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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced today that it is awarding $348 million nationwide to encourage investigators to explore bold ideas that have the potential to catapult fields forward and speed the translation of research into improved health. Five researchers from the University of California, San Diego have been awarded grants totaling $8.5 million for their innovative research.
The UC San Diego award winners include:
and New Innovator award winners ($1.5 million each, over five years):
“We are extremely proud to have five researchers from UC San Diego selected for these prestigious awards,” said Arthur B. Ellis, UC San Diego Vice Chancellor for Research. “Dr. Evans was one of only 18 Pioneer Award winners, and UCSD researchers were selected for four out of a total of 55 Innovator Awards given nationally by the NIH. This is an affirmation of the cutting-edge work being done at UC San Diego to transform biomedical discoveries into therapies to improve human health.”
The full complement of awards is granted through three innovative research programs supported by the NIH Common Fund’s Roadmap for Medical Research, which include the Pioneer Awards and New Innovator Awards. The Common Fund, enacted into law by Congress through the 2006 NIH Reform Act, supports cross-cutting, trans-NIH programs with a particular emphasis on innovation and risk taking. A portion of these New Innovator Awards is also supported by funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“Although all Common Fund programs encourage new approaches to tough research problems, the appeal of the these programs is that investigators are encouraged to define the challenges to be addressed and to think out of the box while being given substantial resources to test their ideas,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD.
“At UC San Diego, private support is also critical to helping young investigators, such as these award recipients, pursue innovative studies and build the preliminary research data needed for federal funding,” added Ellis. “Philanthropic gifts can help researchers translate new ‘high-risk’ ideas into groundbreaking advancements in science and medicine.”
About the award winners:
Sylvia M. Evans, PhD
The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award Program is designed to support individual scientists of exceptional creativity who propose pioneering – and possibly transforming approaches – to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research.
Sylvia Evans, PhD (left) & team
Evans is a professor of pharmacology at the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She received her PhD in biochemistry at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and conducted postdoctoral research at the Salk Institute in La Jolla before coming to UC San Diego in 1989.
She will use her NIH Pioneer Award to develop new approaches to heart regeneration following injury, with a goal of finding improved approaches for treating heart failure.
The focus of Evan’s research lab is to define genetic pathways underlying heart development and to apply that understanding to both congenital and adult heart disease. Heart failure consequent to ischemic heart disease – when the heart receives insufficient blood and oxygen – is the number one killer in the U.S. and developed world. After a heart attack, cardiac muscle cells are lost and replaced by fibrotic scar tissue.
Her Pioneer award will further Evans’ goal of identifying pathways by which endogenous cardiovascular cells can be utilized to replace lost cardiac muscle tissue and also stimulated to help to resolve the scar, thereby improving cardiac function post-heart attack.
Adah Almutairi, PhD
Dr. Almutairi completed her PhD in Materials Chemistry at UC Riverside in 2005 where she
received both the UC Dissertation Award and the prestigious UC Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship.
Adam Engler, PhD
Bioengineering assistant professor Adam Engler from the UCSD Jacobs School of
Engineering will use his New Innovator Award to develop new technologies for steering adult stem cells into specific differentiated cell types.
Alysson R. Muotri, PhD
Autism and autism-spectrum disorders (ASD) are highly heritable, complex
neurodevelopmental diseases in which different gene combinations may play a role in different individuals.
Muotri’s project, “Modeling Autism with Human Pluripotent Cells” is a novel approach to study autism. Using one of the autism-spectrum disorders called Rett syndrome (RTT) as a pilot disease, his lab developed an in vitro system deriving induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) from RTT patients’ fibroblasts. RTT patients have several autistic features, and have defined mutations in a particular X-linked gene. Their reprogrammed cells can generate human neurons carrying different types of mutations. Muotri’s research will analyze gene expression during the transition steps of differentiation, simulating early stages of human neural development. In a future step, they will repeat the strategy using different mutations that also lead to the autistic diagnosis. The data generated will help to reveal and understand possible common molecular and cellular mechanisms present in autism.
Leor Weinberger, PhD
Weinberger, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, will use his award for a project called “Developing Transmissible Antivirals by Exploiting Gene-Expression Circuitry.”
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Additional information on the Pioneer Award is at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/pioneer including information on the two-day NIH Director’s Pioneer Award Symposium which begins on Thursday, September 24, 2009, and is free and open to the public.
More information on the New Innovator Award is at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/newinnovator. For descriptions of the 2009 recipients’ research plans, see http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/newinnovator/Recipients09.asp.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
Media Contact: Debra Kain, 619-543-6163, firstname.lastname@example.org
Official Web Site of the University of California, San Diego.