Founded by Priscilla Chan, AB ’07, and Mark Zuckerberg in 2015, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative strives to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone.
When awarding grants to support academic science, traditional funders such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation often select well-established principal investigators who are conducting research in areas that their labs have long studied.
These sorts of gifts for faculty at our stage can make a huge impact on our careers and our ability to do cutting-edge research.
Both Early Career Acceleration Awards—each worth $2.5 million over five years—will fund investigators who are part of CZI’s first cohort of Neurodegeneration Challenge Network grantees. Isaac Chiu, AB ’02, PhD ’09, assistant professor of immunology, will use his award to take his laboratory in a different direction. Chiu’s lab has focused on interactions between the nervous system and the immune system. With the new funds, he’ll be starting a project to better understand the role that gut bacteria and pathogens play in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and engineer bacteria to treat this devastating motor neuron degenerative disease with no truly effective treatments.
“These sorts of gifts for faculty at our stage can make a huge impact on our careers and our ability to do cutting-edge research,” he says.
Associate professor of systems biology Debora Marks, PhD, whose lab uses computational approaches to decipher genetic data, will use her award to focus on developing novel statistical methods employing probabilistic modeling and machine learning to better understand the mechanisms across a variety of neurodegenerative diseases. These funds have already attracted collaborators from a variety of disciplines.
“People are already sharing their data with me, whether it’s phenotypic measurements from brains or new genetic information,” she says. “We’ll use that with the new probabilistic tools we’re designing and making and testing.”
The third grant was awarded to Jennifer Waters, PhD, a microscopy expert who directs Harvard’s Nikon Imaging Center and serves as interim director of the Imaging and Data Analysis Core. With $750,000 over three years, Waters will be able to expand her ongoing educational mission, developing new microscopy training videos for her YouTube channel, an online forum for microscopy, and a short course for other experts who run core facilities like hers.
Jonah Cool, PhD, science program officer for CZI, says: “Investigators at Harvard are making important contributions to various CZI programs via their close partnerships with other Harvard investigators as well as direct collaboration as part of international teams. Recent grantees illustrate the power of how diverse backgrounds can develop new technologies, use them to generate resources used by the community, and apply them to further our understanding of disease.”
This article originally appeared in the fall 2019 issue of Pulse, the biannual newsletter of the Harvard Medical School Office of Alumni Affairs and Development, which celebrates the heart and impact of the HMS community