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Neuroscientists, Geneticist Win ‘High Risk, High Reward’ Grants

October 02, 2018
by Kendall Teare

Three Yale researchers have won 2018 ‘High Risk, High Rewards’ grants from the Common Fund of the National Institutes of Health, which intends to fund “major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that require trans-NIH collaboration to succeed.” Each award covers five years of research and totals over $2.5 million in funding.

Sidi Chen, assistant professor of genetics, has won $2.5 million to fund a five-year research project to improve T cell-based immunotherapy to fight diseases such as cancer. Chen’s lab hopes to “innovate new platforms to precisely engineer the genome and transcriptome of immune cells in a high-throughput manner” and then apply those techniques to identify new genes that control T cell function and anti-tumor activity, all with the goal of improving the efficacy, safety, and reliability of immunotherapy treatments.

Daniel Colón-Ramos, associate professor of neuroscience and cell biology, has been awarded $3.5 million to examine the hypothesis that local energy production within neuronal cells powers brain function and, consequently, “underwrites important brain activities,” including memory formation and behavior. Energy is fundamental for all brain processes, and his team proposes that understanding how energy is generated and distributed with subcellular resolution could reframe our understanding of brain function and dysfunction in disease states.

Junjie Guo, assistant professor of neuroscience, has won $2.5 million to research a unique class of RNA molecules, those that contain long repetitive sequences. These repeat RNAs have been implicated in a variety of neurological disorders, such as myotonic dystrophy (DM) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Guo’s team hopes that its work will not only help enhance understanding of the unusual biological properties of repeat RNAs but also inspire new strategies for treating the neurological disorders that result from these malfunctioning RNAs.

Chen and Guo’s grants are New Innovator Awards, which “support unusually innovative research from early career investigators who are within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency and have not yet received a research project grant or equivalent NIH grant.” Colón-Ramos’ grant is a Pioneer Award, which “challenges investigators at all career levels to pursue new research directions and develop groundbreaking, high-impact approaches to a broad area of biomedical or behavioral science.”

Submitted by Robert Forman on October 02, 2018