Bethesda, Md. -- Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health, today named 13 recipients of the 2006 NIH Director's Pioneer Award.
Now in its third year, the Pioneer Award is a key component of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research. The program supports exceptionally creative scientists who take highly innovative approaches to major challenges in biomedical research.
"The 2006 Pioneer Award recipients are a diverse group of forward-thinking scientists whose work could transform medical research," said Zerhouni. "The awards will give them the intellectual freedom to pursue exciting new research directions and opportunities in a range of scientific areas, from computational biology to immunology, stem cell biology, nanotechnology, and drug development."
The 2006 awardees, who will each receive $2.5 million in direct costs over five years, are:
Kwabena A. Boahen, Ph.D., Stanford University associate professor of bioengineering, who will develop a specialized hardware platform for the detailed simulation of the inner workings of the brain's cortex.
Arup K. Chakraborty, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology Robert T. Haslam Professor of Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, and Biological Engineering, who will combine the application of theoretical methods rooted in statistical physics and engineering with experiments to determine principles governing the emergence of autoimmune diseases.
Lila M. Gierasch, Ph.D., University of Massachusetts, Amherst, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and chemistry, who will investigate protein folding in the complex environment of a cell and explore how diseases may arise from folding mistakes.
Rebecca W. Heald, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, associate professor of molecular and cell biology, who will study how cells scale the size of their internal organelles.
Karla Kirkegaard, Ph.D., Stanford University School of Medicine professor and chair of microbiology and immunology, who will identify and validate targets for antiviral drugs leading to suppression of the growth of drug-resistant variants of dengue, West Nile, hepatitis C, and polio viruses.
Thomas J. Kodadek, Ph.D., University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas professor of internal medicine and molecular biology, who will develop a chemistry-based approach to monitor and manipulate the immune system.
Cheng Chi Lee, Ph.D., University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, who will refine technologies for the suspended animation of non-hibernating mammals.
Evgeny A. Nudler, Ph.D., New York University School of Medicine professor of biochemistry, who will develop new types of antimicrobial drugs and vaccines to treat and prevent drug-resistant infections.
Gary J. Pielak, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor of chemistry, who will study proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases at the atomic level inside living cells.
David A. Relman, M.D., Stanford University associate professor of microbiology and immunology and of medicine, who will explore the roles in health and disease of microbial communities indigenous to humans.
Rosalind A. Segal, M.D., Ph.D., Dana-Farber Cancer Institute associate professor of neurobiology, who will focus on identifying the way complex sugars work to maintain neural stem cells in the developing and adult brain.
James L. Sherley, M.D., Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology associate professor of biological engineering, who will work to develop routine methods for the production of human adult stem cells from liver, pancreas, hair follicles, and bone marrow.
Younan Xia, Ph.D., University of Washington, Seattle, professor of chemistry, who will develop nanomaterials as new tools for understanding and controlling cell communication.
NIH selected the 2006 Pioneer Award recipients through a special application and evaluation process. After NIH staff determined the eligibility of each of the 465 applicants, the first of three groups of distinguished experts from the scientific community identified the 25 most highly competitive individuals in the pool. The second group of outside experts then interviewed the 25 finalists at NIH in August 2006.
The Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH, performed the final review and made recommendations to Zerhouni based on the evaluations by the first two groups of outside experts and programmatic considerations.
"In addition to supporting outstanding research, the Pioneer Award is an innovation in its own right. It is one way we are exploring of funding unconventional ideas that are promising but might not fare well in the traditional peer review system," Zerhouni noted.
"I am pleased that enthusiasm for the Pioneer Award program led a record number of NIH components-- 11 in all -- to contribute their own funds to the program this year, allowing us to support nearly twice as many awards as the NIH Roadmap budget provided," Zerhouni added.
Biographical sketches of the 2006 NIH Director's Pioneer Award recipients are available at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/pioneer/Recipients06.aspx. More information on the Pioneer Award, including details on the 22 scientists who received awards in the first two years of the program, is at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/pioneer.
The NIH Roadmap for Medical Research is a series of far-reaching initiatives designed to transform the nation's medical research capabilities and speed the movement of research discoveries from the bench to the bedside. It provides a framework of the priorities the NIH must address in order to optimize its entire research portfolio and lays out a vision for a more efficient and productive system of medical research. For more information about the NIH Roadmap, please visit the Web site at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov.
The Office of the Director, the central office at NIH, is responsible for setting policy for NIH, which includes 27 Institutes and Centers. This involves planning, managing, and coordinating the programs and activities of all NIH components. The Office of the Director also includes program offices which are responsible for stimulating specific areas of research throughout NIH. Additional information is available at http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) -- The Nation's Medical Research Agency -- is comprised of 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 investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
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