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Karijolich named 2018 Pew Biomedical Scholar

Jun. 14, 2018, 2:00 PM

John Karijolich, PhD, assistant professor of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has been named a Pew Biomedical Scholar by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

John Karijolich, PhD

The 2018 class of Pew scholars in the biomedical sciences includes 22 early-career researchers who will receive four-year grants to advance their studies of the biological mechanisms underlying human health and disease. The current grant level is $300,000; $75,000 per year.

“These scientists have shown the boldness and creativity that drives great discoveries, and Pew’s unrestricted support will help them follow the facts wherever they lead,” Rebecca W. Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts, said in a statement. “We’re proud to invest in this gifted group at a pivotal stage in their careers when funds to pursue new concepts and methods can be scarce.”

The 2018 Pew Biomedical Scholars were selected from 184 nominations, each submitted by a leading academic or research institution in the United States.

“It’s really a great honor and humbling to be selected as a Pew Scholar and join such an accomplished and talented group of scientists,” Karijolich said.

Karijolich earned his PhD in RNA Biochemistry in 2011 from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and was a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. He joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2016.

His laboratory studies host-virus interactions, focusing in particular on the gammaherpesvirus family, which includes Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) and Epstein-Barr virus that are both associated with human cancer.

Karijolich and his colleagues discovered that infection with KSHV, a frequent complication of AIDS, induces expression of genetic elements called retrotransposons.

Retrotransposons are DNA sequences that constitute more than half of the human genome. Some retrotransposons are remnants of viruses that integrated into the human genome during evolution. They are generally “silent” in healthy adult cells, but stressful conditions such as viral infection can induce their expression.

Karijolich’s research has suggested that expression of a retrotransposon produced during KSHV infection plays a role in the cell’s antiviral response. With the Pew Biomedical Scholar support, Karijolich will explore how this retrotransposon and others may be involved in initiating or maintaining immune responses.

Findings from the work could lead to novel therapeutics for the treatment of viral infections or other conditions in which retrotransposons may be inappropriately activated.

“This award is going to allow us to ask deep mechanistic questions regarding antiviral immunity, and in particular how it combats cancer-causing viruses,” Karijolich said. “Our long-term goal is to identify mechanistic avenues with therapeutic potential.”

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