From probing bacterial pathogenesis to exploring the mechanisms and functions of dopamine coding, 23 new collaborative research projects are being funded to boost partnerships among Blavatnik Institute departments on the Quad and with HMS affiliates, thanks to Harvard Medical School Dean George Q. Daley’s new innovation grants program.
Two of the recipients, Gordon Fishell, HMS professor of neurobiology, and Steven McCarroll, the Dorothy and Milton Flier Professor of Biomedical Science and Genetics, will be studying the developmental origins of cell diversity in the mammalian forebrain.
“The lessons that are emerging from our shared effort promise to be transformative for understanding brain development, evolution and disease,” Fishell said. “The Dean’s Initiative [funding] provided the essential resources for us to fully make this collaboration a reality.”
Designed to foster new discovery science, technology and development projects as well as studies that work to improve quality, costs and access to medical care, the first round of funding awarded $14 million through the program.
Both Fishell and McCarroll said the funding provides opportunities for collaboration, one of the main objectives behind the initiative.
“In this work together we hope to understand connections among brain development, evolution and disease in new ways made possible by single-cell analysis,” said McCarroll. “Since Gord [Fishell] arrived at Harvard Medical School, my lab has relished the interactions with his lab and their deep understanding of brain development and the biology of interneurons.”
“The Dean’s Initiative Award allows us to quickly escalate these interactions into a deep and meaningful collaboration. We are very grateful for this support,” he added.
“It has been gratifying to see the tremendous response we’ve had to this initiative,” said Daley. “The proposals were impressive in their scope, and I am pleased that we will be able to provide this added support for our faculty.”
Awards were announced to recipients in July after a six-month submission and review process. Forty-six letters of interest were received, and 32 were invited to submit proposals. All of the proposals were evaluated based on scientific criteria, collaboration, innovation and potential to lead to follow-on funding within 24 months.
"The proposals we received were, uniformly, of extremely high quality—reflecting the exceptional research base we are lucky enough to have at HMS but also the excitement generated by the call for these collaborative innovation grants,” said review committee co-chair Clifford Tabin, the George Jacob and Jacqueline Hazel Leder Professor of Genetics and head of the Department of Genetics.
“There will be additional opportunities to apply for such grants in the future,” he said, “and we hope that those individuals we were unable to fund this round will reapply. Ideally we would have liked to have been able to support all of them."
There will be another opportunity for candidates to submit requests for proposals during this academic year, and several more calls for proposals are anticipated in the coming years.
A. Sloan Devlin, assistant professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology, will be working with Jun Huh, assistant professor of microbiology and immunobiology, on a proposal to study immunomodulatory metabolites from human gut bacteria.
“These Dean's grants address a significant challenge that many investigators face: how to obtain funding for an exciting, important, innovative idea that is in its early stages, before enough data have been gathered to apply for full federal or foundation-supported funding. These grants help to fill that crucial gap,” said Devlin.
“As an early career investigator, this funding has the power to be transformative for my research,” Devlin added. “Sometimes it's difficult to obtain funding from external agencies in the early days of a project. This funding will allow us to jump-start our collaborative research project with Jun Huh's lab and advance it to a stage where it will be extremely competitive for an external grant.”
The grants are awarded for up to $150,000 per PI per year, direct costs, for two years. A third year of funding may be awarded contingent on success in the first two years. A key indicator of success will be prospects for successful follow-on grant funding for the project from the National Institutes of Health or another external funding source after the third year, according to the grant parameters published online.
Additionally, in all cases, the lead PI must be an HMS ladder faculty member with her or his primary laboratory within the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School . Collaborative projects from PIs and co-PIs within the same HMS department, single-PI applications, and applications with one or more co-PIs from other Harvard schools or HMS-affiliated institutions will also be considered.
Especially encouraged are applications to boost existing projects to the point that they are competitive for external, full-IDC-bearing funding by the end of the second year.
This year’s grant recipients and projects are listed below:
New microscopy to study mechanisms of notch signaling
PI: Stephen Blacklow, Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
Co-PI: Tomas Kirchhausen, Cell Biology, Boston Children’s Hospital
Neural control of infection responses and sickness behavior
PI: Isaac Chiu, Microbiology and Immunobiology
Co-PI: Stephen Liberles, Cell Biology
A novel method to define the role of genetic sex in neural circuit function
PI: Sandeep Robert Datta, Neurobiology
Co-PI: Bernardo Sabatini, Neurobiology
Immunomodulatory metabolites from human gut bacteria
PI: A. Sloan Devlin, Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
Co-PI: Jun Huh, Microbiology and Immunobiology
Representation and use of uncertainty in the Drosophilanavigational system
PI: Jan Drugowitsch, Neurobiology
Co-PI: Rachel Wilson, Neurobiology
Proteasome regulation and the ubiquitin code
PI: Daniel Finley, Cell Biology
Co-PI: Ying Lu, Systems Biology
Developmental origins of cell diversity in the mammalian forebrain
PI: Gordon Fishell, Neurobiology
Co-PI: Steven McCarroll, Genetics
Understanding the idiosyncratic performance of the generic pharmaceutical market
PI: Richard Frank, Health Care Policy
Co-PI: Thomas McGuire, Health Care Policy
Inhibition of malaria parasite invasion of erythrocytes by ibudilast and ibudilast-like small molecules
PI: David Golan, Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
Co-PI: Mihaela Gadjeva, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Contribution of peripheral mechanoreceptor subtypes to the functional organization of somatosensory cortex
PI: Christopher Harvey, Neurobiology
Co-PI: David Ginty, Neurobiology
Layer specific neuron-astrocyte crosstalk during cortical circuit assembly
PI: Corey Harwell, Neurobiology
Co-PI: Wei-Chung Lee, BCH, Neurobiology
Bacterial Pathogenesis Initiative at Harvard
PI: Darren Higgins, Microbiology and Immunobiology
Co-PIs:, Marcia Goldberg, Massachusetts General Hospital; Jonathan Kagan, Boston Children’s Hospital; Eric Rubin, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Michael Starnbach, Microbiology and Immunobiology
Mechanisms and functions of rapid dopamine coding
PI: Pascal Kaeser, Neurobiology
Co-PIs: John Assad, Neurobiology and Peng Yin, Systems Biology
Role of the Hippo pathway in tissue regeneration
PI: Marc Kirschner, Systems Biology
Co-PI: Fernando Camargo, SCRB, Boston Children’s Hospital
New molecular tools for the study of herpesviral latency
PI: David Knipe, Microbiology and Immunobiology
Co-PI: Donald Coen, Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
The mechanism of pathway choice in DNA double strand break repair
PI: Joseph Loparo, Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
Co-PI: Johannes Walter, Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
Combining iPSC biology and electronic health records to personalize treatments for neurological disorders
PI: Lee Rubin, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology
Co-PI: Isaac Kohane, Biomedical Informatics
Nutrient sensing and spore germination
PI: David Rudner, Microbiology and Immunobiology
Co-PIs: Andrew Kruse, Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology and Debora Marks, Systems Biology
Seeing in dark places: probing bacterial polysaccharide regulation in the mammalian gut using engineered livingbiosensors
PI: Pamela Silver, Systems Biology
Co-PI: Dennis Kasper, Microbiology and Immunobiology
Regulatory T cell control of stem/progenitor cells during tissue regeneration
PI: Amy Wagers, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology
Co-PIs: Ya-Chieh Hsu, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology; Diane Mathis, Microbiology and Immunobiology
DNA-corralled nanodiscs for studies of large membrane proteins and their complexes
PI: Gerhard Wagner, Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
Co-PI: William Shih, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Cryo-EM analysis of a mammalian circadian clock complex
PI: Charles Weitz, Neurobiology
Co-PI: Alan Brown, Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
Mass spectrometry metabolomics in brain slice with time- and cell-type-resolution
PI: Gary Yellen, Neurobiology
Co-PI: Nathalie Agar, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
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