2020 Porter Prizes for Research Excellence

Kate Cavanaugh

Kate Cavanaugh

Gwendolyn Beacham

Gwendolyn Beacham

Matthew Akamatsu

Matthew Akamatsu

ASCB’s Award Selection Committee has chosen Matthew Akamatsu, the Arnold O. Beckman Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley; Gwendolyn Beacham, a PhD candidate at Cornell University; and Kate Cavanaugh, a PhD candidate from University of Chicago, as the 2020 winners of the Porter Prizes for Research Excellence. Akamatsu will receive $4,000, and Cavanaugh and Beacham will each receive $2,000. Each winner will give a talk in a Minisymposium relevant to her or his research. Also recognized as Honorable Mentions are Jui-Hsia Weng, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School; and Hawa Racine, a postdoctoral research fellow in The Cell and Developmental Biology Center at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health.

Akamatsu’s research combines mathematical modeling, human stem cell genome-editing, and fluorescence microscopy to study how actin produces force to function in cellular membrane trafficking processes. He is currently working on two projects: 1) Understanding the relationship between actin cytoskeletal architecture and mechanical function at sites of mammalian clathrin-mediated endocytosis by integrating agent-based mathematical modeling with cryo-electron tomography in collaboration with labmate Daniel Serwas; and 2) Understanding how SARS-CoV-2 nonstructural proteins manipulate cellular organelle and membrane trafficking processes to make double-membrane replication compartments, in collaboration with members of the Drubin/Barnes, Hurley, Betzig, and Upadhyayula labs (and soon others).

“I am so pleased and honored to have been chosen to receive the Keith Porter award for postdocs this year. Keith Porter’s fearless exploratory spirit is an inspiration to all of us who take on exploratory projects aimed at understanding intracellular architecture and function,” said Akamatsu. His talk at Cell Bio Virtual 2020 will be on “Mechanisms of actin force production in clathrin-mediated endocytosis revealed by integrating mathematical modeling with in situ cryo-electron tomography.”

Beacham studies how clathrin-mediated endocytosis relies on adaptor proteins to select the cargo to be internalized and assemble components of the vesicle coat. In many instances, this is accomplished by the Adaptor Protein 2 (AP2). She is interested in learning how AP2 is regulated to ensure that endocytosis occurs with precision.

Beacham has taken on several efforts aimed at improving the diversity and climate of academia. She has held multiple leadership roles in Cornell’s Graduate Women in Science and has worked with other student groups and diversity councils across campus to initiate programming geared toward community building
and allyship.

In his letter of support, Gunther Hollopeter from Cornell stated: “Gwen is one of those rare students that can do it all, with excellence and grace that inspires all those around her to elevate their own level of play. I am confident she will be a future scientific leader that ACSB will be proud of.”

Beacham’s talk at Cell Bio Virtual 2020 is titled “C. elegans reveal a connection between the tissue organizers MLT-4/inversin and the clathrin adaptor AP2.”

Cavanaugh is trying to understand how spatiotemporal RhoA regulates cell–cell junction mechanics. She uses optogenetics and cell culture in a bottom-up approach to understand (and recreate) the morphogenetic phenomena we typically see in embryogenesis.

She spent her undergraduate years at Northwestern University, and then was awarded an Erasmus Mundus Fellowship to obtain a master’s in comparative vertebrate morphology under the Erasmus Mundus International Program EUCOMOR.

Cavanaugh is the recipient of many honors and awards, including an HHMI Gilliam Fellowship (2018–present) and a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences (2017–2018).

“I can’t even begin to say how humbled and honored I am for this award! I want to thank everyone in my lab, especially Margaret [Gardel], for giving me incredible support and freedom with my project. My PhD at UChicago has been a profound educational experience and honestly it has been a blast,” said Cavanaugh.

The tentative title of her talk at Cell Bio Virtual 2020 is “Heterogeneous regions of RhoA elicit an asymmetric junctional mechanoresponse.”

About the Author:


Thea Clarke is Director of Communications, Education Committee Liaison, and LSE Journal Production Manager at the American Society for Cell Biology.