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The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award Program is a unique aspect of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, a high-risk research initiative of Research Teams of the Future. Pioneer Awards are designed to support individual scientists of exceptional creativity who propose pioneering – and possibly transforming approaches – to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research.  The term “pioneering” is used to describe highly innovative approaches that have the potential to produce an unusually high impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research, and the term “award” is used to mean a grant for conducting research, rather than a reward for past achievements.  To be considered pioneering, the proposed research must reflect ideas substantially different from those already being pursued in the investigator’s laboratory or elsewhere.  Biomedical and behavioral research is defined broadly in this announcement as encompassing scientific investigations in the biological, behavioral, clinical, social, physical, chemical, computational, engineering, and mathematical sciences.

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DCB Grantee Recipients:

Chakraborty, Arup - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Arup K. Chakraborty, Ph.D., is the Robert T. Haslam Professor of Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, and Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware in 1988. Chakraborty’s early work focused on the development and application of quantum and statistical mechanical approaches to the study of polymers and catalysts. Since 2000, his research has been focused on immunology. Chakraborty has shown that theoretical methods rooted in physics and engineering can complement biological experiments (with collaborators) to understand how T lymphocytes communicate with other cells and detect the presence of minute amounts of antigen. With his Pioneer Award, he is using related approaches to develop the principles that govern the emergence of autoimmune diseases. A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Chakraborty has also been recognized with the Allan P. Colburn and Professional Progress awards from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, and a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award

Chen, Cheng-Zheng - Stanford University

Chang-Zheng Chen, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University. He received a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry, Academia Sinica, in 1995. Chen is a biologist who uses genetic and developmental biology tools to study the roles of microRNA genes in the development, function, and pathogenesis of vertebrate immune systems. He is using his Pioneer Award to understand the mechanisms regulating microRNA gene function.

Gardel, Margaret - University of Chicago

Margaret Gardel, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of physics at the University of Chicago and a member of the James Franck Institute and the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics. She received a Ph.D. in soft condensed matter physics from Harvard University in 2004. Gardel is a biophysicist whose work has focused on the novel polymer physics of cytoskeletal networks reconstituted in vitro. She is the recipient of a Burroughs Wellcome Career Award at the Scientific Interface. With her Pioneer Award, Gardel is integrating approaches from condensed matter physics and molecular cell biology to establish tools and new frameworks for studying the physical behaviors of the cellular cytoskeleton. She is focusing on how this structure – which is composed of dynamic, multiprotein complexes that are far from thermal equilibrium – emerges from the properties of individual proteins.

Reya, Tannishtha - Duke University

Tannishtha Reya, Ph.D., is an associate professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University. She received a Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996. Her work has provided insight into the signals that control stem cell growth and how these signals are subverted to fuel cancer growth. She is using her Pioneer Award to develop high-resolution imaging strategies to visualize the behavior of living stem cells during growth, regeneration, and cancer formation. A better understanding of stem cells in the context of their native environment will help develop new approaches to regenerative medicine and cancer therapy.

Rosenberg, Susan - Baylor College of Medicine

Susan M. Rosenberg, Ph.D., is the Cullen Endowed Professor of Molecular Genetics in the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. She received a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Oregon in 1986. Rosenberg uses molecular genetic approaches to study mechanisms of genomic instability in the simple model organism Escherichia coli. She is using her Pioneer Award to develop innovative gene discovery methods to examine how the DNA in living cells becomes damaged, leading to genomic instability and cancer. She will seek to discover genetic networks that control levels of endogenous DNA damage in E. coli and underlie genomic instability, then translate the discoveries to human cells, where similar networks may play a previously unrecognized role in cancer.

Segal, Rosalind - Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Rosalind A. Segal, M.D., Ph.D., is an associate professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Department of Pediatric Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Segal received a Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University in 1985 and an M.D. from Cornell University Medical College in 1986. Her laboratory focuses on the biology of brain tumors by probing the complex molecular machinery of the developing brain. Segal’s research aims to understand the mechanisms critical for normal development of the nervous system and how deregulated proliferation, migration, and survival of cells can cause brain tumors and other neurological diseases. She is using her Pioneer Award for genetic and biochemical studies to identify the way complex sugars work to maintain neural stem cells in the developing and adult brain. Her prior honors include the Klingenstein Fund Robert Ebert Fellowship and a fellowship from the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research.

van Oudenaarden, Alexander - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Alexander van Oudenaarden, Ph.D., is a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received a Ph.D. in experimental condensed matter physics in 1998 from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Van Oudenaarden is a biophysicist whose goal is to quantitatively understand the origins and consequences of stochastic gene expression using a combination of experimental and computational methods. He is using the Pioneer Award to explore how stochastic gene expression is controlled during embryonic development and cellular differentiation. Van Oudenaarden’s honors include a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, a Sloan Research Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Zhang, Jin - Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Jin Zhang, Ph.D., is an associate professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences, neuroscience, and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Chicago in 2000. Zhang’s research focuses on achieving a more comprehensive understanding of cell signaling by adding time and space dimensions and dynamic information to the current map of signal transduction networks. She is using her Pioneer Award to develop a new strategy for manipulating molecular force and perturbing biochemical activity in living systems via genetically engineered probes. The goal is to enable new biochemistry and biophysics studies to address many questions about the properties and behaviors of biological molecules in their native context.