Biotechnology master’s student recognized for outstanding academic accomplishment

With a remarkable blend of intellect and drive, Chengjie Xi earns top recognition for her significant research contributions, transforming our understanding and treatment of various neurological conditions.

Among the hundreds of extraordinary master’s students at Brown University, one scholar shines particularly bright this year, having made an indelible mark within her program and the scientific community at of Chengjie Xi

Chengjie Xi ’24 Sc.M., a master’s student in biotechnology has been selected for the 2024 Master’s Award for Outstanding Academic Accomplishment.

"From the moment Chengjie arrived at Brown, it was clear that she was an exceptional individual with both a brilliant mind and a heart for service," says Jacquelyn Schell Ph.D., director of the biotechnology master's program.

In the lab of her research mentor, Professor of Neuroscience Justin Fallon Ph.D., Xi has worked on four projects which will culminate in at least four publications. All of these projects are focused on the study of muscle-associated tyrosine kinase (MuSK), and based on the discovery that the receptor tyrosine kinase MuSK is also a bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) co-receptor. Together, these proteins form a “pathway” that helps regulate how muscles develop and function.

To better understand the MuSK-BMP pathway, Xi’s main project concentrated on the immunolocalization of MuSK in the brain. Using special tools called antibodies to "tag" MuSK and make it visible under a microscope, she found that MuSK is present in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory. This was a significant discovery because it had never been clearly shown before.

Xi's research is part of a larger effort to understand how the MuSK-BMP pathway affects muscle and nerve function. She has made key contributions to several projects in the lab, including studies on muscle fiber size, fibrosis (scarring) and age-related muscle weakness (sarcopenia). This work, nearing completion, is helping to unravel the complex mechanisms that keep our muscles and nerves healthy. 

Through these projects, Xi showed all the hallmarks of a top-notch scientist.

"I have trained many exceptional students in my career,” notes Professor Fallon. “Chengjie ranks among the very best of them. She is the kind of student who only comes around once every few years. She is fearless at tackling new questions, but at the same time rigorous in her approach and analysis."

Chengjie is the kind of student who only comes around once every few years. She is fearless at tackling new questions, but at the same time rigorous in her approach and analysis.

Justin Fallon Professor of Medical Science
Justin Fallon

Xi’s work has been recognized on a global scale, as evidenced by her selection for a prestigious podium presentation at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting. This annual gathering draws over 30,000 attendees from over 80 countries.

Beyond her research achievements, Xi has maintained a perfect GPA in the biotechnology program and has consistently proven herself to be a top student in her graduate-level courses. Although quiet by nature, she has made a significant impact on her peers and instructors alike.

In addition to her academic pursuits, Xi has dedicated herself to serving others. She has spent time volunteering in Nepal, teaching Chinese and Mandarin to high school students and tutoring them in math, science and English. This commitment to giving back speaks to her character and well-roundedness.

"I am incredibly proud of Chengjie and all that she has achieved," says Schell. "I have no doubt that she will go on to make notable contributions to the field of biotechnology and beyond."

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