Dr. Adam Dingens, a postdoctoral HIV researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is among 13 recipients of the institution’s 2019 Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement in graduate studies in the biological sciences.
Nominations for this prestigious award are solicited internationally. This year’s 13 awardees come from academic institutions around the United States, including Johns Hopkins University, Harvard Medical School, Indiana University, Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco. The awardees study a range of biological questions including how cells divide, interactions between bacteria and the hosts they infect, and brain regulation of hunger and thirst.
Since 2014, Dingens has been a graduate student in the laboratories of his Hutch mentors, Drs. Jesse Bloom and Julie Overbaugh, both of whom study various aspects of viral infection and evolution. He received his doctorate in January from the joint Fred Hutch/University of Washington Molecular and Cellular Biology Program. He received his master’s in epidemiology from UW and his bachelor’s in microbiology — with honors — from the University of Michigan.
His research focuses on immune molecules called broadly neutralizing antibodies, which can bind to many types of HIV and prevent infection. “Understanding how these antibodies can target the virus can be a template for how vaccine-elicited immunity should also target the virus,” he said. However, characterizing how such antibodies interact with HV has been difficult, relying on low-throughput structural studies and testing individual viral mutations one at a time to see how they affect antibody binding.
During his Ph.D. work, Dingens developed a high-throughput, or faster and more efficient, approach that harnesses the evolutionary capacity of HIV to get a comprehensive view of how these antibodies bind to the virus and prevent infection. “It’s been really exciting to leverage this technology to inform vaccine design, as well as to help evaluate and potentially improve HIV therapies based on broadly neutralizing antibodies,” he said.
Dingens said he will continue building and applying similar technologies to develop vaccines and therapies for HIV and other viruses.
“Both the depth and breadth of Adam’s work as a student are truly impressive,” said Overbaugh, the Endowed Chair for Graduate Education at Fred Hutch. “He produced important studies in epidemiology as part of the dual-degree program; he also pioneered new exciting methods for mapping HIV antibodies and then took ownership in finding the best ways to apply this approach.”
“During his Ph.D., Adam pioneered innovative new approaches to map resistance mutations to anti-HIV antibodies,” Bloom said. “One of the things that has been most impressive to me is how Adam has risen to the challenge of bridging these basic science advances to translational goals of the HIV field,” he said. “It’s been very exciting to see Adam initiate collaborations that link his work to HIV immunotherapy and vaccine efforts, and I look forward to seeing how his work continues to develop.”
The Weintraub Award began in 2000 and is named for Dr. Harold Weintraub, who helped found the Basic Sciences Division at Fred Hutch and died of brain cancer in 1995 at age 49. The award honors Weintraub’s scientific leadership in the field of molecular biology and his legacy as an extraordinary mentor, colleague, collaborator, and friend.
“Hal had an absolute passion for understanding how biology works, a passion that led him to major discoveries regarding how genes are turned on and off in specific cell types. Importantly, Hal’s discoveries have also led to new therapies for patients,” said Dr. Mark Groudine, a long-time friend and colleague of Weintraub and now a special adviser to the President & Director’s Office at Fred Hutch. Along with Weintraub’s other colleagues, Groudine was instrumental in establishing the Weintraub Award to honor their colleague’s exemplary leadership as a mentor.
“The Weintraub Award is one important example of the enduring nature of Hal’s work at the Hutch, and this year’s recipients represent a breadth of scientific questions that Hal would have found invigorating,” Groudine said.
“My work is built upon the incredibly collaborative environment in both Jesse Bloom and Julie Overbaugh’s groups, as well as in the wider community here at the Hutch,” Dingens said. “It’s a great honor to be recognized by the Hutch community in Hal Weintraub’s name, particularly since he helped to establish this collaborative and open atmosphere that has been so influential in my work.”
The award is supported by the Fred Hutch Weintraub and Groudine Fund, which was established to foster intellectual exchange through the promotion of programs for graduate students, fellows and visiting scholars. The award includes an honorarium and travel expenses for the recipients to attend a May 3 scientific symposium at the Hutch, at which the Weintraub awards will be given and the recipients will present findings from their respective research areas.
Kristen Woodward, a former associate editor at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, had been in communications at Fred Hutch for more than 20 years. Before that, she was a managing editor at the University of Michigan Health System and a reporter/editor at The Holland Sentinel, a daily in western Michigan. She has received many national awards for health and science writing. She received her B.A. in journalism from Michigan State University.