July 27, 1998

Contact: Beth Fox

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Vanderbilt molecular biologist receives Pew Scholar Award for work in developmental genetics


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Zebrafish, a small tropical creature and popular pet for household aquariums, could help unlock the mysteries of genetic deformities in humans.

Vanderbilt University researcher Lilianna Solnica-Krezel uses the zebrafish as a model system for studying embryonic development in humans. And the research being done on the freshwater fish from India is generating great acclaim - Solnica-Krezel has been recognized as one of "America's most promising biomedical researchers" for her work in developmental genetics using the fish.

An assistant professor of molecular biology, Solnica-Krezel is one of 20 researchers named by The Pew Charitable Trusts as a 1998 Pew Scholar in the field of biomedical sciences. Since 1985, The Pew Charitable Trusts, a national philanthropy based in Philadelphia, have provided more than $56 million for the support of 280 scholars. Solnica-Krezel competed against nominees from more than 90 institutions. A 14-member national advisory committee chose the scholars; each scholar receives $200,000 over four years for research support.

"This is one of the most prestigious awards in the country for young biomedical scientists," said James V. Staros, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology. "It is highly competitive, both within the University and with the other institutions - there can only be one nominee per institution, so just being nominated is a great honor." Solnica-Krezel's nomination was selected first in a competition within the College of Arts and Science, then at the University central level, then at the University level, including the Medical Center. At that point, a University committee nominated her to Vanderbilt Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt, who in turn nominated her to The Pew Charitable Trust national advisory committee." This is a superlative honor that will draw deserved attention to her research," Staros said.

Implications for Solnica-Krezel's research include better understanding of the mechanisms of human development and identifying genetic deformities in humans. Solnica-Krezel's laboratory takes advantage of a translucent nature of zebrafish embryos and a wealth of available mutants to ask how cells in the embryo know where anterior and posterior is, whether they should become neurons or blood cells, and how they navigate through the embryo to find their proper locations. Because zebrafish and humans use many of the same genes to develop, studying embryonic zebrafish and their genetic mutations can lead to an understanding of human genetic disorders.

Solnica-Krezel's research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. At Vanderbilt, she teaches courses in developmental biology and genetics. She received her M.Sc. in molecular biology from Warsaw University and her Ph.D. in oncology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Vanderbilt University is a private research university of approximately 5,900 undergraduates and 4,300 graduate and professional students. Founded in 1873, the University comprises 10 schools, a public policy institute, a distinguished medical center and The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center. Vanderbilt offers undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, education and human development, engineering and music, and a full range of graduate and professional degrees.

For more news about Vanderbilt, visit the News and Public Affairs home page on the Internet at http://www.vanderbilt.edu/News.

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Document updated August 3, 1998.