Thwarting Viruses, Restoring Speech

Faculty Members Rewarded for Creativity, Innovation

Quick Summary

  • 2 assistant professors each win $40,000 for research
  • Priya Shah: Putting proteomics to work in arbovirology
  • Sergey Stavisky: Engineering an alternative way to “talk”

How creative and innovative are the recipients of UC Davis’ 2022 Early Career Faculty Awards for Creativity and Innovation?

  • Chemical engineer and microbiologist Priya Shah is unraveling the essential aspects of arbovirus replication, aiming to thwart this  major source of emerging disease by identifying novel therapeutic targets.
  • Neuroscientist and neuroengineer Sergey Stavisky is developing a brain-computer interface to restore speech in people who, because of conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or stroke, have lost the ability to talk.

Each of these assistant professors has been awarded $40,000 for their projects, with funding from an endowment set up by anonymous donors. The awards, given annually since 2016, are designated for nontenured ladder-track faculty.

Priya Shah

Priya Shah headshot, UC Davis faculty
Priya Shah

She joined UC Davis in 2017 after having been a postdoctoral fellow at UC San Francisco since 2012. She earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering at UC Berkeley and Bachelor of Science degree, also in chemical engineering, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Selected as a Hellman Fellow in 2021, she holds dual appointments in the Department of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering, and the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, College of Biological Sciences, and also is affiliated with the Chemical Engineering Graduate Group and the BMCDB (biochemistry, and molecular, cellular and developmental biology) Graduate Group, as well as the Genome Center. Her award will go toward her project titled “Common Features of Arbovirus-Host Protein Interactions.”

“Viruses use physical interactions with host proteins to co-opt their functions for replication,” she explained in her abstract before zeroing in on arthropod-borne viruses, or arboviruses. Arthropods are invertebrates with exoskeletons, such as mosquitoes — an insect that she noted is relevant to this discussion of arbovirus transmission.

“Compared to a virus like SARS-CoV-2, in which most transmission is now human-to-human, arboviruses have to cycle between two very different species,” she said, referring to arthropods (as the vector) and humans.

“This raises the fundamental question, How do arboviruses physically hijack cellular processes to facilitate the same basic process of viral replication in two very different hosts?” Shah said she aims to answer the question by creatively applying proteomics to the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus. Proteomics allows researchers to look at all the proteins in a sample at once, including proteins that interact with each other. These protein interactions have the potential to be therapeutic targets, with the goal of interrupting viral transmission.

Sergey Stavisky

Sergey Stavisky headshot, UC Davis faculty
Sergey Stavisky

He joined the Department of Neurological Surgery in the School of Medicine in 2021 and serves as the co-director of the UC Davis Neuroprosthetics Lab. He was at Stanford University previously, earning his Ph.D. in neuroscience and then staying on as a postdoctoral fellow in the Neural Prosthetics Translational Laboratory, developing high-degree-of-freedom brain-machine interfaces to restore speech and complex arm movements. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Brown University

His Early Career Faculty Award for Creativity and Innovation will support his project titled “Restoring Lost Speech Using an Intracortical Brain-Computer Interface.”

“People who lose the ability to speak from conditions including ALS and stroke have an urgent and unmet need to restore their ability to communicate,” Stavisky wrote in his abstract.

He said the electronic device that he is developing “measures brain activity with high precision as the user tries to speak, instantaneously ‘decodes’ this activity, and then outputs the person’s intended speech using a computer.”

This “ambitious project,” he said, is possible at this time because of convergent advances across multiple disciplines. Further, the project will advance the emerging field of neuroengineering at UC Davis.

Stavisky is the scientific lead on a UC Davis Health clinical trial involving brain-computer interface to restore speech to people who have lost — or are losing — the ability to speak. Read our story about the trial, including eligibility criteria to participate..

Media Resources

Dateline Staff: Dave Jones, editor, 530-752-6556,; Cody Kitaura, News and Media Relations specialist, 530-752-1932,


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