UW News

September 30, 2013

3 UW professors honored by NIH for innovative biomedical research


UW News | UW Medicine Newsroom

The National Institutes of Health has awarded nearly 80 grants to scientists working in biomedical research as part of this year’s High Risk-High Reward program. Three University of Washington faculty members are among those honored with a grant.

The research program encourages scientists to pursue creative and innovative ideas about biomedical and behavioral research with the aim of addressing today’s major challenges in these fields. Total funding for the awards is about $123 million and comes from the National Institutes of Health Common Fund, and a number of institutes and centers.

The 2013 UW recipients:

Houra Merrikh

Houra Merrikh

Houra Merrikh, assistant professor of microbiology, studies how head-on collisions between DNA-code reading machineries accelerate evolution. Her work on harmless bacteria shows that they appear to speed up their evolution by positioning genes along the route of expected traffic jams in DNA-encoding. This tactic might also be imitated by harmful bacteria to adjust to conditions in the body, thereby strengthening their virulence or causing persistent infections. Similar methods for speeding up evolution during environmental stress are likely to occur in other living creatures as well. With her New Innovator Award, Merrikh will look at the clashes that take place when a DNA strand is being read to create a new set of genes during cell reproduction or to produce a protein. The work will explain natural mechanisms of gene repair and mutation, and provide insights into evolution and adaptation.

Jay Shendure

Jay Shendure

Jay Shendure, associate professor of genome sciences, and his lab have created rapid, cost-effective methods to study subtle differences in DNA codes among people. His group is interested in how these genetic variations might affect susceptibility or resistance to disease, or response to treatment. Testing for such genetic variations is increasingly helping to guide and personalize health care. However, patients often carry difficult-to-interpret variants in clinically relevant genes such as those linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Shendure’s Pioneer Award will support the search for new approaches to estimate the consequences of all possible variants of clinically relevant genes. He hopes this will improve the interpretation of human genome sequences in diverse clinical and research settings.

Photo of Ying Zheng

Ying Zheng

Ying Zheng, assistant professor of bioengineering, works on creating new organ-specific microenvironments for both regenerative medicine and therapeutic development. Zheng and her group are developing 3-D systems in vitro that display the complex architecture of bone marrow and function to generate blood cells. These systems could allow for the preclinical testing for therapies to increase blood cell counts in diseases where they are low. This system also has the potential to be scaled up to generate enough blood cells for transfusions. Zheng’s research project is called “A microfluidic bone marrow niche for the study of hematopoiesis.”