Six UCSF Researchers Win NIH Awards for High-Risk, High-Reward Work

By Jeffrey Norris

UC San Francisco researchers received six of 78 awards announced this week by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for innovative, high-risk, high-reward research.

“This program allows researchers to propose highly creative research projects across a broad range of biomedical research areas, that involve inherent risk, but have the potential for high rewards,” said NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, in announcing the awards on Sept. 30.

UCSF researchers were recognized in three out of four award categories:

NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards

The New Innovator Awards support investigators who completed their academic and clinical training within the past 10 years but who have not previously received an NIH individual investigator award.

Rahul Chandrakant Deo, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine and investigator with the UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute, explores the role of genetic variations in cardiovascular disease, using computational approaches.

Zev Jordan Gartner, PhD, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical chemistry in the UCSF School of Pharmacy, focuses his work on gaining a deeper understanding of fundamental biological processes relating to the establishment of tissue structure and its breakdown during disease. He makes “microtissues” composed of multiple cell types, using his knowledge of chemistry to program connectivity between cells from the bottom up. 

Shomyseh Sanjabi, PhD, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology and an investigator with the Roddenberry Center for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine at the UCSF-affiliated Gladstone Institutes, studies inflammation during acute and chronic viral and bacterial infections, and how immune components of breast milk affect immune system development and function.

NIH Director’s Pioneer Awards

The Pioneer Awards support exceptional creative individuals who propose potentially transformative pioneering approaches to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research.

Leor S. Weinberger, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics and an investigator at the Gladstone Institutes, studies “master circuits” that control HIV and human herpes viruses using time-lapse fluorescence microscopy and mathematical modeling.

NIH Director’s Early Independence Award

The Early Independence Awards allow exceptional junior scientists who have recently received their doctoral degree or finished medical residency to skip traditional postdoctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions.

Lei Stanley Qi, PhD, Systems Biology Fellow at UCSF, is applying principles of synthetic biology and developing new RNA-based technologies to build therapeutically useful, but noninvasive, genetic circuits in an effort to reliably detect and reverse disease.

David Weinberg, PhD, a UCSF faculty fellow in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, studies how the process of protein synthesis – called translation – is regulated at the molecular level. His work aims to shed light on how translation normally controls cell growth and development and how dysregulation of translation contributes to human diseases, particularly cancer.

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