Seven UC San Francisco researchers have been awarded grants from the National Institutes of Health to fund innovative endeavors in biomedical research. The highly competitive awards include the Pioneer Award, the New Innovator Award and the Early Independence Award.
The Pioneer Award
Michael Fischbach, PhD, received the NIH's Pioneer Award, a grant given to help recipient researchers develop groundbreaking approaches to major challenges in biomedical or behavioral science. The grant will help Fischbach's group continue their innovative research on the human microbiome, studying how the microbial species that live on, around, and within humans affect our health. Their hope is to develop a discipline that Fischbach calls "synthetic ecology"; the ability to engineer entire communities of gut bacteria to produce specific chemicals that can be used as therapeutic drugs.
The New Innovator Award
The New Innovator Award was given to four UCSF researchers this year. This grant supports investigators that are new to the industry and that propose innovative, high-impact projects.
One of these four awards went to Bassem Al-Sady, a PhD studying epigenetics – the process by which specific parts of the genome can be "switched on or off" in different cells. The new research funding will support a new effort of Al-Sady's to apply tools that can track the formation of hemochromatin, a structure that determines which genes will be used in a given cell.
Rushika Perera, PhD, also a recipient of the award, will use her NIH grant to create a mouse model of pancreatic cancer to learn how the nutritional requirements of cancerous pancreatic cells differ from healthy cells. This new approach will advance Perera's current studies on how cancer cells are able to manipulate cellular digestion pathways, an ability that gives them advantage over normal cells.
Tien Peng, MD, plans to use a third NIH Innovator grant to advance our understanding of how organs age by studying mesenchymal progenitor cells, connective tissue cells in the lung that Peng hopes can be manipulated to enhance tissue longevity.
The NIH Innovator grant was also awarded to Arun Wiita, MD, PhD, an investigator whose studies focus on how cancer therapy affects protein production in cells.
Early Independence Award
NIH’s Early Independence Award, which provides an opportunity for junior scientists to skip traditional post-doctoral training and immediately transition into independent research positions, was awarded to two UCSF researchers.
Matthew Spitzer, PhD, received an Early Independence Award to support his research on the role of the immune system’s response to cancer. Spitzer has already developed techniques to simultaneously track the responses of every type of immune cell as cancer progresses, research which hopefully could improve oncologists’ ability to fight cancer using a patient's immune system.
Kevin Yackle, MD, PhD, also received this NIH award. The grant will support his research on the brain stem neurons that help regulate breathing, research that could improve our understanding of breathing disorders and could hopefully lead to development of drugs that help maintain breathing during surgery.
“The program continues to support high-caliber investigators whose ideas stretch the boundaries of our scientific knowledge,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “We welcome the newest cohort of outstanding scientists to the program and look forward to their valuable contributions.”
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Life science professionals are invited to attend for free. To pre-register or get additional information, click on the button below.