Dean’s Early Career Research Excellence Awardees

July 27, 2021

Eric Hanse, Ph.D., Sarah Kark, Ph.D., and Giedre Milinkeviciute, Ph.D., are the recipients of this spring’s Dean’s Early Career Research Excellence Award. These awards were created to acknowledge the contributions of outstanding junior investigators whose research is fundamental to the mission of the UC Irvine Charlie Dunlop School of Biological Sciences.

Dr. Eric Hanse’s research focus is on understanding the biology of colorectal cancer (CRC). Specifically, he is interested in the Wingless and Int-1 (Wnt) signaling pathway as a therapeutic target for the disease, as it is estimated that up to 90% of CRC patients have disruptions in Wnt signaling. In a recent publication, he has helped identify that glutamine concentrations contribute to the advancement of CRC through Wnt and that supplementing glutamine or its subsequent metabolite, alpha-ketoglutarate, is sufficient to block Wnt signaling and tumor progression.

Dr. Sarah Kark is a Hewitt Foundation Post-doctoral Fellow in Dr. Michael Yassa’s Translational Neuroscience Laboratory. She investigates how the negative and positive experiences of our lives shape how we feel and remember. Her early research experience working to help 9/11-era Veterans with PTSD inspired her Ph.D. work on emotional memory at Boston College. Her Ph.D. work revealed how the brain forms memories for negative and positive experiences. At UCI, Dr. Kark recently published the first human investigation into the communication patterns of the paraventricular thalamic nucleus, a brain region known to be integral to emotion and memory in animals. Dr. Kark is currently investigating how the brain is impacted by child loss grief and early life adversity.

Dr. Kark is a leader in the broader scientific community and an advocate for inclusive excellence in STEM. She served as the President of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society Trainee Association, is an active participant in the UCI Dismantling Systemic Racism effort and is a contributor to LGBTQ+ in STEM visibility campaigns.

Dr. Giedre Milinkeviciute’s research addresses the role glia play in the development of neural connections. More specifically, she is investigating how microglia help establish the precise connections in the auditory brainstem necessary for sound localization. Her results have found that the depletion of microglia early during postnatal development disrupted synaptic pruning and astrocytic maturation in the auditory brainstem, leading to defects in auditory function. The observed deficiencies were largely corrected by microglial repopulation. Her results were recently published and describe for the first time the influence of microglia on central auditory circuit formation and refinement.