protein Chemistry, in 2008; and Shai Shaham, head of the Laboratory of Developmental Genetics, and Sreekanth Chalasani, a postdoctoral associate in the Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior, in 2009. Past finalists from Rockefeller have included Tarun Kapoor, head of the Laboratory of Chemistry and Cell Biology, in 2007, and three postdocs in 2008: Valerie Horsley, Andreas Keller and Matthew Evans.

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