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Jimena Giudice, PhD, and Zoe McElligott, PhD, earned Jefferson-Pilot Fellowships in Academic Medicine from the UNC School of Medicine for their work on alternative splicing biology and neural signaling involved in opioid withdrawal.

Jimena Giudice, PhD, assistant professor of the UNC Department of Cell Biology and Physiology and member of the McAllister Heart Institute, and Zoe McElligott, PhD, assistant professor in the UNC Departments of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, and member of the UNC Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, were named recipients of the 2020-2021 Jefferson-Pilot Fellowships in Academic Medicine. Giudice and McElligott will present their research at the 2020-2021 Jefferson-Pilot Fellowships in Academic Medicine and James W. Woods Junior Faculty Award Seminar that will take place on Wednesday, October 21 from 1pm-2pm during UNC Research Week.

“The Jefferson-Pilot Fellowships in Academic Medicine are bestowed to talented junior faculty in the School of Medicine” said Blossom Damania, PhD, UNC School of Medicine Vice Dean for Research. “Drs. McElligott and Giudice are stellar faculty members and are highly deserving of this award.”

Giudice joined the UNC Department of Cell Biology and Physiology as an assistant professor in 2016 after completing her postdoctoral work at the Baylor College of Medicine. Her work focuses on the physiological functions of alternative splicing and the molecular mechanisms behind splicing regulation. Giudice is also a member of the McAllister Heart Institute, and a focus of her research is on how striated muscles (such as those present in heart and skeletal muscles) are affected by misregulation in alternative splicing, membrane dynamics, and cellular trafficking. Giudice’s work is highly innovative and supports the role of epigenetics as a regulatory mechanism. Giudice is a leader in the field of cell biology, and her Jefferson-Pilot Fellowship in Academic Medicine will support interdisciplinary work to examine whether posttranslational modifications of histones can regulate alternative splicing during striated muscle development.

McElligott joined UNC in 2009 as a postdoctoral research in the UNC Department of Chemistry. In 2013 she became an assistant professor in the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies and Department of Psychiatry, and received a secondary appointment in the Department of Pharmacology in 2017. McElligott is a basic neuroscientist who focuses on the area of addiction, and is internationally known for her state-of-the art translational research on brain circuits and plasticity that govern drug abuse, anxiety, and alcohol usage. McElligott is also interested in understanding the neural circuitry underlying opioid-seeking behavior, information that is greatly needed to combat the opioid crisis.

Using funds from the Jefferson-Pilot Fellowship, McElligott will work to develop a unique machine-learning approach to analyze videos of mouse behavior during opioid withdrawal and consumption to improve outcome measures of interventions, including oxytocin as a withdrawal treatment and the role of neurotensin signaling during consumption.

“Drs. Giudice and McElligott are conducting innovative research at the forefront in their respective fields and we are most fortunate to have such superb researchers in the UNC School of Medicine,” Damania said.