UChicago scientists receive NIH Director’s high-risk research awards


Three University of Chicago researchers received awards from the National Institutes of Health’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program. Part of the NIH Common Fund, the program funded 86 awards to exceptionally creative scientists proposing to use highly innovative approaches to tackle major challenges in biomedical research. It supports high-risk ideas with high-impact potential, such as building imaging platforms to monitor genetic processes at a molecular level, identifying immune system proteins that can detect tumors, and creating new chemicals to target genetic factors that lead to disease.

The program accelerates scientific discovery by supporting high-risk research proposals that may not fare well in the traditional peer review process despite their potential to advance the field. Applicants of the program are encouraged to think outside-the-box and to pursue exciting, trailblazing ideas in any area of research relevant to the NIH mission.

“I continually point to this program as an example of the creative and revolutionary research NIH supports,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “The quality of the investigators and the impact their research has on the biomedical field is extraordinary.”

The NIH Common Fund supports a series of exceptionally high-impact programs that cross NIH Institutes and Centers. Common Fund programs pursue major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that require trans-NIH collaboration to succeed.

The High-Risk, High-Reward Research program manages four awards. The three UChicago faculty members received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, established in 2007, which supports 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:

Jingyi Fei, PhDJingyi Fei, PhD

Project Title: Quantitative Imaging of Epitranscriptomic Regulation Mediated by RNA Modification

Jingyi Fei is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics at The University of Chicago. Her research has been focused on RNA-mediated gene regulations, including trans-acting small regulatory RNAs in bacterial systems, and RNA internal modifications in eukaryotic systems, with the development and application of new imaging methods.

Seungmin Hwang, PhD

Seungmin Hwang, PhD

Project Title: Targeting by Autophagy Proteins for Anti-Tumor Immunity

Seungmin Hwang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Chicago. The focus of his research group has been understanding the function of the ubiquitin-like conjugation system of the autophagy pathway in sensing and destroying the vacuole-like shelters of intracellular pathogens, expanding this research subject into antitumor immunity.

Raymond Moellering, PhDRaymond Moellering, PhD

Project Title: Targeting Transcription with Synthetic Biologics

Raymond Moellering is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Chicago. He started his independent research program at UChicago in 2015, where his laboratory is focused on developing new chemical tools and technologies to study complexity and dynamics in the proteome, thus illuminating causal pathways in disease as well as novel therapeutic strategies to target them.

For 2017, NIH issued 12 Pioneer awards55 New Innovator awards8 Transformative Research awards, and 11 Early Independence awards. The 2017 awards total approximately $263 million, pending available funds, and represent contributions from the NIH Common Fund; National Institute of General Medical Sciences; National Institute of Mental Health; National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; and National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Story provided by the NIH

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