Presidential Early Career Award goes to Philip Ashton-Rickardt

October 23, 2000

On October 23, 2000, President Clinton named Philip Ashton-Rickardt, PhD--assistant professor of pathology, a member of the Ben May Institute, and a researcher in the Gwen Knapp Center at the University of Chicago--as one of 59 young researchers to receive the fifth annual Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers. The researchers received their awards the next day in a White House ceremony.

These awards, established by President Clinton in February 1996, embody the high priority the Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers ready to contribute to all sectors of the economy. Eight Federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate the most meritorious young scientists and engineers who will broadly advance the science and technology that will be of the greatest benefit to fulfilling the agencies' missions.

"These extraordinarily gifted young scientists and engineers represent the best in our country," President Clinton said. "Through their talent, ability, and dedication, they will quicken the pace of discovery and put science and technology to work advancing the human condition as never before."

Ashton-Rickardt studies how the immune system's T lymphocytes acquire the ability of discriminate between harmful foreign substances, such as bacteria or viruses and normal cells--and after they acquire this ability, how they remember the encounter with a foreigner.

He is particularly interested in "memory" T cells, the immune system components that can recognize a foreign substance, such as HIV, that they have seen before and attack when they see it again. Recent studies from his laboratory have shown that it requires prolonged continuous exposure to high levels of an intruder to create responsive memory T cells. Without strong stimulation for three to four days, few memory cells emerged. This finding suggests that the typical approach to vaccines for treatment of cancer or AIDS is not likely to produce the desired result. His research team is now searching for new ways to overcome this difficulty in order to make such vaccines more effective.

The young scientists and engineers receive up to a five-year research grant to further their study in support of critical government missions. Ashton-Rickardt's laboratory will receive $500,000 over the next five years to continue their work.

The Federal agencies involved in PECASE include: the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation.

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