Maria Chikina to receive 2020 Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award

Maria Chikina

The Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award annually recognizes outstanding scholarly accomplishments of members of the University of Pittsburgh’s faculty.

Dr. Maria Chikina, by virtue of the quality of her early contributions, has demonstrated great potential as a scholar and has achieved national and international prominence as a scholar.

As peers wrote, “Dr. Chikina is nothing short of a biostatistical genius, but also one that is dedicated to directing that power at important biological problems.”

Recognition for this award will be presented at the next Honors Convocation.

Robin E.C. Lee Named Sloan Foundation Research Fellow

Robin E.C. Lee, Assistant Professor in the Department of Computational & Systems Biology, has been named one of the 126 Sloan Research Fellows for 2020.

“To receive a Sloan Research Fellowship is to be told by your fellow scientists that you stand out among your peers,” says Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “A Sloan Research Fellow is someone whose drive, creativity, and insight makes them a researcher to watch.”

Fellows from the 2020 cohort are drawn from a diverse range of more than 60 institutions across the U.S. and Canada, “There is a wide variety of winning institutions, but each one has successfully attracted, retained, and nurtured truly promising junior faculty,” says Daniel L. Goroff, director of the Sloan Research Fellowship program. “The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is proud to join with these institutions in recognizing and supporting scientific leaders of the future.”

Open to scholars in eight scientific and technical fields—chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics—the Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded in close coordination with the scientific community. Candidates must be nominated by their fellow scientists and winners are selected by independent panels of senior scholars on the basis of a candidate’s research accomplishments, creativity, and potential to become a leader in his or her field.

Robin Lee, Rachel Gottschalk, and Agustin Cruz Awarded AAI Intersect Fellowship

Robin Lee (left), Agustin Cruz (center), Rachel Gottschalk (right)

The American Association of Immunologists(AAI) awarded Drs. J. Agustin Cruz and Robin E.C. Lee the Intersect Fellowship 2020. Dr. Cruz holds a PhD in Immunology and has been working for the past two years as a postdoctoral associate with Dr. Lee to decode intracellular mechanisms of information transmission in response to changing extracellular environments. This AAI intersect fellowship aims to support Dr. Cruz’s postdoctoral training in computational biology while he studies the dynamics of immunological inflammatory signaling pathways in human-derived macrophages and cancer cell lines. This is a project in collaboration with Dr. Rachel Gottschalk from the Department of Immunology. In this new collaborative project, Dr. Cruz will dissect the physical and temporal features of key intermediate proteins of the nuclear-factor kappa-B (NF-KB) and the mitogen-activated kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways and relate the features of these pathways to cell fate decisions.

James Krieger received the DCSB Best Postdoctoral Associate Award of the Year 2019

Dr. James Krieger received the DCSB Best Postdoctoral Associate Award of the Year 2019. He was nominated by his mentor, Dr. Ivet Bahar. Over the past year, he has contributed to 6 articles listed below.  James is the one of three first authors in a seminal paper on the signature dynamics of proteins, Shared signature dynamics tempered by local fluctuations enables fold adaptability and specificity, published in Mol Biol Evol. He made a major contribution to this study in which he demonstrated the existence of a dynamics signature shared by the members of each protein family, and how the signature dynamics differentiates to enable functional specificity among family members. James will be leaving the University of Pittsburgh in March 2020 for the next step in his career, to work on modeling the structure and dynamics of cryo-EM resolved biological assemblies as a Research Scientist at the University of Madrid, Spain. We wish James the best in his new position and thank him for all of his valuable contributions.


  1. Lee JY, Krieger JM, Li H, Bahar I. (2019) Pharmmaker: Pharmacophore Modeling and Hit Identification Based on Druggability Simulations.Protein Sci, 29(1):76-86. PMID: 31576621 PMCID:6933858
  2. Zhang S,* Li H,* Krieger JM,*Bahar I. (2019) Shared signature dynamics tempered by local fluctuations enables fold adaptability and specificityMol Biol Evol 36: 2053-2068. PMID: 31028708 PMCID: 6736388
  3. Mikulska-Ruminska K, Shrivastava IH, Krieger JM, Zhang S, Li H, Bayir H, Wenzel SE, VanDemark AP, Kagan VE, Bahar I.(2019) Characterization of differential dynamics, specificity, and allostery of lipoxygenase family membersJ Chem Inf Model 59: 2496-2508. PMID: 30762363 PMCID: 6541894
  4. COS Sorzano, A Jiménez, J Mota, JL Vilas, D Maluenda, M Martínez, E Ramírez-Aportela, T Majtner, J Segura, R Sánchez-García, Y Rancel, L del Caño, P Conesa, R Melero, S Jonic, J Vargas, F Cazals, Z Freyberg, JM Krieger,I Bahar, R Marabini, JM Carazo (2019) Survey of the analysis of continuous conformational variability of biological macromolecules by electron microscopy. Acta Crystallog F Struct Biol Commun 75: 19-32. PMID: 30605122 PMCID: 6317454
  5.  Lee JY, Krieger JM, Herguedas B, García-Nafría J, Dutta A, Shaikh SA, Greger IH, Bahar I. (2019) Druggability Simulations and X-ray Crystallography Reveal a Ligand-binding Site in the GluA3 AMPA Receptor N-terminal Domain.Structure 27: 241-252. PMID: 30528594 PMCID: 6365164
  6. Zhang Y., Doruker P., Kaynak B., Zhang S, Krieger JM, Li, H & Bahar I. (2019)  Intrinsic dynamics is evolutionarily optimized to enable allosteric behaviorCurr Opin Struct Biol, 62:14-21 PMID: 31785465

Sanjana Gupta received the DCSB Best Student of the Year Award for 2019 at the CSB Annual Appreciation lunch

Sanjana here with her co-advisors, Dr. James R. Faeder (l) and Dr. Robin E.C. Lee (r).

Sanjana Gupta received the DCSB Best PhD Student of the Year Award for 2019 at the CSB Annual Appreciation lunch held at the University Club on Pitt’s Oakland campus, December 4, 2019. She was nominated by her co-advisors, Dr. James R. Faeder and Dr. Robin E.C. Lee for her current work on addressing the question of parameterization of mechanistic models of signal transduction. Sanjana has developed an approach based on Lasso regularization commonly used in genomics to fitting mechanistic models in order to obtain reduced or parsimonious models that describe cellular responses under specific conditions. An abstract describing this work was accepted for a talk at the recent Q-bio Conference and her presentation there was very well-received. Several members of the science community contacted both Jim and Robin to express their enthusiasm with Sanjana’s presentation and current research. A pre-print of this work is available on bioRxiv, Parallel Tempering with Lasso for Model Reduction in Systems Biology. A manuscript of that preprint is under revision with PloS Computational Biology. Overall, Sanjana has made outstanding progress in her research during the previous year and is poised to publish several papers in the beginning of 2020 that will have a strong impact on the entire systems biology community. Congratulations Sanjana!