The High Risk High Rewards program supported by the National Institutes of Health Common fund has announced New Innovator Awards for three local researchers. They are among 81 scientists selected nationwide for their inventive ideas to transform their field of research and improve the health of the public.
“The Common Fund High Risk Reward program provides opportunities for innovative investigators in any area of health research to take risks when the potential impact in biomedical and behavioral sciences is high,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins in a news announcement. Total funding for the program, which represents contributions from both the NIH Common Fund and multiple NIH institutes and centers, is about $155 million.
The 2012 Seattle recipients:
Kim Woodrow, assistant professor of bioengineering, works on engineering materials to prevent infection by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Her group also is developing materials for detecting and treating diseases, and designing low-cost technology for vaccine delivery and contraception. She aims to develop nanomaterials that would protect against mucosal infections, such as the AIDS virus, which enters through mucus membranes. Her research project is “Nanomaterials for Engineering Protection in the Genital Mucosa.”
Elhanan Borenstein, assistant professor of genome sciences, researches the human microbiome – the complex ensemble of microorganisms that populate the human body. The human microbiome has a tremendous impact on our health, and is altered in various diseases states, such as diabetes, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease. Borenstein and his team are building a comprehensive computational toolkit for designing microbiome manipulations and for discovering possible routes for microbiome-based therapy. This toolkit could inform clinical intervention efforts aiming to manipulate an unhealthy gut microbiome and to shift it into a healthy configuration. His research project is called “A Computational Framework for Designing Microbiome Manipulation.”
Martin Prlic, assistant member, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Section, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, studies two types of cells that are important to immune responses. He is looking at the use of NK cells in preventing opportunistic infections, such as those that occur in bone marrow transplant or organ transplant patients, whose immune systems are suppressed. His work on CD8 T cells, which eliminate infected cells and tumor cells, may offer clues to new vaccine strategies. The title of his award is “Paving the Way for a Novel Therapeutic Approach to Combat HIV.”