Research News

Amanda Lea and Wenhan Zhu named 2023 Pew Biomedical Scholars

Amanda Lea, assistant professor of biological sciences, and Wenhan Zhu, assistant professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology, have been named 2023 Pew Biomedical Scholars. 

The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences provides funding to young investigators of outstanding promise in science relevant to the advancement of human health. The program makes grants to selected academic institutions to support the independent research of early-career assistant professors. Lea and Zhu will receive four years of funding to spearhead their studies exploring human health and medicine. 

At Vanderbilt, Lea and her lab study the intersection of evolutionary biology, genomics and human health. With her Pew funding, Lea will explore how early exposure to an urban lifestyle affects long-term cardiovascular and metabolic health.

Amanda Lea
Amanda Lea (Submitted photo)

“I am honored to be chosen as a Pew Biomedical Scholar and to be recognized for the new path we are trying to forge of integrating field-based anthropological research with cutting-edge genomic methods,” Lea said. “This award will allow us to purse bold new projects focused on the environmental determinants of health, working in partnership with the Orang Asli of Malaysia and the Orang Asli Health and Lifeways Project. I am very excited for the support we now have to innovate in the field and in the wet lab, with the dual goals of advancing basic science as well as improving health knowledge for Orang Asli communities.” 

Zhu and his lab focus on the metabolic interactions that dictate the changes or resilience of the microbiota. Zhu will use his funding to examine how exposure to oxygen damages beneficial gut bacteria during inflammation.

Wenhan Zhu (Photo by Susan Urmy)

“I am incredibly honored to be named a Pew Scholar, as this will allow me to interact with a wonderful scientific community that utilizes cutting-edge technology to address fundamental biological questions and issues that are highly relevant to human health,” Zhu said. “The support from Pew opens many opportunities to my lab and allows us to ask exciting and bold questions, such as how we can engineer our gut microbes, most of which are anaerobic organisms that are killed when exposed to oxygen, to withstand or even thrive in the presence of oxygen. Throughout my career, I hope to contribute to the field by successfully engineering anaerobic organisms in our gut to survive oxygen exposure and produce beneficial molecules during inflammation, ultimately achieving restoration of gut health in situ.” 

Lea and Zhu were among 22 researchers selected to join the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences. Scholars were chosen from 188 applicants nominated by academic institutions and researchers throughout the United States. 

“From vaccine development to treatments for complex diseases, biomedical research is foundational to solving some of the world’s greatest health challenges,” said Susan K. Urahn, Pew’s president and CEO. “Pew is thrilled to welcome this new class of researchers and support their efforts to advance scientific knowledge and improve human health.” 

About The Pew Charitable Trusts 

Founded in 1948, The Pew Charitable Trusts use data to make a difference. Pew addresses the challenges of a changing world by illuminating issues, creating common ground and advancing ambitious strategies that lead to tangible progress. 

The limited submission opportunity for Pew Biomedical Scholars was jointly managed by VU’s Research Development and Support (RDS) and the VUMC Office of Research. Lea’s grant proposal also was supported by RDS, which offers proposal development assistance for both private (foundations) and federally funded opportunities. Services include searches for new sponsors, coordination and team building for proposals of any size, content development and draft review. RDS further supports faculty by building relationships with external sponsors, hosting workshops, and providing guides and language for common proposal requirements. RDS is in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Innovation. To learn more about RDS or request services, contact us at