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National Institutes of Health

Director’s Update
October 6, 2008

2008 NIH Director’s Pioneer and New Innovator Awards Include Research That Promises to Improve Understanding of Mental Health and Brain Disorders

NIH Director Elias Zerhouni announced on September 22, 2008 the new recipients of the Pioneer Awards and New Innovator Awards. The awards are key components of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research and support exceptionally creative scientists who take highly innovative approaches to major challenges in biomedical research.

The awards will go 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.

Now in its fifth year, the Pioneer Award program has made 63 awards, 16 of them in 2008. Each Pioneer Award provides $2.5 million in direct costs over five years.

The New Innovator Award program, launched in 2007, supports 61 investigators—30 selected last year and 31 more this year. New Innovator Awards are for $1.5 million in direct costs over five years.

Selected award recipients whose work may add to the body of mental health knowledge include the following:

2008 NIH Director’s Pioneer Award Recipients

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.

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 the brain.

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.

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.

2008 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award Recipients

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 lateral sclerosis.

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.

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 behavior.