Six U-M researchers receive Biosciences Initiative award for excellence among mid-career faculty

November 14, 2022
Written By:
Emily Kagey, Life Sciences Institute

Six University of Michigan scientists and engineers have been named the 2022 winners of the MBioFAR Award, which recognizes exceptional mid-career faculty in the biosciences.

MBioFAR, which stands for Mid-career Biosciences Faculty Achievement Recognition, is an annual award established last year by the U-M Biosciences Initiative. The award provides discretionary funds—$250,000 per year for two years for each awardee—to encourage innovative, high-risk research.

“These researchers represent the best of U-M’s scientific enterprise and merit MBioFAR recognition. With their passion, inquisitiveness, and extraordinary talents, they are committed to improving the human condition,” said U-M President Santa J. Ono.

“The MBioFAR awards recognize exceptional mid-career U-M faculty and provide them with support at this critical stage in their careers to continue their pursuit of the types of novel, boundary-pushing research that can address major challenges in the biological sciences,” said U-M physiologist Roger Cone, vice provost, director of the Biosciences Initiative and director of the Life Sciences Institute.

The 2022 MBioFAR awardees are:

Sami Barmada
Sami Barmada

Sami Barmada, the Angela Dobson Welch and Lyndon Welch Research Professor and associate professor of neurology, Medical School.

Barmada is a neuroscientist who combines basic biology with translational research to understand critical abnormalities in RNA and protein metabolism in neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia.

In addition to his research, he has taken an active role in raising awareness of ALS and FTD in the community, participating in several local and national fundraising efforts and assisting in setting priorities for national research funding through NIH-sponsored panels.

Jianping Fu
Jianping Fu

Jianping Fu, professor of mechanical engineering, College of Engineering; professor of biomedical engineering, College of Engineering and Medical School; and professor of cell and developmental biology, Medical School.

Fu is a bioengineer who specializes in synthetic embryology, with a research program that bridges several disciplines, including stem cell biology, developmental biology, synthetic biology and bioengineering.

His groundbreaking studies have been credited with laying the foundation for the emerging technology of artificial embryos, which was selected as one of the “10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2018” by the MIT Technology Review. This field has tremendous potential for advancing human embryology and reproductive and regenerative medicine.

Sami Barmada
Sami Barmada

Costas Lyssiotis, the Maisel Research Professor of Oncology, associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology, associate professor of internal medicine, and co-director of the Pancreatic Disease Initiative and the Rogel Cancer Center Tumor & Immune Metabolism Program.

Lyssiotis is a biochemist who investigates biochemical pathways and metabolic requirements that enable tumor survival and growth. This work spans the areas of cancer metabolism, the tumor microenvironment and immunometabolism. Ultimately, his group aims to transition new information about these processes into targeted therapies for cancer and other diseases.

He is also passionate about science education and training the future generation of scientists. He serves as the director of U-M’s Graduate Program in Cancer Biology and he is an active lecturer and participant in graduate education.

James Moon
James Moon

James Moon, the J.G. Searle Professor, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, College of Pharmacy; professor of biomedical engineering, College of Engineering and Medical School; and professor of chemical engineering, College of Engineering.

Moon’s interdisciplinary research program aims to develop engineering strategies to advance fundamental understanding of the immune system, with the ultimate goal of improving patients’ lives with effective vaccines and immunotherapies.

He is developing new therapeutics at the interface of pharmaceutics, biomedical engineering and immunology. Moon’s discoveries have aided drug development in the fields of cancer immunology, autoimmunity and gut microbiome.

Alison Narayan
Alison Narayan

Alison Narayan, the Mary Sue Coleman Collegiate Professor in the Life Sciences, research associate professor, Life Sciences Institute; and associate professor of chemistry, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

Narayan is a chemist who first came to U-M as an undergraduate in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. After earning her doctorate, she returned to U-M first as a postdoctoral researcher and then as a faculty member at LSA and the Life Sciences Institute. Her research program solves synthetic chemistry challenges using enzymes. This approach not only provides a sustainable alternative to traditional organic chemistry methods, but also enables access to molecules that might otherwise be inaccessible in the laboratory.

Narayan contributes to recruiting and mentoring the next generation of leaders through her teaching efforts at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, mentoring students in her lab and directing U-M’s Graduate Program in Chemical Biology.

Elizabeth Speliotes
Elizabeth Speliotes

Elizabeth Speliotes, the Keith S. Henley M.D. Collegiate Professor of Gastroenterology, professor of internal medicine, professor of computational medicine and bioinformatics, Medical School; associate director, Medical Scientist Training Program and program director, Precision Medicine Program, Medical School.

Speliotes is a gastroenterologist and bioinformation scientist who researches the molecular action of gene variants associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and their implications in obesity and NAFLD. As the director of Precision Medicine for Internal Medicine, she is building biobank and resources to use genomic and electronic medical record data for subtyping human diseases and matching them to specific treatments.

Speliotes is an internationally known leader in the genetics of human obesity of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. She founded and leads global consortia efforts that have identified and characterized hundreds of common genetic variants that associate with obesity, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and other metabolic diseases and traits using genome-wide association study meta-analysis.

About the award

The MBioFAR Award supports the type of high-risk, high-reward research that is often not funded by conventional granting agencies. It was created to help ensure continued extraordinary productivity and impact, and a high level of job satisfaction, from the university’s most outstanding biosciences faculty at the most productive phase of their career.

The award is designed to operate like an internal MacArthur Fellowship. There is no formal application process: Each year, all life sciences faculty promoted to associate professor or full professor are reviewed.