News Release

Monday, October 1, 2012

2012 NIH Director’s Early Independence awards recognizes 14 scientists

Fourteen exceptional junior scientists, who were within one year of completing their doctoral degrees or clinical residencies at the time of application, will be supported by the National Institutes of Health Director's Early Independence award. This program encourages young scientists who have demonstrated outstanding scientific creativity, intellectual maturity, and leadership skills with the opportunity to conduct independent biomedical or behavioral research by skipping the conventional post-doctoral training period. The NIH Common Fund and contributing NIH institutes plan to commit potentially $25.9 million to support these research projects over five years, contingent on the availability of funds.

“NIH is identifying those exceptional students that have the intellect, innovation, drive, and maturity to flourish independently without the need for traditional post-doctoral training,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

2012 NIH Director's Early Independence award recipients

  • Alan Anticevic, Ph.D., Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
    Research Description: Dr. Anticevic is focused on characterizing brain circuits involved in processing certain stimuli and their interactions with neural systems. His aim is to understand how these interactions may go awry in the context of different neuropsychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and substance abuse.
  • Mona Batish, Ph.D., University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark
    Research Description: Dr. Batish plans to develop tools for the detection of tumor‑causing alterations in chromosomes 
  • Yvonne Chen, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles
    Research Description: Dr. Chen’s proposed research will engineer next-generation, tumor-targeting white blood cells (T cells) to attack tumors and minimize off-target toxicity toward healthy tissues.
  • Adam de la Zerda, Ph.D., Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
    Research Description: Dr. de la Zerda plans to develop new medical imaging technologies that can look inside a tumor and gather information on sugar molecules that are essential for cancer progression.
  • Brandon K. Fornwalt, M.D., Ph.D., University of Kentucky, Lexington
    Research Description: Dr. Fornwalt's research program is to address congenital heart (CHD) disease by adapting a relatively new, highly successful therapy for adult heart failure called cardiac resynchronization therapy, into a treatment option for children with CHD.
  • Mitchell Guttman, Ph.D., Broad Institute, Inc., Cambridge, Mass.
    Research Description: Dr. Guttman's research aims to define the rules for how large non-coding RNAs control gene expression programs, providing a framework for understanding their role in human disease.
  • William J. Kaiser, Ph.D., Emory University, Atlanta
    Research Description: Dr. Kaiser plans to establish a research program to dissect the pathways controlling necrotic cell death.
  • Brad Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D., Rockefeller University, New York City
    Research Description: Dr. Rosenberg's research will use DNA sequencing technologies and high throughput methodology to study immune responses in contexts of vaccination and autoimmune disease.
  • Gregory F. Sonnenberg, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
    Research Description: Dr. Sonnenberg's research will investigate interactions between the mammalian immune system and intestinal commensal bacteria (which may help, and do not harm, their hosts) in the context of human health and disease.
  • Matthew Thomson, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco
    Research Description: Dr. Thomson's research is to derive mathematical models of how stems cells develop into different cell types, and use these models to understand how cells work together to form tissues.
  • Ziad Obermeyer, M.D., Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston
    Research Description: Dr. Obermeyer's research project will define predictors of unexpected deaths in the United States and globally, develop and report routine surveillance data on these events, and eventually test clinical and policy solutions to prevent deaths in the future.
  • Gabriel D. Victora, Ph.D., Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, Mass.
    Research Description: Dr. Victora will investigate the way cells of the immune system interact to generate high-affinity antibodies that protect us from disease-causing viruses and bacteria.
  • Saul A. Villeda, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco
    Research Description: Dr. Villeda's proposal will determine how molecular immune-related changes in blood during aging impair stem cell function and cognitive processes in the old brain.
  • Ellen Yeh, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University
    Research Description: Dr. Yeh’s research will investigate the novel biology of a structure within certain single-cell organisms (the Apicomplexan plastid) and its role in causing disease, with the goal of developing novel therapeutics against these important pathogens that cause several diseases, including malaria.

More information on the Early Independence award is available at

The NIH Common Fund supports a series of exceptionally high impact research programs that are broadly relevant to health and disease. The NIH Director’s awards Program is funded through the Common Fund and managed by the NIH Office of the Director in partnership with the various NIH Institutes, Centers and Offices. Common Fund programs are designed to overcome major research barriers and pursue emerging opportunities for the benefit of the biomedical research community at large. The research products of Common Fund programs are expected to catalyze disease-specific research supported by the NIH Institutes and Centers. Additional information about the NIH Common Fund can be found at

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