NIH Extends Its Commitment to Transformative
Research with $138 Million for Director’s Pioneer and New Innovator
Awards in 2008
The National Institutes of Health announced today that it has
increased its support of high-impact research with 2008 NIH Director’s
Pioneer and New Innovator Awards to 47 scientists, many of whom
are in the early stages of their careers. The grants, estimated
to be up to $138 million over five years, enable recipients to
pursue exceptionally innovative approaches that could transform
biomedical and behavioral science.
"Nothing is more important to me than stimulating and sustaining
deep innovation, especially for early career investigators and
despite challenging budgetary times. These highly creative researchers
are tackling important scientific challenges with bold ideas and
inventive technologies that promise to break through barriers and
radically shift our understanding," said NIH Director Elias A.
While scientists at any career level can receive Pioneer Awards,
only early career investigators who have not held an NIH regular
research (R01) or similar NIH grant are eligible for New Innovator
Awards. Both programs are key components of the NIH Roadmap for
Now in its fifth year, the Pioneer Award program has made 63
awards, 16 of them in 2008. The New Innovator Award program, launched
in 2007, supports 61 investigators — 30 selected last year
and 31 more this year.
Each Pioneer Award provides $2.5 million in direct costs over
five years. New Innovator Awards are for $1.5 million in direct
costs over the same time period.
"These programs are central elements of NIH efforts to encourage
and fund especially novel investigator-initiated research, even
if it might carry a greater-than-usual degree of risk of not succeeding.
The awards also reflect our goal of supporting more investigators
in the early stages of their careers," Zerhouni noted.
Zerhouni will announce the 2008 award recipients today at the
start of the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award Symposium on the NIH’s
Bethesda, Md., campus.
The recipients’ names, institutions, and research plans are listed
For both programs, NIH selects the recipients through special
application and evaluation processes. Distinguished outside experts
identify the most highly competitive applicants. The Advisory Committee
to the Director, NIH, performs the second level of review and Zerhouni
makes final decisions based on the outside evaluations and programmatic
"These nontraditional application and review processes are serving
as models in our efforts to enhance the NIH peer review system
so that we can fund the best science, by the best scientists, while
reducing the administrative burden for both applicants and reviewers," Zerhouni
Biographical sketches of the new Pioneer Award recipients are
The symposium agenda is at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/pioneer/symposium2008.
More information on the Pioneer Award, including details on the
47 scientists who received awards in the first four years of the
program, is at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/pioneer.
Information on the New Innovator Award is at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/newinnovator.
Details on the research plans of the new recipients are at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/newinnovator/Recipients08.asp.
The NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, launched in 2004, is a series
of initiatives designed to address fundamental knowledge gaps,
develop transformative tools and technologies, and/or foster innovative
approaches to complex problems. Funded through the NIH Common Fund,
these programs cut across the missions of individual NIH Institutes
and Centers (ICs) and are intended to accelerate the translation
of research to improvements in public health. The Office of Portfolio
Analysis and Strategic Initiatives (OPASI), in collaboration with
all NIH ICs, oversees programs funded by the Common Fund. Additional
information about the NIH Roadmap and Common Fund can be found
Additional information about OPASI can be found at http://opasi.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 — 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.
2008 NIH Director’s Pioneer Award Recipients
- James K. Chen, Ph.D., Stanford University assistant
professor of chemical and systems biology, who will develop and
use synthetic probes to examine the regulation of embryonic development
at the molecular level.
- Ricardo Dolmetsch, Ph.D., Stanford University assistant
professor of neurobiology, who will study the development and
function of neurons from children with autism.
- James Eberwine, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania Elmer
Bobst Professor of Pharmacology and co-director of the Penn Genome
Frontiers Institute, who will use groups of RNA molecules to
modify cellular properties.
- Joshua M. Epstein, Ph.D., Brookings Institution Center on
Social and Economic Dynamics director and Santa Fe Institute
external professor, who will integrate behavioral factors into
models of the development and progression of infectious and chronic
- Bruce A. Hay, Ph.D., California Institute of Technology associate
professor of biology, who will pursue a strategy for preventing
malaria in humans by introducing disease transmission-blocking
genes into mosquito populations.
- Ann Hochschild, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School professor
of microbiology and molecular genetics, who will use bacterial
systems to study infectious particles called prions.
- Charles M. Lieber, Ph.D., Harvard University professor
of chemistry, who will develop interfaces between nanoelectronic
devices and cells to create new biomaterials and tools for studying
- Barry London, M.D., Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh professor
of medicine, who will develop new techniques to image electrical
activity of the heart and identify those at risk of sudden cardiac
- Tom Maniatis, Ph.D., Harvard University professor of molecular and cellular biology, who will use stem cells to examine the mechanisms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease of motor neurons.
- Teri W. Odom, Ph.D., Northwestern University associate
professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering,
who will create metallic nanomaterials to improve the ability
to study subcellular structure in three dimensions.
- Hongkun Park, Ph.D., Harvard University professor
of chemistry and of physics, who will develop new nano- and microelectronic
tools that enable the meticulous study of the design principles
of the brain.
- Aviv Regev, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Broad
Institute assistant professor of biology, who will
examine how the regulatory networks that control cell function
change over time in development, disease, and evolution.
- Aravinthan D.T. Samuel, Ph.D., Harvard University associate
professor of physics, who will develop new biophysical and imaging
techniques to link behavioral responses with neuronal activity.
- Saeed Tavazoie, Ph.D., Princeton University associate
professor of molecular biology, who will explore how intracellular
networks allow microbes to carry out cognitive behavior.
- Alice Y. Ting, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology associate
professor of chemistry, who will develop new technologies to
image and study proteins in living cells.
- Alexander van Oudenaarden, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute
of Technology professor of physics, who will explore
the role of random variables in gene expression during cellular
development and specialization.
2008 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award Recipients
- Zev Bryant, Ph.D., Stanford University assistant
professor of bioengineering, who will study biological energy
consumption and force generation by re-engineering the mechanical
functions of molecular machines found in cells.
- Ronald J. Buckanovich, M.D., Ph.D., University of
Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center assistant professor
of internal medicine and gynecologic oncology, who will develop
a mouse model of cancer that expresses human tumor vessels
and can be used to develop new treatments targeting these structures.
- Timothy Cardozo, M.D., Ph.D., New York University School
of Medicine assistant professor of pharmacology, who
will design novel molecules intended to slow or kill malaria
- Karen L. Christman, Ph.D., University of California,
San Diego, assistant professor of bioengineering,
who will develop patterned surfaces that will provide step-by-step
cues for directing cell fate and behavior.
- Brian A. Cobb, Ph.D., Case Western Reserve University
School of Medicine assistant professor of pathology,
who will develop new tools to study how the immune system recognizes
carbohydrate molecules and how they may be used in vaccine
- Ronald D. Cohn, M.D., Johns Hopkins University School
of Medicine assistant professor of pediatrics and
neurology at the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine,
who will study the mechanisms underlying the ability of hibernating
mammals to maintain skeletal muscle mass despite prolonged
periods of immobility.
- Xiangfeng Duan, Ph.D., University of California, Los
Angeles, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry,
who will develop a new generation of integrated nanoprobes
for monitoring, mapping, and manipulating neural activities
with unprecedented speed and sensitivity.
- Seth J. Field, M.D., Ph.D., University of California,
San Diego, assistant professor of medicine, who will
develop a multipronged, systematic approach to understand the
function of lipid molecules that transmit signals within cells.
- Zemer Gitai, Ph.D., Princeton University assistant
professor of molecular biology, who will use novel imaging methods
to identify new classes of antibiotic drugs and drug targets.
- Aaron D. Gitler, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
School of Medicine assistant professor of cell and
developmental biology, who will use novel genetic screening
and cell biological approaches to define the mechanisms of
human neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's and amyotrophic
- David H. Gracias, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University assistant
professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, who will
develop mobile, micro- to nanoscale tools and devices for medicine.
- Christy L. Haynes, Ph.D., University of Minnesota McKnight
Land-Grant Assistant Professor of Chemistry, who will build an
immune system-on-a-chip to illuminate the mechanisms of, and
possible therapeutic approaches to, allergic conditions.
- Shelli Kesler, Ph.D., Stanford University School of
Medicine assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral
sciences, who will develop and test intervention programs for
preventing and treating cognitive impairments related to chemotherapy
in women with breast cancer.
- Yuriy Kirichok, Ph.D., University of California, San
Francisco, assistant professor of physiology, who
will study molecular mechanisms of cell energy production and
cell death to open new avenues in the treatment of age-related
metabolic and degenerative diseases.
- Sanjay Kumar, M.D., Ph.D., University of California,
Berkeley, assistant professor of bioengineering, who
will combine approaches from biophysics, systems biology, and
oncology to study how cells sense and process mechanical forces
in human health and disease.
- Chay T. Kuo, M.D., Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center assistant
professor of cell biology and pediatrics, who will develop new
genetic and chemical screening approaches in mice to identify
signals regulating repair and remodeling after brain injuries.
- Lara K. Mahal, Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin assistant
professor of chemistry and biochemistry, who will develop a systems-based
approach to decode how sugar molecules on cell surfaces encode
information such as cell type and health.
- Coleen T. Murphy, Ph.D., Princeton University/Lewis-Sigler
Institute assistant professor of molecular biology
and genomics, who will study the causes of reproductive aging
and help identify candidates for the treatment and prevention
of age-related reproductive decline and maternal age-related
- Ken-ichi Noma, Ph.D., Wistar Institute assistant professor
in gene expression and regulation, who will develop a new methodology
to map the three-dimensional structure of the human genome as
a means of identifying the molecular basis for many diseases,
including various cancers.
- Melanie D. Ohi, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University Medical
Center assistant professor of cell and developmental
biology, who will take a multidisciplinary approach toward
understanding the structure and function of large molecular
complexes called spliceosomes.
- Karin S. Pfennig, Ph.D., University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill, assistant professor of biology, who will
use an experimental approach to understand how an individual’s
health status and external environment influence his or her
- Miguel Ramalho-Santos, Ph.D., University of California,
San Francisco, assistant professor of obstetrics,
gynecology and reproductive sciences and researcher in the
Institute for Regeneration Medicine, who will study the control
and function of stem cell pluripotency, which has implications
for regenerative medicine and cancer biology.
- Samara Reck-Peterson, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School assistant
professor of cell biology, who will couple genetics with biophysics
to discover biomedically important molecules that control how
molecular motors deliver diverse cargo to the right place at
the right time within cells.
- Erik M. Shapiro, Ph.D., Yale University School of Medicine assistant
professor of diagnostic radiology and biomedical engineering,
who will use cellular and functional magnetic resonance imaging
to aid in the development of novel strategies for manipulating
stem and progenitor cell migration in the brain, particularly
in response to injury and disease.
- William M. Shih, Ph.D., Dana-Farber Cancer Institute assistant
professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology,
who will develop tools for atomic-resolution imaging of membrane
proteins to enable structure-based drug design.
- Amy J. Wagers, Ph.D., Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard
University assistant professor of stem cell and regenerative
biology, who will study the mechanisms by which aging impairs
blood cell function and develop strategies to prevent or reverse
these age-acquired defects.
- Jue D. Wang, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine assistant professor of molecular and human genetics, who will identify new ways that the cell controls how DNA is copied, which will give insights into many diseases.
- Lei Wang, Ph.D., Salk Institute for Biological Studies assistant
professor of chemical biology and proteomics, who will design
and incorporate novel amino acids in roundworms to study how
a class of proteins transmits signals regulating development
- Joseph C. Wu, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University School
of Medicine assistant professor of medicine and radiology,
who will develop a microRNA-based approach for reprogramming
induced pluripotent stem cells.
- Sean M. Wu, M.D., Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard
Medical School assistant professor of medicine,
who will employ mechanisms of embryonic development to engineer
functional tissues for organ regeneration using pluripotent
stem cells from different species.
- Julia Zeitlinger, Ph.D., Stowers Institute for Medical
Research assistant investigator, who will analyze
the relationship between the DNA-packaging state of a cell
and its developmental potential.
Note: This release was updated on October 3, 2008,
to correct the inadvertent omission of Pioneer Award recipient Thomas