Ivanovic Receives 2017 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

photo: Mike Lovett

Assistant Professor of Biochemistry Tijana Ivanovic has received a 2017 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. This award is part of the NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, designed to fund early career investigators who propose innovative and potentially transformative projects. Ivanovic will receive $1,500,000 in direct costs over five years to spearhead a research program aimed at comprehensively characterizing molecular changes in the viral cell-entry protein hemagglutinin (HA) that define pandemic influenza viruses. With the generated insights, Ivanovic hopes to ultimately be in a position to predict the pandemic potential of influenza viruses circulating in nature.

HA densely covers the influenza virion surface, where it allows the virus to both recognize and penetrate (fuse with) the cells of its host. HA is also a key target of neutralizing antibodies that protect us from influenza infection. An influenza pandemic is characterized by the adaptation of a new HA subtype to cell entry into human cells (of what was originally an avian virus). Without the pre-existing immunity to protect us, the virus quickly spreads around the globe. During pandemic adaptation, both HA functions in target-cell recognition and membrane fusion undergo key molecular changes. Ivanovic will use a custom-built Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence Microscope (TIRFM) to visualize, in real time, individual virus particles as they engage and fuse with target cell membranes. This system will allow her to obtain large-scale quantitative information about distinct HA functions at an unprecedented level of detail. She will compare avian viruses with their evolutionary offspring that infected humans, including past pandemic strains. She hopes to develop models for predicting which viruses will lead to a major flu outbreak.

Ivanovic obtained a PhD in virology from Harvard University and carried out postdoctoral research with Stephen Harrison in molecular biophysics. She integrates these diverse backgrounds in her laboratory, where members are trained across these two and other synergistic areas (such as laser microscope optics, and analytical and computational modeling). The funds from the New Innovator award have created new opportunities for hiring, and the lab is actively recruiting postdocs, PhD students (from the Biochemistry and Biophysics, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Physics graduate programs) and undergraduate researchers to undertake this ambitious program.

2 New Faculty Members Join Biochemistry

Tijana Ivanovic and Maria-Eirini Pandelia have joined the Biochemistry department. Both of the new faculty members will begin at Brandeis in January 2016.

tijana_photoTijana Ivanovic, is currently a postdoc at Harvard Medical School.  Stephen C. Harrison is her advisor. She received her PhD in Virology from HMS and her BS in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from UCLA.

Her research focuses on uncovering fundamental molecular mechanisms of virus translocation across biological membranes, in the distinct contexts of enveloped-virus membrane fusion and nonenveloped-virus membrane penetration.  She applies and develops advanced biophysical and biochemical approaches and combines them with those of virology, molecular biology and cell biology.

Dr. Ivanovic received a grant from the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship program in 2011.

pandeliaMaria-Eirini Pandelia‘s ‘scientific journey’ started from Greece, where she received her undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Patras and master of sciences degree in applied Mathematics and Physics from the National Technical University of Athens. She carried out her graduate studies in Germany at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) of Chemical Energy Conversion (formerly known as MPI for Bioinorganic Chemistry) and received her doctoral degree from the Technical University of Berlin. This was followed by 3 years as a postdoc at PennState University in the Bollinger/Krebs laboratory.

Her research lies in the interface of Chemistry, Biology and Physics with particular focus on the study of metalloenzymes. Her work encompasses the combination of spectroscopic and biophysical techniques together with structural biology and phylogenetics to address the modus operandi of metalloproteins and bioinorganic complexes. Her main expertise is in Mössbauer and EPR spectroscopies coupled to time-resolved kinetics (optical, FTIR) and redox potentiometry. She is interested in understanding how diverse enzymes carry out their bio-transformations and how reaction selectivity in homologous proteins is achieved.

Maria-Eirini’s work at Brandeis will be centered on delineating the mechanisms according to which metalloproteins involved in processes essential for life perform the activation of small (or larger) molecules, how the specific identity of the metals in the active sites allows their chemical diversion and selectivity and what the functional role of iron-sulfur clusters in proteins involved in DNA synthesis and repair is.






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