2009 Vilcek Prize Finalists

Prize Recipients

2009 Vilcek Dropdown Arrows

The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science

Katerina Akassoglou, Ph.D.

Dr. Katerina Akassoglou is a pioneer in the investigation of fibrin (an insoluble fibrous protein) and fibrinogen (a plasma protein produced in the liver) and the role they in various neuropathological states. For this work, she was awarded the 2006 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. An Associate Investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, and an Associate Professor at the Department of Neurology at UC San Francisco, Dr. Akassoglou has also been lauded for her breakthrough discovery of the role played by a neurotrophin receptor in cell differentiation, which is critical for tissue repair. Dr. Akassoglou takes a multifaceted approach to her research, incorporating animal modeling, histopathology, microscopy, tissue culture, and biochemistry techniques. Her goal is to design novel therapeutic approaches in the fields of neurobiology, inflammation, and tissue repair.

Born in Athens, Greece, Dr. Akassoglou received her BS in Biology and PhD in Neurobiology at the University of Athens. She was trained in neuropathology at the University of Vienna, before completing her postdoctoral work at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In addition to the PECASE award, in 2008, Dr. Akassoglou became the fourth female in sixty years to receive the John J. Abel Award, given to a single, young investigator for original, outstanding research contributions in the field of pharmacology.

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science

Evgeny Nudler, Ph.D.

For Moscow-born Evgeny Nudler, the fall of the Soviet Union undermined all his personal and professional foundations. The cornerstone of his new life was laid when he was accepted as a graduate student at New York University, where he began quickly to build a strong reputation in his chosen field of study, biochemistry. By age thirty-six he had become the youngest full professor in the history of the institution; a year later, he had been named the Julie Wilson Anderson Professor of Biochemistry at the New York University School of Medicine. There, today, Dr. Nudler and his staff conduct research on transcription mechanisms in bacteria and eukaryotes, stress response in bacteria and eukaryotes, biochemistry and physiology of nitric oxide in bacteria and eukaryotes, and the molecular mechanisms of aging. The potential outcome of these projects is the development of new cancer drugs, better vaccines, and ways to slow the process of aging.

Dr. Nudler received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Institute of Molecular Genetics at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. He completed his postdoctoral training in Molecular Biology at the Public Health Research Institute in New York. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Society of Microbiology. He received the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Pioneer Award and was named by Crain’s New York Business as one of its “Forty under 40” in 2008.

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science

F. Nina Papavasiliou, Ph.D.

The research province of Dr. F. Nina Papavasiliou is a process in the human body called somatic hypermutation, a positive form of mutagenesis. Dr. Papavasiliou earned her undergraduate degree in biology from Oberlin (Ohio) College, with a minor in German literature. But her direction was clearly science, and in 1998 she went on to pursue graduate studies in molecular immunology at The Rockefeller University, in New York City. Subsequently, at Yale University, where she conducted her postdoctoral research, she gained expertise in biochemistry and identified the focus of her future work. Her postdoctoral fellowship at an end, Dr. Papavasiliou returned to The Rockefeller University as assistant professor and head of the Laboratory of Lymphocyte Biology. There, Dr. Papavasiliou chose to investigate the processes in the body that have harnessed the power of mutation for beneficial purposes, rather than follow a more common line of study, mutations in the human genome that lead to inherited abnormalities as well as malignancies. Dr. Papavasiliou is also interested in the evolution of hypermutation, having discovered that several organisms use the process as a weapon against viruses. To that end, she and her staff have been researching how enzymes called cytidine deaminases mediate both somatic hypermutation and innate antiviral responses.

Dr. Papavasiliou was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. She was a 2002 Keck Fellow and a 2003 Searle Scholar; and in 2005, she received the Sinsheimer Fund Scholar Award.

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science

Aviv Regev, Ph.D.

Computational biologist Aviv Regev combines biology, computer science, and mathematics in her investigations of how complex molecular networks function and evolve in the face of genetic and environmental changes. In 2007, for example, Dr. Regev, a core faculty member at the Broad Institute and an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at MIT, was involved in a study of the life cycle of the malaria parasite, following the discovery that this complicated organism assumes three distinct states in the blood of infected children, two previously unknown and one especially pernicious - findings that may lead to new antimalaria drugs.

Born in Israel, Dr. Regev studied for a direct M.Sc. at the Interdisciplinary Program for the Fostering of Excellence at Tel Aviv University. For her doctoral research, undertaken at the Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, Israel, she developed (in collaboration with Eva Jablonka at Tel Aviv University and Ehud Shapiro at the Weizmann Institute) a novel representation language for biomolecular processes, based on computer process algebra. Dr. Regev also has been a fellow at the Bauer Center for Genomics Research at Harvard University. She received the Burroughs Welcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface, to support her research on the function and evolution of molecular networks, and the 2008 Overton Prize from the International Society for Computational Biology. Dr. Regev maintains close professional ties to her native Israel, where she established and directed a bioinformatics R&D team at QBI, a functional genomics company.

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in The Arts

Almudena Carracedo

When Almudena Carracedo arrived at the UCLA Film School in 2000, to work on her doctoral dissertation on U.S./Mexico border documentaries, she found much in California and surrounding areas to catch her filmmaker’s eye. A recent arrival to the United States herself, from Madrid, Spain, she was especially drawn to the experiences of immigrants. An early target of her director’s lens was the border town Tijuana, profiled in Welcome: A Docu-Journey of Impressions, which won a Sterling Award for best short documentary film at the AFI/Discovery Channel’s Silverdocs International Documentary Festival, and Special Mention of the Jury at the Mediafest International Film Festival. Her first feature-length documentary, Made in L.A., brought Ms. Carracedo even greater recognition. In tracing the story of three Latina immigrants who labor in the garment sweatshops of a trendy L.A. women’s clothing retailer, and their three-year campaign to secure basic labor protections, Ms. Carracedo put a memorable human face on an issue too often relegated to media soundbites and then quickly forgotten. Made in L.A., which premiered in 2007 on the PBS series POV, received widespread critical acclaim and won numerous awards, most notably an Emmy and a Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film and Digital Media by the Council on Foundations.

Ms. Carracedo is the 2008 recipient of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers’ ESTELA Award, and is a recent fellow of NALIP’s Latino Producers Academy.

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in The Arts

Amin Matalqa

In 1989, at age thirteen, Amin Matalqa moved with his family from Jordan to the suburbs of Columbus Ohio, where he grew up and was educated. Suppressing a childhood desire to make movies, Mr. Matalqa launched a career in telecommunications. Five years spent selling technology solutions to corporate America proved enough to reignite his passion for filmmaking, and in 2003 he moved to Los Angeles to chase his dream. While attending the American Film Institute, he made twenty-plus short films and began writing feature screenplays. While still working on his MFA, he directed his first feature film, Captain Abu Raed. The movie, a sensitively rendered portrait of a janitor at the Amman airport who is mistaken for an airline pilot by a group of poor city kids, has already won numerous prizes, among them the Sundance World Cinema Audience and Best Director at the Seattle International Film Festival. The film’s two main performers, Nadim Sawalha and Rana Sultan, also took home Best Actor and Best Actress awards from the Dubai International Film Festival. Captain Abu Raed also has been selected as Jordan’s Academy Award entry for Best Foreign Film.

With his penchant for blending drama, comedy, and suspense, it is not surprising that Mr. Matalqu is a lifelong fan of Charlie Chaplin. He describes his next project as an American fantasy-comedy.

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in The Arts

Kirill Mikhanovsky

A truly international filmmaker, Kirill Mikhanovsky was born in Moscow, moved to the United States as a teenager, and made his first feature film in Brazil. He began his movie career as an actor in short films made by fellow students at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, but he soon migrated to the other side of the camera. In 1995, Mr. Mikhanovsky saw Pedro Almodovar’s movie, The Flower of My Secret, featuring the Brazilian songstress Caetano Velosa. Inspired by the music to spend time in Brazil, Mr. Mikhanovsky decided to set his first feature in a tiny village there, on the northeastern coast. In Sonhos de Peixe (Fish Dreams), Mr. Mikhanovsky directed an almost entirely amateur cast to tell the story of Jusce, a young fisherman who barely makes a living diving for lobster, and looks forward only to spending time with his love, Ana, at the end of each day. The breakthrough film premiered during Critic’s Week at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006, and won the Prix Regards Jeunes, among other prizes.

Mr. Mikhanovsky earned his MFA from New York University’s Graduate Film Program in film production, with a focus on directing and cinematography. Terra Terra, his first short, which he both wrote and directed, was invited to numerous festivals. Inhale, Exhale, a documentary short, made in 2002, received the Audience Award at the annual NYU Showcase at the Directors’ Guild of America.

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in The Arts

Shih-Ching Tsou

Born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, Shih-Ching Tsou came to New York to do graduate work in media studies at the New School. There she met Sean Baker, with whom she would work on his first feature film, Four Letter Words. A partnership developed, with Acts of Worship, a behind-the-scenes featurette. It was their next project, the full-length feature, Take Out, that brought co-directors Ms. Tsou and Mr. Baker to the attention of the film industry. Take Out is a day-in-the-life rendering of an illegal Chinese immigrant, Ming Ding, who delivers Chinese take-out in New York City; he is counting on the tip money he earns from Upper West Siders to pay back a huge debt he owes to the smugglers who brought him to the United States - money he has been told he must deliver by day’s end. The film’s realism is thanks to interviews Ms. Tsou and Mr. Baker conducted with illegals in New York and time spent observing the action in the storefront restaurant where they shot Take Out.

Take Out debuted at the 2004 Slamdance Film Festival and has been screened at more than 25 other festivals. It won the Regal Cinemas Dreammaker Award and Best Feature award at the Nashville Film Festival. Ms. Tsou is teaming up again with Mr. Baker to co-direct their second feature, Left-Handed Girl.

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