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Three of 25 Science Diversity Leadership Awards Come to Duke

Medicine and A&S faculty recognized by Chan Zuckerberg Initiative for their research and mentoring

(L-R) Lawrence David, Chantell Evans and Gustavo Silva have been recognized for their research and diversity efforts.
(L-R) Lawrence David, Chantell Evans and Gustavo Silva have been recognized for their research and diversity efforts.

Two researchers from Duke University School of Medicine and one from Duke’s Department of Biology have been named recipients of the 2022 Science Diversity Leadership Awards from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Lawrence David, PhD, associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology; Chantell Evans, PhD, assistant professor of cell biology; and Gustavo Silva, PhD, assistant professor of biology, were among 25 awardees named nationwide. Each grant recipient will be awarded a total of $1.15 million over five years.

Launched this year in partnership with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, The Science Diversity Leadership program recognizes the leadership and scientific accomplishments of excellent biomedical researchers who — through their outreach, mentoring, and teaching — have a record of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in their scientific fields.

Lawrence David’s project, “Sharing Open Source Software for Biomarker-Based Analysis of Diet,” will distribute open source bioinformatic tools and resources for analyzing biomarkers of food intake. These biomarkers can in turn can be used to study the origins and management of autoimmune, metabolic, and cardiovascular diseases.

“We are developing diet-tracking tools that are designed to overcome some of the barriers that underserved communities can face when completing traditional dietary surveys, like age, literacy, cultural background, potential anxiety due to stigmas around body weight, and time burdens,” David said. His project will bring these tools to researchers around the world through a series of workshops.

Chantell Evans’ project, “Investigating the Role of Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Neurodegenerative Diseases,” will investigate the breakdown of energy-producing mitochondria in neuron cells, hopefully offering new insights into neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, ALS, and Alzheimer’s.

“This unique award gives me the opportunity to not only advance my research, it also supports my equity and inclusion efforts at Duke,” said Evans, who is also a Duke Science & Technology scholar.

Gustavo Silva’s project, “Deciphering the Functional Ubiquitinome in Health and Disease,” focuses on the cellular underpinnings of Nascimento Syndrome, a recently described and poorly understood set of symptoms including severe learning disabilities and motor coordination issues. Nascimento syndrome is known to be associated with a mutation in a gene called UBE2A, which is a regulator of cellular health.  

“When we look at an affected individual, we only see the final stage, the effect of all the integrated cellular processes that culminated in these particular symptoms,” Silva said. “But we don't know how we got there, what are the key events, or how the initial steps in this downstream cascade affect the whole organism.”  

Silva, who is the director of a Provost-sponsored and faculty-led initiative at Duke called Black Think Tank, said he is humbled and excited to be part of the CZI Initiative’s inaugural cohort in this diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) program. 

“It’s really good to see the work that I've done in the DEI space also being professionally valued and appreciated, not only because I do it, but because I care about it,” Silva said.