Nov. 2, 2000
Vol. 20 No. 4

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    Ashton-Rickardt receives presidential award

    By John Easton
    Medical Center Public Affairs

    President Clinton recently named Philip Ashton-Rickardt, Assistant Professor in Pathology, one of 59 young researchers to receive the fifth annual Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.

    The award, which Clinton established in 1996, is the highest honor bestowed by the federal government on young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers.

    Eight federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate the most meritorious young scientists and engineers who show promise of advancing the science and technology that will be of the greatest benefit to fulfilling the agencies’ missions.

    “These extraordinarily gifted young scientists and engineers represent the best in our country,” Clinton said. “Through their talent, ability and dedication, they will quicken the pace of discovery and put science and technology to work advancing the human condition as never before.”

    Ashton-Rickardt studies how the immune system’s T lymphocytes acquire an ability to discriminate between harmful foreign substances, such as bacteria or viruses, and normal cells, and after they acquire this ability, how they remember the encounter with a foreigner.

    He is particularly interested in “memory” T cells, the immune system components that can recognize a foreign substance, such as HIV, that they have encountered before and attack when they come into contact again. Recent studies from his laboratory have shown that it requires prolonged, continuous exposure to high levels of an intruder to create responsive memory T cells. Without strong stimulation for three to four days, few memory cells emerged. This finding suggests that the typical approach to vaccines for treatment of cancer or AIDS is not likely to produce the desired result. His research team is now searching for new ways to overcome this difficulty in order to make such vaccines more effective.

    The young scientists and engineers receive up to a five-year research grant to further their study in support of critical government missions. Ashton-Rickardt and his laboratory team will receive $500,000 over the next five years to continue their work.

    The federal agencies involved in the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers include: the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation.