LAURELS: Scholar Award Supports Collins’ Cancer Research

Sean Collins in lab
Cancer researcher Sean Collins, recipient of a $200,000 Kimmel Scholar award, uses automated microscopy to understand immune cell migration. (Fred Greaves/UC Davis photo)


  • Collins’ $200,000 award is one of the last from the Sidney Kimmel Foundation
  • Klaus van Benthem, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, receives Richard M. Fulrath Award from the American Ceramic Society
  • New fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering: David Rocke, Kent Leach, Atul Parikh and Tingrui Pan
  • Professor Michael Kapovich, Department of Mathematics, named a Simons Fellows in Mathematics and Theoretical Physics
  • Collegiate Sports Video Association honors Timothy Ornelas, director of UC Davis Athletics video services
  • Eric Mussen elected president of Western Apicultural Society for his sixth term since 1984

UC Davis’ Sean Collins is among 15 Kimmel Scholars for 2017, recognized by the Sidney Kimmel Foundation as being among “the brightest young cancer researchers.” Each scholar receives a two-year, $200,000 award for his or her research.

Collins, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, seeks to understand how immune cells process information, make decisions and respond to threats within the human body. His research explores the basic molecular mechanisms that allow immune cells to navigate to infection sites.

Immune cells also help defend the body against tumors. However, in order to fight infections or tumors, the cells must first find the right location in the body, and the path to get there can be complicated.

“By identifying key principals and molecular pieces, we hope to reengineer these processes to direct immune cells to tumor locations,” Collins said.

The hope is that by guiding the “seek and destroy” ability of these immune cells, in combination with other therapeutic strategies, they will be able to more effectively target and destroy tumors.


“I’ve spent most of my career so far focused on understanding basic mechanisms like how a cell processes information about its environment,” Collins said, “but this is a new direction to try and apply some of those findings in a direct, medically-relevant way to help develop strategies for cancer therapy.”

Wolf-Dietrich Heyer, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, described Collins as a rising star with a bright future. “Professor Collins’ work is an elegant combination of cutting-edge cell biology paired with rigorous quantitative analysis and creative mathematical modeling,” he said. “His focus on immune cells will provide the underpinning for novel approaches in harnessing the body’s immune system in anti-cancer therapy.”

The Sidney Kimmel Foundation began its Kimmel Scholars Program 20 years ago, committing more than $65 million in awards to 292 researchers (including one other UC Davis faculty member, Ken Kaplan, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, a Kimmel Scholar in 2001). 

This year’s class of scholars is the last. “After 20 years, the foundation has achieved its goal of opening pathways for young investigators,” reads a statement on the foundation’s website. “Today there are numerous programs offering similar awards that did not exist when the Kimmel Scholars Program began.”

Klaus van Benthem, associate professor, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, is the recipient of a Richard M. Fulrath Award from the American Ceramic Society. The Fulrath awards recognize excellence in research and development of ceramic materials, and promote connections between American and Japanese scientists and engineers. The awards are presented at the society’s annual meeting, and U.S. recipients also attend next year’s meeting of the Ceramic Society of Japan and visit Japanese universities and industrial laboratories.

Four more faculty of the Department of Biomedical Engineering have been inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. The department now has 14

The new fellows are David Rocke, distinguished professor; Kent Leach and Atul Parikh, professors; and Tingrui Pan, associate professor. The induction ceremony took place in Washington, D.C., in March, during the institute’s annual meeting.

Fellows of the institute are described as accomplished leaders in their field who have made transformative contributions to the medical and biological engineering community in academia, industry, government and education.

With the new inductions, the Department of Biomedical Engineering has 14 members in teen others in the department who are members of the institute’s College of Fellows.

Professor Michael Kapovich, Department of Mathematics, has been named among the 2017 Simons Fellows in Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. The Simons Foundation awards the fellowships for up to a semester of research leave from classroom teaching and administrative obligations.

The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences announced the recipients of the Harry and Eleanor Walker Academic Advising Awards for 2017: Emma Martinez, staff advisor; Louie Yang, faculty advisor; and Carly Tyer, peer advisor.

“We had an amazing pool of candidates this year, and it was difficult to identify only one awardee in each category,” said Susan Ebeler, associate dean for undergraduate academic programs.

The awards are named, in part, after the late Harry O. Walker, a professor in the Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources for more than 40 years, who was a strong supporter of advising and served as a master advisor for undergraduate students.

Here is more about each honoree:

  • Martinez — Staff advisor for majors in the Department of Animal Science, including animal science, animal science and management, and the agricultural and environmental education majors. The selection committee cited her depth of contributions to academic advising, her innovation in the development of “advising refreshers” for students and faculty, and her strong advocacy for students.
  • Yang — Associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology. He was selected for the faculty advising award because of his focus on student diversity, helping students link their academic studies to research and other career goals, and for his innovative programs connecting high school students with undergraduate and graduate student mentors.
  • Tyer — Peer advisor for the biotechnology major. She was selected for her commitment to student diversity and community, and for her innovative contributions to academic advising, including the Speed Advising event and Course Commentary Forum, and for her impressive ability to connect students to advising resources.

They will be honored at a reception from 4:30 to 6 p.m. today (May 2) in the Sensory Theatre of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

Suzana Sawyer, associate professor of anthropology, recently received two fellowships to support her project of researching and writing a book about a long-running court battle against Chevron over pollution in Ecuador.

The American Council of Learned Societies named Sawyer a 2017 ACLS Fellow, awarding her a $50,000 stipend to allow her to focus full time on her book, Suing Chevron: Law, Science and Contamination in Ecuador and Beyond. The 2017 ACLS Fellows are 71 in number, scholars in the humanities and social sciences selected from a pool of nearly 1,200 applicants nationwide.

Her other award is a 2017-18 University of California President’s Faculty Research Fellowship in the Humanities.

Read more about Sawyer’s book topic in the story from the College of Letters and Science.

Tim Ornelas

Timothy Ornelas, director of UC Davis Athletics video services, is the recipient of the Mike Dougherty NFL Scholarship from the Collegiate Sports Video Association. The scholarship will provide assistance for his attending the association’s annual conference to be held May 15-18 in Atlanta.

Ornelas is entering his fifth football season as director of the video department with responsibilities that include filming and editing of practice and game footage, as well as opponent scouting. In addition, he and his student staff are responsible for the organization and maintenance of a video database used by student-athletes and coaches to prepare for game days.

Besides football duties, Ornelas and his staff produce live streams and coaches’ video for men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, gymnastics, lacrosse, men’s and women’s water polo, and baseball.

Eric Mussen, Cooperative Extension apiculturist emeritus, has been elected president of the Western Apicultural Society for his sixth term since 1984. That means he will be at the helm of the society when it returns to its UC Davis roots for its 40th annual conference, Sept. 5-8.

The society was the brainchild of Norm Gary, UC Davis professor emeritus, and was co-founded by him, Mussen and Becky Westerdahl, then a postdoctoral associate in the Gary lab and now an extension nematologist at UC Davis.

Read more about Mussen and the founding of the society.

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