NIH New Innovator Award helps Sanford-Burnham scientist pursue high-risk, high-reward project

By Heather Buschman, Ph.D.
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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of the Director today announced that Duc Dong, Ph.D., assistant professor at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham), will receive a New Innovator Award. These awards are intended to help researchers pursue big ideas with the potential to transform scientific fields and speed the translation of research into improved health.

Dong’s big idea is to grow replacement organs in an adult animal, using a new technology his lab recently developed. He and his team will genetically reprogram cells in zebrafish to induce new tissue development. Zebrafish, a valuable model for studying human development and disease, will allow the researchers to rapidly screen genes and chemicals important for efficient genetic reprogramming in a living organism.

“The ability to grow replacement tissues will be useful for treating diseases such as diabetes, liver disease, and heart disease, as well as for repairing or replacing organs and limbs damaged or lost due to traumatic injury,” Dong said. “This new award will allow us to address fundamental questions regarding the feasibility and effectiveness of genetic reprogramming as an approach to regenerative therapy.”

Zebrafish

The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, a part of the High Risk High Reward program supported by the NIH Common Fund, is different from most other NIH grants. These awards support new investigators at the beginning stages of their careers—a time when they may lack the preliminary data required by the traditional NIH peer review system to qualify for highly competitive grants, such as RO1 grants. Instead, New Innovator Awards are given based on a researcher’s creativity, the innovativeness of his or her approach, and the project’s potential impact on human health.

“The Common Fund High Risk High Reward program provides opportunities for innovative investigators in any area of health research to take risks when the potential impact in biomedical and behavioral science is high,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. in the NIH’s press release.

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Heather Buschman, Ph.D.

Heather was a Sanford-Burnham Communications staff member.

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