News • October 24, 2022

Alumnus scientist selected as Hanna Gray Fellow

Alumnus scientist selected as Hanna Gray FellowRiverside, Calif. (Oct. 24, 2022) – Gabriel Muhire Gihana (’13) was recently named a 2022 Hanna Gray Fellow by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

The institute seeks to increase diversity in biomedical science by recruiting and retaining early-career scientists from groups currently underrepresented in the life sciences. Twenty-five fellows receive funding for their postdoctoral training and may continue to receive funding during their early faculty years. In total, fellows may receive up to $1.4 million each over eight years.

In 2020, Gihana had also received a postdoctoral fellowship from both the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research. The four-year national award encourages young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing funds to work on innovative and high risk projects.

Gihana came to California Baptist University in 2009 on a scholarship from a partnership between the government of Rwanda and CBU. He studied biochemistry and molecular biology. After graduating, he went to Indiana University for doctoral studies in biology. He is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

We asked him questions about receiving the honor and his research.

What does it mean to be named a 2022 Hanna Gray Fellow?

I came to this country from a relatively disadvantaged background, and I had to work very hard to succeed academically and gain exposure to research when I was still an undergraduate student at CBU. After CBU, I pursued research through a Ph.D. program at Indiana University. Being selected as a Hanna Gray Fellow gave me a gratifying moment to reflect back on my journey as a student and a researcher, and it brought me a great sense of honor and satisfaction. This fellowship provides significant and long-term financial support to my research, which not only boosts my confidence but also gives me a great opportunity to plan my transition from the postdoctoral position to the research faculty position.  

Explain your research.

I study how the shape of human cells affects their potential to become cancerous. I focus on a cancer-causing gene called RAS in pancreatic and lung cancers.  

What attracted you to cancer research?

My Ph.D. research was in basic cell biology, and I wanted to switch to biomedical research for my postdoctoral phase. Although we continue to see promising therapeutic breakthroughs, cancer is a very complex disease that we still have a lot to learn about in hopes for even better therapies. I realized that the cellular features that I investigated during my Ph.D. were poorly understood in cancer biology, and yet cancer is a cellular disease. For my postdoctoral research, I was fortunate to join a team of interdisciplinary experts who were doing cancer research in areas that intersected with my Ph.D. research.

What is your future goal?

My goal is to continue to do cancer research in an academic setting. I am also passionate about helping younger students, especially those from Africa, gain competent research experience. A few years ago, I cofounded AFRISNET, a nonprofit organization with the goal of exposing African students to modern research.   

How did CBU help prepare you for these endeavors?

As an undergraduate student at CBU nine years ago, I was fortunate to have encouraging professors who not only realized my academic interests but also pushed me to seek research exposure outside CBU. I think these professors, especially Dr. Dennis Bideshi (professor of biology), made all the difference. I still tell them today that I owe it all to them; they have remained great friends.

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