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Keypoint Newsletter: Welcoming the New Fellows Class of 2024

Keystone Symposia is pleased to introduce the Keystone Symposia Fellows Class of 2024! This year we welcome seven early-career investigators and seven post-doctoral fellows, a new addition to the program this year.


These awardees rose to the top of an extremely qualified pool of applicants, boasting a long list of accolades for their innovative research, but also their dedication to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in their communities and science at large. 


"This year we had a terrific group of highly competitive early career applicants as well as postdocs for our new arm of the Fellows Program. This year's class brings talent from a number of disciplines and from a range of research institutions across the country," says CEO & President Dr. Debbie Johnson.  

Read about each new Fellow's research and accomplishments below!


This stellar group of young scientists will begin their Fellows journey in January, when they will assemble in Colorado to participate in our biannual Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) meeting to discuss future conference programming, and meet their mentors. Fellows are paired with a distinguished member of our SAB for one-on-one guidance on career-development, leadership and skills to succeed along their intended career path.


We are incredibly grateful for the dedicated members of Keystone Symposia’s SAB and the Keystone Fellows Community who have contributed their time and expertise to advising our Fellows. In particular, we wish to acknowledge the following individuals who served as mentors to the 2023 Fellows: Arturo Zychlinsky, Eric Baehrecke, Mike Holtzman, Suzanne Devkota, Zolt Arany, Anne Murphy, Lori Sussel, Carla Rothlin, Deepak Sampath, Anwesha Dey.


In addition to one-on-one mentorship, Fellows will participate in monthly “Fellows Fridays” virtual sessions for dynamic group discussions addressing early-career challenges, with experts from academia, industry, publishing and esteemed members of our Fellows Alumni Network. (Find out more about Fellows Fridays programming in the Annual Update below)


With the 2024 class, the Keystone Symposia Fellows Community now comprises 102 esteemed scientists, many of whom now hold leadership roles throughout academia, industry and government. Established in 2009, the Keystone Symposia Fellows Program aims to provide early-stage independent researchers from underrepresented backgrounds with the skills, professional connections and visibility to support their success at this pivotal career stage. Importantly, “alumni” Fellows remain connected to Keystone Symposia, as speakers and organizers of our conferences, as mentors to current Fellows, and as strategic advisors on our Board of Directors and Scientific Advisory Board, thereby further advancing our mission to promote inclusive excellence in the life sciences. View the full Fellows Directory here 

Read more about the Fellows Program in our Annual Update HERE!  

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We thank all the generous sponsors who have made the Fellows Program Class of 2024 possible. Their funding is essential to the strength, value and longevity of the program, and to our ability to support these incredible scientists to become leaders in their research fields and their communities.

  • Individuals: Cherié Butts, Geoff Ginsburg, Stephanie Watts, Bei Zhang & Mark Erion
  • Organizations: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Cytokinetics, Inc., Eli Lilly & Co., FLARE/Endocrine Society, 

We welcome additional sponsors!

Please consider joining us in our mission to support the next generation of a diverse biomedical and life science workforce! 

Contact: DLSP@keystonesymposia.org

Or Make a Donation to Support the Fellows Program HERE

Post-Doctoral Fellows


Biafra Ahanonu, PhD

University of California, San Francisco

Field of Study:Neurobiology

Dr. Ahanonu studies the neural circuit and molecular mechanisms of pain. He is currently an HHMI Hanna H. Gray Fellow in the lab of Prof. Allan Basbaum at the University of California, San Francisco. To enable novel studies of the spinal cord in awake, behaving animals, he developed surgical, experimental, and computational methods that allow long-term—for months to over a year—optical access to the rodent spinal cord (https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.05.22.541477). Then, to identify molecular changes that occur in chronic pain and find novel therapeutic targets, he conducts proteomic analysis of pain-related circuits in neuropathic and inflammatory models.

Dr. Ahanonu obtained his BSc from MIT in Brain & Cognitive Sciences and in Biology along with his PhD in Biology from Stanford University working in the lab of Prof. Mark Schnitzer, with support from HHMI Gilliam and NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. His doctoral studies used optical techniques in behaving animals to identify neural codes for pain processing, decision-making, and locomotion in the amygdala (https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aap8586) and striatum (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0090-6). He also developed computational tools and methods for calcium imaging analysis (e.g. CIAtah, https://git.io/ciatah). He advocated for students as Biosciences Student (SBSA) President. Find out more at bahanonu.com/about.


Christian Cazares, PhD

University of California, San Diego

Field of Study: Neurobiology

An immigrant from Mexico, Dr. Christian Cazares received his B.A. in Cognitive Science at UC Berkeley funded by the Gates Millennium Scholarship. He spent the following two years doing post-baccalaureate research as a member of the PennPREP program at the University of Pennsylvania. He then earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at UC San Diego with Dr. Christina Gremel researching cortical circuits underlying decision-making in health and alcohol dependence. During this time, he was awarded the NSF-GRFP, became a SfN Neuroscience Scholars Program fellow, and was awarded the Leon Thal Award for Excellence in Neuroscience Graduate Research.

Now, as a NIH DSPAN and IRACDA postdoctoral fellow working in Dr. Bradley Voyek's lab at UC San Diego, Christian aims to bridge human cortical organoid physiology with human behavior and EEG. When not in the lab, Christian skateboards and runs a graduate organization (Colors of the Brain) he co-founded which mentors undergraduate students interested in applying to STEM graduate programs. In the Summer, Christian Co-directs the CoB-KIBM Scholars program in collaboration with the UC San Diego Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, which offers a paid summer research experience to undergraduates from historically marginalized and excluded backgrounds in neuroscience. 


Abigael (Abby) Cheruiyot, PhD

Joslin Diabetes Center

Field of Study: Metabolic Disease

Dr.  Abigael (Abby) Cheruiyot is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Joslin Diabetes Center in the lab of Dr. Jean Schaffer. She studies molecular mechanisms underlying the regulation of insulin protein synthesis and its alteration in diabetes. Dr. Cheruiyot was HHMI international student fellow at Washington University in Saint Louis, where she obtained her PhD studying DNA and RNA surveillance mechanisms in Dr. Zhongsheng You’s lab. She is 2023 HHMI Leading Edge Symposium fellow. Dr. Cheruiyot is current co-chair of the HMS Black Postdoc Association (HBPA) and chaired the HBPA annual symposium organizing committee in 2021 and 2023. She is very passionate about both science and promoting equity across institutions. 


Naima Dahir, PhD

University of Michigan

*Sponsored by Cytokinetics, Inc.

Field of Study: Neurobiology/ Metabolic Disease

Dr. Naima Dahir  was raised in Columbus, Ohio, and as a first-generation college student received her B.S. at the Ohio State University. She then completed her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences, specializing in Neurobiology, at Utah State University and University of Central Florida under the mentorship of Dr. Timothy Gilbertson. During this time, she elucidated mechanisms underlying sex differences in fat sensation and perception. Currently, she is a postdoctoral fellow at the Life Sciences Institute at the University of Michigan, working under the mentorship of Dr. Roger Cone. Her research focuses on exploring the role of the central melanocortin system in ingestive behaviors. Her long-term research goal is to examine central metabolic-sensitive processes that go awry in maladaptive eating conditions by leveraging multidisciplinary tools and hopefully discovering therapeutics for metabolic disorders. Drawing from her personal journey, Naima is deeply committed to advancing the accessibility of science and promoting inclusivity.    


Nicholas Martinez, PhD

Yale University

Field of Study: Structural Biology/Viral-host interactions

Dr. Nicholas Martinez is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry Department at Yale University. As a member of Dr. Yong Xiong’s lab, Nicholas investigates lentivirus/host interactions using structural and biochemical techniques, including single-particle cryo-EM. Prior to his career in biomedical research, Nicholas received his B.S. (2009) and M.S. (2012) in education at the University of Kansas and was an elementary school teacher for six years. Inspired by his mom’s passing at an early age from colon cancer, he pursued undergraduate research and coursework in biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology at both the University of Kansas and as an NSF summer research fellow at Brandeis University (2016). Nicholas went on to obtain his Ph.D. in Biochemistry & Biophysics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2022). Under the guidance of Dr. Sharon Campbell, his doctoral thesis work involved using biochemical, biophysical and structural approaches, including ITC, a novel Trp-FRET assay, X-ray crystallography and an in vitro kinase activity assay, to characterize the interactions between two key oncogenic cell signaling proteins, RAS and PI3K. Throughout his career in education, which included additional training in special education and teaching English as a second language, and now as a biomedical scientist, Nicholas has passionately pursued DEI efforts and K-12 outreach opportunities, all while fostering a collaborative and inclusive working environment. 


Cynthia Rodriguez, PhD

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Field of Study: Microbiome

Cynthia Rodriguez is a postdoctoral scholar at Cedars Sinai Medical Center working in Dr. Suzanne Devkota’s lab. She obtained her doctoral degree from the University of California at Irvine studying the ecological and evolutionary forces driving the assembly, coexistence, and functioning of gut microbiomes, while focusing on a group of bacteria called Bifidobacteria. Cynthia’s current research interests include understanding factors, such as diet and disease, affecting the human gut microbiome and in turn triggering inflammation. 

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Carlos Vera, PhD, MBA

Stanford University

*Sponsored by Cytokinetics, Inc.

Field of Study: Cardiovascular

Dr. Vera obtained his bachelor’s degree in Industrial Biotechnology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. After college he worked at CDI Labs while obtaining an MBA in Management from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. He then obtained his doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder from the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department with a Certificate in Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology. His thesis focused on myosin myopathies by employing enzyme kinetics experiments. Dr. Vera is now a postdoctoral fellow in the Wu Lab at the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute where he is studying disease modeling using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). 

Early Career Scientists

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Cesar de la Fuente, PhD

University of Pennsylvania

Field of Study: Bioengineering/ Computational Biology/ Antimicrobial Drug Development

César de la Fuente is a Presidential Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he leads the Machine Biology Group. Previously, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and earned a PhD at the University of British Columbia (UBC). His research goal is to use the power of machines to accelerate the discovery of antibiotics. Specifically, he pioneered the development of the first computer-designed antibiotic with efficacy in animal models, demonstrating the utility of AI for antibiotic discovery and helping launch this emerging field. His lab is also on the vanguard of developing computational methods for proteome mining, yielding the discovery of a whole new world of antimicrobials from the human proteome and dramatically accelerating the discovery of preclinical candidates, from years to hours. De la Fuente’s group was also the first to find therapeutic molecules in extinct organisms, launching the field of molecular de-extinction. Additional advances from his lab include designing algorithms for antibiotic discovery, reprogramming venoms into antimicrobials, creating novel resistance-proof antimicrobial materials, and inventing rapid, low-cost diagnostic devices for COVID-19 and other infections. He has co-authored a book on machine learning for drug discovery, has multiple patents and over 130 publications, including papers in Science, Cell Host Microbe, Nature Biomedical Engineering, Nature Communications, PNAS, ACS Nano, Cell, Nature Chemical Biology, and Advanced Materials. 

Prof. de la Fuente is an NIH MIRA investigator and has received over 65 national and international awards for his work. He is an elected Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), as one of the youngest ever to be inducted. He was recognized by MIT Technology Review as one of the world’s top innovators for “digitizing evolution to make better antibiotics.” His many awards include the inaugural recipient of the Langer Prize, ACS Kavli Emerging Leader in Chemistry, AIChE’s 35 Under 35 Award, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Young Investigator Award, Thermo Fisher Award and many other young investigator and early career achievement awards. Most recently, he was selected as a National Academy of Medicine Emerging Leader in Health and Medicine.


Nicholas Frost, MD/PhD

University of Utah

Field of Study: Neurobiology

Distributed computations involving multiple brain regions underlie complex behaviors such as social interactions. Dr. Nicholas Frost's goal is to understand how multineuron activity which underlies these computations is altered in neurodevelopmental disorders and contributes to abnormal behavior. Throughout his scientific career he has utilized light microscopy to probe dynamic processes within the nervous system.

Dr. Frost completed his MD/PhD at the University of Maryland School of Medicine with Dr. Thomas Blanpied. There he collaborated with Dr. Eric Betzig to develop super-resolution techniques to measure actin polymerization at the synapse of living neurons with unprecedented resolution. Following completion of residency in adult neurology at UCSF in 2016, his postdoctoral work in the laboratory of Dr. Vikaas Sohal focused on two questions: First, how does abnormal synaptic function alter emergent properties of cortical networks and impair the encoding of relevant information during social behavior? Second, how is information relevant to different types of behavioral information encoded in parallel during behaviors?

He started his laboratory at the University of Utah in 2021. The lab uses transcriptomic and optical imaging methods to define heterogeneous cell populations which compose cortical representations of social, contextual, and anxiety-related information, and to understand how the dynamic recruitment and composition of these ensembles are altered in disease. As a neurologist he sees patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.  


AJ Hinton, PhD

Vanderbilt University

*Sponsored by Future Leaders Advancing Research in Endocrinology (FLARE) | Endocrine Society

Field of Study: Mitochondria/ Microscopy

Dr. Antentor Hinton, Jr. is a tenure-track Assistant Professor within Vanderbilt University’s Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics located within the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. In addition to being a member of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center, he is also an Ernest E. Just Early Career Investigator. Dedicated to unraveling the intricate molecular mechanisms governing insulin-mediated cristae dynamics, Dr. Hinton's research endeavors are generously funded by the United Negro College Fund/Bristol Myers Squibb, Burroughs Wellcome Fund through Career Awards at the Scientific Interface (CASI), and an NIH SRP, a small project awards for pilot research, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Pride to Increase Diversity among Individuals Engaged in Health-Related Research. Dr. Hinton recently received the esteemed Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Science Diversity Leadership Award for his innovative research on mitochondrial networks in human disease, as well as an NIH/NIDDK Basic Science Research Award.


Dr. Hinton is equally dedicated to mentoring and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion within the scientific community. In addition to his scientific papers, he has published 11 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education papers, 14 mentoring papers, and 20 career development, diversity, leadership, and enrichment papers. He has received a multitude of awards for his leadership in these arenas, including the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) IINSPIRE with the Excellence in Mentoring Award, the American Society of Cell Biology with the Mentoring Keynote Award, Vanderbuilt University’s Black Cultural Center’s UnSung Hero Award, United Negro College Fund (UNCF), and the Ernest E. Just Life Science Society to Black in Cell Molecular and Developmental Biology for outstanding leadership in the life sciences, and dozens of others. He serves on the Endocrine Society’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee and actively participates in the Partnering to Advance Imaging Research for Underrepresented Minority Scientists Program (PAIR-UP). Dr. Hinton has also been recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the 100 Black Culture Makers and Thought Leaders on the blacklist100.


Oleta Johnson, PhD

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Field of Study: Biochemistry/Neurodegenerative Diseases

Dr. Oleta Johnson, joined the Department of Chemistry as an Assistant Professor on August 1, 2023. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in 2013. In 2014, she joined the lab of Professor Amanda Garner at University of Michigan and developed chemical tools to study the conformational plasticity of an intrinsically disorder protein (IDP), 4E-BP1, and earned her PhD in Chemical Biology from University of Michigan in 2018. Dr. Johnson continued utilizing chemical tools to understand the relationship between protein dynamics and function as postdoctoral researcher with Professor Jason Gestwicki at University of California, San Francisco. In the Gestwicki Lab, she used chemical probes to study the mechanisms employed by molecular chaperone proteins to maintain protein homeostasis. Dr. Johnson’s research program at MIT is rooted in her unique expertise, using chemical and biophysical tools to dissect the relationship between protein dynamics and function. Specifically, the Johnson Lab uses chemistry and biophysics to understand and tune molecular chaperone protein DnaJB6 and its ability to suppress the toxic accumulation of proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s Disease and Parkinson’s disease.


LaQuita Jones, DO

Cincinnati Children's Hospital

*Sponsored by Eli Lilly and Company

Field of Study: Pediatric Oncology

Dr. LaQuita Jones is a Pediatric Oncologist, physician-scientist, and member of the leukemia/ lymphoma at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Upon entering her pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship, Dr. Jones knew she would focus her efforts on oncology, and she later decided to join a basic science laboratory as a second-year fellow. Now, she is fully immersed as a physician scientist. Her clinical interest and research focus is acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Her laboratory is interested in novel resistance mechanisms to targeted therapies in AML, and her group is currently focused on resistance in relapsed/refractory FLT3- mutant AML. In addition to drug resistance, Dr. Jones also has an interest in pharmacoequity, and she is co-leading the health equity efforts within the Division of Oncology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.


Catera Wilder, PhD

University of California, San Francisco

*Sponsored by Eli Lilly and Company

Field of Study: Immunology/ Bioengineering

Catera Wilder is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at the University of California San Francisco and a Chan Zuckerberg Biohub San Francisco Investigator. As a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, she received her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering (2016) studying matrix remodeling in breast cancer under the direction of Manu Platt. As a UCLA Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of Alexander Hoffmann (2016-2022), she focused on understanding innate immune and inflammatory responses by studying ISGF3 transcription factor dynamic regulation using a systems biology approach. Her work investigating the interferon signaling and transcriptional response has uncovered stimulus specific regulation of the interferon host defense system that is determined by coordinated stimulus-contingent positive feedback loops.

The overall goal of her research group is to uncover mechanisms causing immune-related pathogenesis during respiratory illnesses and to use this knowledge to engineer improved cell-based anti-viral and cancer therapies. To accomplish this, her group uses iterative systems biology approaches with experimental data and predictive, quantitative models to determine the spatial and temporal mechanisms that control interferon signaling, gene expression dynamics, and inflammation. She is also passionate about mentoring trainees and partnering with local high schools to improve STEM access to historically under-resourced areas. She is a recipient of the Initiating and Leading Efforts in Diversity and Equity Award from UCLA Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences due to her involvement in the initiation and execution of the outreach organization, QBio-EDGE.


Yvon Woappi, PhD

Columbia University

Field of Study: Regenerative Biology/ Bioengineering

Dr. Yvon Woappi (Pronounced: E-Von wah-PEE) is an Assistant Professor of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics, and the Endowed Herbert and Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Dermatology in the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. He equally holds a tertiary faculty appointment in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University. Yvon earned his B.S. in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh and his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences as a Grace Jordan McFadden Fellow at the University of South Carolina. He went on to complete his postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, studying skin stem cell renewal in wounds, inflammation, and cancer. He joined the faculty at Harvard Medical School in 2021 as an Instructor of Dermatology, then was recruited to Columbia University as an Assistant Professor in the Fall of 2022.

Yvon’s laboratory studies synthetic tissue regeneration, a systems bioengineering approach that manipulates cellular heterogeneity in tissue to enhance its regenerate function. Yvon’s research accomplishments have earned numerous distinctions, prizes, and awards, including the MIT Rising Star Award and designation among the “1000 Inspiring Black Scientists in America” by Cell Press News and the Community of Scholars. Yvon is also an inaugural recipient of the NIH MOSAIC fellowship from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and is an ardent proponent of inclusive excellence. 

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