UW News

October 6, 2017

3 UW researchers chosen for NIH High-Risk, High-Rewards program


UW News | UW Medicine Newsroom

The National Institutes of Health has awarded 86 grants to scientists working in biomedical research as part of this year’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program. Three University of Washington faculty members are among those honored with a grant.

The program funds exceptionally creative scientists proposing to use highly innovative approaches to tackle major challenges in biomedical research. The program supports high-risk ideas with high-impact potential, and applicants are encouraged to think outside the box and to pursue exciting, trailblazing ideas in any area of research relevant to the NIH mission.

The 2017 UW recipients:

Joshua Vaughan

Joshua Vaughan

Joshua Vaughan, assistant professor of chemistry, and Daniel Chiu, professor of chemistry and bioengineering, are co-recipients of a “Transformative Research Award.”

Chiu and Vaughan are developing radical new technologies for high-resolution mapping of brain tissue, including circuit-level spatial information down to a resolution of 50 nanometers and comprehensive analysis of the types of proteins present across large regions of the brain. These techniques are needed because it is technically difficult to directly detect large numbers of proteins in brain tissue.

Daniel Chiu

Daniel Chiu

Instead of trying to measure proteins directly, most approaches measure RNA molecules — a precursor to proteins. But RNA detection in spatially complex brain tissue has its flaws. Current approaches struggle with dim signals that are difficult to detect over background noise in complex, thick tissues. Chiu and Vaughan will develop new fluorescent probes to light up RNA molecules in tissues and will use a novel, large-area light sheet microscope — together with sample processing techniques — to rapidly probe large volumes of brain tissue at high spatial resolution.

mugshot of Jakob von Moltke

Jakob von Moltke

Jakob von Moltke joined the faculty of the UW School of Medicine last year as an assistant professor of immunology. He is interested in the early warning system that mammals use to detect invasion by parasitic worms and allergens. Both trigger the same defensive reactions. His lab discovered that tuft cells, found in the intestinal lining, are essential to these immune responses. These cells’ intriguing capacity to “taste” intestinal contents suggests they are the sentinels that first spot worms. With the funds provided by the “New Innovator Award,” his lab aims to find the specific worm-alert receptor on tuft cells and the molecule that activates this receptor. The researchers hope that this work will point out new therapeutic targets for preventing and treating worm infestations and allergic disease.  Last year, von Moltke received the Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists. This award recognizes the potential of his immune-response research to transform the understanding of cancer progression.