Joining Centre College’s already remarkable list of alumni boasting prestigious, post-graduate awards is Jeff SoRelle ’10, who was selected as an HHMI Medical Research Fellow, a highly competitive fellowship offered by Howard Hughes Medical Institute that allows students to focus on a research project full-time in an effort to expand the nation’s pool of medical-scientists.
According to the HHMI website, the organization invested $666 million in 2015 for U.S. biomedical research and $85 million in science education. Their mission is to fund research by thought leaders, giving them the freedom to explore innovative approaches and encourage collaboration.
“In addition to a stipend, they also provide a budget for travel to scientific meetings across the nation, which includes an HHMI Investigator’s meeting,” SoRelle says. “This meeting is like going to Hollywood for scientists, because everywhere you look there are rockstars of science. Only HHMI investigators, one guest, and the HHMI Med fellows are invited, so there is a high density of inspirational role models.”
SoRelle spent a year working in the lab of Dr. Bruce Beutler, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to the field of innate immunity. The research was conducted at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where SoRelle is a fourth-year medical student applying to residency in pathology.
“Innate immunity is the branch of our immune system that defends against pathogens by recognizing ancient molecular patterns that are specific to bacteria and viruses,” SoRelle explains. “[Beutler’s] lab uses genetic techniques to randomly mutate mice so that their genome is uniquely different, then we test each mouse to determine if these induced-mutations disrupt the proper function of the immune system.
“I decided to look for genes that cause allergic disease by injecting mice with an allergen, then measuring the antibody response to it,” SoRelle continues. “This led to us finding several new genes with previously unknown function in allergic disease. As I finish up work in the lab, I will confirm these mutations and explore how they contribute to exacerbated allergic responses, so that perhaps we can prevent people from getting allergies in the first place.”
This wasn’t the first time SoRelle has had the opportunity to work with the world-renowned Beutler. In 2012, he received the Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship, awarded nationally by Alpha Omega Alpha—what SoRelle refers to as “the Phi Beta Kappa of med school.” SoRelle deferred enrollment at the UT Southwestern Medical Center from 2010 to 2011 in order to conduct research at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. His research at Baylor examined ways to transplant certain insulin-producing regions of the pancreas in an effort to cure Type 1 diabetes.
SoRelle credits Centre for contributing to the solid foundation on which he’s building his stellar medical career.
“I love the education Centre gave to me,” SoRelle says. “The writing skills I learned (even in science classes) really helped when writing the grant proposal necessary to receive the award.”
While a student at Centre, SoRelle was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, as well as Omicron Delta Kappa, national honor society for leadership. He received the Organic Chemistry Award and, as a member of the tennis team, was named to the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Academic Honor Roll.
Complete information about the HHMI Medical Research Fellow program is available here.
Above: Jeff SoRelle ’10 accepts his HHMI Medical Research Fellow certificate at the Medical Fellows meeting from closing keynote speaker Elizabeth Nabel, M.D., president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and program alumnus, physician-scientist Goutham Narla, M.D., Ph.D. of Case Western Reserve University.
by Cindy Long
March 1, 2016