next-generation immunology VKS Events ePanel funding

Michelson Prizes, Next-Generation Grants ePanel Features Rising Stars in Immunology & Vaccine Innovation

On May 14, 2024, Keystone Symposia hosted a live ePanel event featuring the recipients of the Michelson Prizes: Next-Generation Grants, an international prize that provides $150,000 in funding to young investigators at a time in their careers when it is most difficult to secure funding for innovative work.  These Next-Generation Grants aim to encourage and support early-career researchers who are applying disruptive concepts and inventive processes to advance human immunology, vaccine discovery, and immunotherapy research. The prize has been awarded annually since 2017, as a collaboration between the Michelson Medical Research Foundation and the Human Immunome Project.

The ePanel event showcases the 2023 award recipients, Drs. Dennis Schaefer-Babajew, Claire Otero, and Siyuan Ding and their groundbreaking work in vaccine and antibody protection against viruses. (Read more about their innovative work below)  Each presented their award-winning research and participated in a live Q&A panel discussion.

Introductory remarks featured by Dr. Gary Michelson, founder and co-chair of Michelson Philanthropies and the Michelson Medical Research Foundation, and Dr. Hans Keirstead, president and CEO of the Human Immunome Project.

Watch the event recording below! 


Applications for the 2024 Michelson Prizes are now open, until June 9!

For more information, visit:  &


CAT_Winners (2)


Dennis Schaefer-Babajew profile

Dennis Schaefer-Babajew, MD

Clinical Scholar, Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, Rockefeller University 

Antibody Feedback Regulation of Adaptive Immunity to Cognate Antigen

Biological systems are often regulated through feedback loops. Dr. Schaefer-Babajew explores the issue of antibody feedback regulation on adaptive immune responses. The impact of prevalent viral-specific Ab responses on nascent immune responses has been suggested, although mechanisms associated with this interplay are not identified. This proposed research provides an approach that can lead to a mechanism.  As most infections and vaccinations are serial in nature rather than a single exposure, this research is poised to have significant implications for our understanding of adaptive immunity against infections and for vaccine design.

Dr. Schaefer-Babajew received his MD from the Heidelberg University School of Medicine in Germany, where he was also awarded a doctorate in Immunology (Dr. med.) in 2019. In 2020, he started his postdoctoral studies at the Rockefeller University. He has since transitioned to an instructor position in the Rockefeller University Clinical Scholars program, where he was named a Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Institute for Global Infectious Disease Research Clinical Scholar in 2023 and where he currently serves as one of the Chief Scholars.

Claire Otero profile

Claire Otero, PhD 

Postdoctoral Associate in Pediatrics, Weill Cornell Medical College

Viral Fc receptors as vaccine antigens for prevention of congenital CMV

About 1 in 200 babies in the US are born with congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV). The most common symptom of congenital CMV is hearing loss, but other more severe neurodevelopmental deficits happen as well. CMV is also a very problematic infection in the transplant setting, raising the risk of graft rejection. There is currently no approved CMV vaccine. Dr. Otero aims to overcome one of the key challenges in creating an effective vaccine for CMV by blocking this important immune evasion mechanism through vaccination to improve antiviral Fc-mediated immunity. CMV is a common disease that can prove deadly for those with weakened immune systems. If successful, the completion of the proposed experiments would significantly impact a very important aspect of human health and an area where no efficient vaccines are available. 

Dr. Claire Otero received her B.S. in Chemistry from the College of Idaho and her Ph.D. from Duke University. She is currently a Postdoctoral Associate at Weill Cornell Medicine, training under Dr. Sallie Permar. 

Siyuan Ding profile

Siyuan Ding, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University

Immunogenicity and protective efficacy of rotavirus-ETEC dual vaccines

Infectious diarrhea kills more children each day than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. Rotavirus and enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) are the leading viral and bacterial agents of diarrhea in infants, respectively, causing over 300,000 deaths annually worldwide. Current rotavirus vaccine efficacy is limited, and no licensed vaccine is available for ETEC.  In a key technical advance, Dr. Ding’s lab developed highly efficient reverse genetics systems and constructed live-attenuated rotaviruses that encode an immunogenic subunit of the ETEC heat-labile toxin. He will test the immunogenicity and protective efficacy of this rotavirus-ETEC dual vaccine candidate. 

Dr. Siyuan Ding received his bachelor’s degree in Biological Science from Fudan University in Shanghai. He then received doctoral training at Yale University, working on hepatitis B virus and type III interferon signaling. Dr. Ding then conducted postdoctoral training at Stanford University, studying rotavirus infection and intestinal immunity. He started his independent research lab as an Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis at the end of 2019.  

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