8 Harvard Medical School Researchers Receive NIH Awards

Awards support high-risk, high-reward research

Eight Harvard Medical School researchers have been awarded High-Risk, High-Reward Research program grants by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The program supports investigators at each career stage who propose innovative research that, due to its inherent risk, may struggle in the traditional NIH peer-review process.

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The HMS awardees are among 85 recipients who received approximately $187 million in total funding.

The program is supported by the NIH Common Fund, which oversees programs that pursue major scientific opportunities requiring collaboration across the agency to succeed.

The High-Risk, High-Reward Research program “is a pillar for innovation here at NIH, providing support to transformational research, with advances in biomedical and behavioral science,” said Robert Eisinger, acting director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which oversees the NIH Common Fund. “These awards align with the Common Fund’s mandate to support science expected to have exceptionally high and broadly applicable impact.”

Six HMS researchers received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. The award supports unusually innovative research from early-career investigators within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency who have not yet received an NIH R01 or equivalent grant.

The New Innovator Award recipients from HMS are:

  • Felix Dietlein, HMS assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, whose research combines concepts from data science, statistics, machine learning, and genomics to discover targets for new personalized therapies.
  • Lucas Farnung, assistant professor of cell biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, whose research explores molecular processes at the intersection of chromatin, transcription, and epigenetics.
  • Marco Jost, assistant professor of microbiology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, whose research seeks to define the chemical underpinnings of host–microbiome interactions.
  • Michael Miller, HMS assistant professor of pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, whose research focuses on the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases at the single-cell level, with a major focus on the mechanisms and effects of somatic mutation in human neurons.
  • Humsa Venkatesh, HMS assistant professor of neurology at Brigham and Women’s, whose research studies the electrical components of tumor pathophysiology and highlights the extent to which neural activity controls and facilitates disease progression.
  • Xin Zhou, HMS assistant professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, whose research focuses on engineering novel biologics for sensing and modulating cancer and immune receptor functions.

Two HMS researchers received the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, which helps exceptional junior scientists who have recently received their doctoral degree or completed their medical residency to skip traditional postdoctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions.

The Early Independence Award recipients from HMS are:

  • Emily Ferenczi, HMS instructor in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, whose research seeks to understand the neural circuit mechanisms that contribute to the diverse symptoms experienced by patients with neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and identify strategies to alleviate these symptoms using targeted neural circuit therapies.
  • Jonathan Tsai, HMS instructor in pathology at Brigham and Women’s, whose research combines functional genomics, biochemistry, and molecular biology to study how hormone receptor degradation regulates hormone signaling and understand how protein degradation impacts transcriptional activity.

The NIH issued eight Pioneer Awards, 58 New Innovator Awards, six Transformative Research Awards, and 13 Early Independence Awards in 2023.

In addition to the Common Fund, funding for the awards comes from the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences; National Institute of Mental Health; National Library of Medicine; National Institute on Aging; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and Office of Dietary Supplements.

Adapted from NIH press materials.