University announces winners of Gates Cambridge and Knight Hennessy scholarships

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 4:07pm

The Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships announced the winners of the Gates Cambridge and the Knight-Hennessy Scholarships Tuesday.

Gates Cambridge selected University Medical student Warren Pan to join the fully-paid one-year master’s program plus living stipend at Cambridge University in England. Knight-Hennessy selected alum Yiran Liu to pursue a doctorate degree in cancer biology at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. Both recipients plan on beginning their respective programs in the fall.

Pan graduated from Harvard University before pursuing his medical and doctorate degrees at the University. Pan said he hopes to be a physician-scientist working directly with patients while continuing medical research. Pan will be taking a one-year leave of absence before his final year of medical school to study in Cambridge under Steve O’Rahilly, the head of the Clinical Biochemistry Department. 

Pan wants to analyze the effects of genetic mutations on obesity, specifically in children, in search of ways to reverse it. He will be conducting the bulk of his experiments on mice to model the potential in humans. Though he cannot specify the details of the study, Pan noted England has a large database of sequenced DNA from morbidly obese children that he will be using in his research.

“I will be using that database and going after some of those genes to figure out what those genes are doing and whether we can reverse it and see if mice with this mutation can be cured with a drug or virus or some other treatment,” Pan said. “I hope to better understand the interface between human disease and basic science research to use translational research to create new therapies for human disease.”

Martin Myers, professor of internal medicine and molecular & integrative physiology, acted as Pan’s doctorate adviser and scientific mentor at the University. Myers helped train Pan as a scientist and worked with him throughout his research.

“As his PhD mentor, I know how smart, energetic, and talented Warren is,” Myers wrote in an email interview. “Not only does he deserve the award because of his talent and accomplishments, but also he will use the opportunity to learn more about translating his basic research expertise to the study of human disease. He defines what it means to be a self-starter!”

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is given to students with high academic ability and the dedication to making the world a better place, according to ONSF Director Henry Dyson.

“The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is looking at leadership potential and demonstrated commitment to improving to the lives of others,” Dyson said. “Warren’s research in obesity genetics is an obvious fit for that, he is an exceptionally well qualified applicant.”

Garth Strohbehn, Gates Cambridge alum and a chief medical resident at Michigan Medicine, worked with Pan to prepare and apply for the program.

“I’m thrilled for him to have this tremendous experience,” Strohbehn said. “He’s obviously a talented person who’s worked exceptionally hard for this opportunity –– it’s great to see it paying off in this way. It’s a really cool step forward for his research and for him as a developing intellectual. The Gates community is an incredible, multidisciplinary one full of brilliant people and so he’s going to develop even more as a thinker. It’s going to be an incredible experience.”

Yiran Liu, winner of the inaugural Knight-Hennessy Scholarship, graduated from the University in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biology. Yiran hopes to obtain a doctorate in cancer biology but has a diverse range of research experiences and an open mind. 

“It’s really a huge honor to receive this scholarship,” Liu said. “I was not expecting at all so it’s very humbling to feel that I have the opportunity to become part of this community. When I went to the immersion weekend, I met so many people. These people were so grounded, kind, compassionate and empathetic and their work was driven by some kind of passion or need to make a difference in the community and the world and it is an honor to imagine myself in that community in grad school.”

According to Dyson, Knight-Hennessy is the newest of the major scholarships, comparable to the Rhodes, Marshall and Gates Cambridge. He categorized this is a truly global scholarship with a 49-student cohort, and 63 percent of which are international, according to a Knight-Hennessy press release. Dyson said Knight-Hennessy understands the solutions to today’s problems are multi-disciplinary, thus the scholarship is offered to those pursuing a law, medical, doctorate and a multitude of other degrees.

“What I think makes Yiran really stand out as a candidate is that she is exceptionally well qualified in terms of her research credentials. She really is as good as any biomedical or STEM researcher and I think she belongs in that company and her leadership accomplishments… and (her work with) social justice and campus climate issues and how she wants to combine them in the future really makes her stand out,” Dyson said. “We have exceptional leaders in these areas but we rarely see them combined.”