Monica Mugnier, who completed her Ph.D. at Rockefeller earlier this year, is one of 16 junior investigators nationwide to receive a National Institutes of Health Director’s Early Independence Award. The award, which is part of the NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, allows early-career scientists to skip traditional postdoctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions. Mugnier, who will receive a five-year grant of up to $1.25 million, will establish her lab at Johns Hopkins University.
After receiving her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Tufts University, Mugnier pursued her Ph.D. in F. Nina Papavasiliou’s Laboratory of Lymphocyte Biology, where she studied the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei. T. brucei causes African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness, a devastating disease posing an economic and public health burden on sub-Saharan Africa. While at Rockefeller, Mugnier developed bioinformatics tools for studying the way this parasite evades recognition by its hosts’ immune systems. At the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she is assistant professor in the department of molecular microbiology and immunology, Mugnier will focus on understanding the molecular mechanisms of immune evasion in T. brucei.
Now in its seventh year, the Director’s Early Independence Award provides an opportunity for exceptional junior scientists to move rapidly into independent research positions at U.S. institutions by eliminating the traditional postdoctoral training period. Eligible candidates must be within one year of completion of their terminal degree or clinical residency at the time of application, and host institutions must provide awardees with their own lab space and access to common equipment, resources, and mentoring. Brad Rosenberg, John C. Whitehead Presidential Fellow of the Program in Immunogenomics, was the first Rockefeller investigator to receive an Early Independence Award in 2012.