2023 Dennis Shields Postdoctoral Winners Honored

The Belfer Institute for Advanced Biomedical Studies celebrated the 19th annual Dennis Shields Postdoctoral Research Prizes on Oct. 24 during an event that honored two scientists whose research and published work exemplify excellence in their fields.

This year's winners were Weihan Li, Ph.D., and Peiqi Yin, Ph.D., both in the department of cell biology.

“Postdoctoral fellows are one of key components of Einstein’s research success, playing a vital role in our labs and driving pioneering science,” said Anne Bresnick, Ph.D., associate dean for postdoctoral affairs and director of the Belfer Institute. “Although the Shields Prize is just one of our annual events that celebrate postdocs, it is a special opportunity to acknowledge two postdocs for their distinctive contributions to research.” Dr. Bresnick is also professor of biochemistry at Einstein and associate director for cancer research training and education at the National Cancer Institute-designated Montefiore Einstein Comprehensive Cancer Center.

At the event, which was held in the LeFrak Auditorium at the Michael F. Price Center/Block Pavilion, Dr. Bresnick greeted the audience of faculty, students, staff, and postdocs. Yaron Tomer, M.D., the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz dean at Einstein and chief academic officer at Montefiore Medicine, presented each investigator with a check for $5,000.

The annual award, established in 2004, was renamed for Dennis Shields, Ph.D., who was a professor of developmental and molecular biology and of anatomy and structural biology at Einstein for 30 years until his death in 2008. “It's so important that we maintain traditions such as this event,” Dr. Bresnick told the audience. “Dennis was a true champion for postdocs, and these prizes honor his memory and the legacy he established as the first director of the Belfer Institute.”

The two honorees presented their published research during the event.

Dr. Li’s work was conducted in the laboratory of Robert Singer, Ph.D., professor of cell biology, professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience, and director of Einstein’s Program in RNA Biology. Dr. Li’s research, published in Nature Methods in November 2022, focuses on RNA imaging, which reveals the spatial regulation of gene expression.

Dr. Li and his colleagues found that conventional tags for imaging mRNA molecules can potentially destabilize the tagged mRNA, causing misinterpretation of the imaging data. To eliminate such undesired effects, the researchers devised an improved system that counteracts the tag-induced destabilization. This system allows researchers to image mRNAs with minimal disturbance of the mRNAs’ stability.

Dennis was a true champion for postdocs. These prizes honor his memory and the legacy he established as the first director of the Belfer Institute.

Anne Bresnick,, Ph.D.

Dr. Yin’s research was performed in the lab of Margaret Kielian, Ph.D., professor of cell biology and the Samuel H. Golding Chair in microbiology. In his study, published in Nature Microbiology in August 2023, Dr. Yin found that the Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) can spread directly from an infected cell to uninfected neighboring cells via long, virus-induced intercellular extensions. The extensions shield CHIKV from neutralizing antibodies, enabling it to safely and efficiently travel from one cell to another. CHIKV is an emerging alphavirus that can cause severe chronic arthritis in humans.