Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences

DGP Graduate John Brooks Awarded HHMI Hanna H. Gray Fellowship


By Danielle Fanslow
Photo credit Brandon Wade

This year, John Brooks was awarded the opportunity of a lifetime to pursue his career as an independent academic scientist. The recent graduate from the Driskill Graduate Program and current post-doctoral fellow at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center was a recipient of the prestigious Hanna H. Gray Fellowship. The fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute provides 15 newly appointed post-doctoral fellows with over eight years of grant funding totaling over $1 million for their post-doctoral research and the initial years of their tenure-track faculty research. The fellowship is awarded to outstanding young researchers who have the potential to make significant contributions to a wide variety of life science disciplines, with an emphasis on scientists who are underrepresented in their fields. “I have been given the rare opportunity to explore my own research questions without restraint as a postdoctoral fellow,” says John. “This privilege will be instrumental in my development as an independent scientist and will help me further define my unique scientific perspective.”

John’s research focuses on the symbiotic relationship between microbes and their hosts. At UT Southwestern, John works with Dr. Lora Hooper to understand how our gut microbiota interacts with our biological clock to regulate our metabolism. His research opens the possibility for probiotic therapies for obesity and obesity-related illnesses. “For some time now, we have known that the microbiota contributes to obesity and obesity-related phenotypes. However, we are just beginning to define how the microbiota interfaces with host metabolism to promote this phenomenon. It is a really exciting time to be in the field!” John is grateful to have support from Dr. Hooper and his fellow colleagues as he pursues his innovative research project. “I’ve been given the opportunity to work with an incredible group of scientists that I am able to learn from each day.”

John also credits his success to the amazing mentorship and training he received as a graduate student at Northwestern, where he worked with Dr. Mark Mandel in the Department of Microbiology-Immunology. In the Mandel lab, John explored how hosts acquire microbes from their environment using the unique model system of Hawaiian Bobtail squid. In addition to his thesis work, John was a part of the Cell and Molecular Basis of Disease training program and volunteered for Science Club. Both experiences helped him to communicate science to different audiences. He feels these experiences at Northwestern also helped him prepare for his post-doctoral work and the Hanna H. Gray Fellowship.

John’s long-term goal has always been to develop an independent research lab in academia. The Hanna H. Gray fellowship will make John a highly attractive candidate for limited tenure-track positions. As such he will have the opportunity to develop his scientific perspective and become a leader in his field. “Being awarded the Hanna H. Gray Fellowship has given me an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment.”