Institute News Winter 2018 Issue 43

Three McGovern Researchers Receive NIH Director’s Awards

Neurons in the hippocampus, imaged with Ed Boyden’s expansion microscopy (ExM) technique. Image: Ed Boyden
Neurons in the hippocampus, imaged with Ed Boyden’s expansion microscopy (ExM) technique. Image: Ed Boyden

The High-Risk, High-Reward Research (HRHR) program, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund, has awarded 86 grants to scientists with unconventional approaches to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research. Ten of the awardees are affiliated with MIT, including three from the McGovern Institute. The NIH typically supports research projects, not individual scientists, but the HRHR program identifies specific researchers with innovative ideas to address gaps in biomedical research. The program issues four types of awards annually—the Pioneer Award, the New Innovator Award, the Transformative Research Award and the Early Independence Award—to “high-caliber investigators whose ideas stretch the boundaries of our scientific knowledge.”

McGovern Institute research affiliate Fei Chen has received a New Innovator Award, which supports “unusually innovative research” from early career investigators. As a postdoc with Ed Boyden, Chen pioneered novel molecular and microscopy tools to illuminate biological pathways and function. In his own lab at the Broad Institute, he will use one of these tools, expansion microscopy, to explore the molecular basis of glioblastomas, an aggressive form of brain cancer.

McGovern Investigator Feng Zhang has won a Pioneer Award, which challenges recipients to pursue “groundbreaking, high-impact approaches to a broad area of biomedical or behavioral science.” Zhang, who developed the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR, plans to develop a suite of tools designed to achieve precise genome surgery for repairing disease-causing changes in DNA.

McGovern Investigator Ed Boyden is a recipient of the Transformative Research Award, which promotes “cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms.” Boyden, who develops new strategies for understanding and engineering brain circuits, will use the grant to develop high-speed 3-D imaging of neural activity.

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