Waisman postdoctoral fellow receives prestigious Warren Alpert Distinguished Scholar Award

By Emily Leclerc, Waisman Science Writer

Yu (Kristy) Guo, PhD

Yu (Kristy) Guo, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Waisman investigator Xinyu Zhao, PhD, professor of neuroscience, was recently selected to receive the prestigious Warren Alpert Distinguished Scholar Award. This award is highly competitive with seven or fewer individuals selected from across the nation each year. The purpose is to support postdoctoral scientists of exceptional creativity in the field of neurosciences and assist them in transitioning from student to independent researcher by establishing their own lab and securing a full-time faculty position. “Kristy is a highly creative and productive scientist. In addition, she is a great colleague and a wonderful mentor for students from undergraduate to graduate levels. She is truly a role model for young scientists,” Zhao says.

Guo was selected by Robert N. Golden, MD, dean of the School of Medicine and Public Health to apply for the award. The dean can only pick one individual for the selection process and Zhao and Neuroscience Chair Betsy Quinlan, PhD, recommended that Guo be that choice. Guo was ecstatic to have been nominated but understandably unsure if she would be chosen. “When I learned I had been picked, I was so shocked because only five to seven people are chosen each year, nationwide,” Guo says. “I was crying and just so happy.”

The award funds two years of a research project to help facilitate the recipient’s transition to independent study.

Xinyu Zhao, PhD (Photo © Andy Manis)

Guo’s project is focused on functional screening of genes duplicated in Copy Number Variants (CNVs) implicated in autism. To date, more than 1000 genes and over 2000 CNVs have been reported in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, the pathogenic contributions of specific genes affected by ASD-associated duplications are still largely uncharacterized. Her hope is that this work will help provide a more comprehensive understanding of the gene regulatory network in autism and potentially identify new drug targets for ASD therapies. “Hopefully we can identify some very interesting gene candidates,” Guo says. “Then I can follow-up with those genes while I finish my postdoc training and then establish my own lab.”

Receiving the Warren Alpert award will hopefully make it easier for Guo to secure a faculty position and establish herself as an independent researcher. Guo is honored to have been selected and feels a sense of relief that this award will help pave her way forward. Guo is the second postdoctoral fellow at UW-Madison to receive this award. The first recipient, Jason Vevea, PhD, is now an independent investigator at St Jude Children’s hospital. “This award will help put her on the map,” Zhao says.


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