Seventy-eight grants have been awarded to scientists proposing highly innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research, under the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program supported by the NIH Common Fund. Awards support exceptional investigators pursuing bold research projects that span the broad mission of the NIH, including developing methods for cells to synthesize their own drugs, using cell phones to identify and track disease-carrying mosquitoes in their natural habitats, stopping depression by monitoring and altering brain cell states, and exploring how socially learned behavior can be passed on biologically to future generations.
“This program has consistently produced research that revolutionized scientific fields by giving investigators the freedom to take risks and explore potentially groundbreaking concepts.” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “We look forward to the remarkable advances in biomedical research the 2015 awardees will make.”
The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high-impact, trans-NIH programs. Common Fund programs are designed to pursue major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single NIH Institute could tackle alone, but that the agency as a whole can address to make the biggest impact possible on the progress of medical research.
The High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, part of the NIH Common Fund, manages the following four awards:
The Pioneer Award, established in 2004, challenges investigators at all career levels to pursue new research directions and develop groundbreaking approaches with a high impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral science.
The New Innovator Award, established in 2007, supports unusually innovative research from early career investigators who are within 10 years of their terminal degree or clinical residency and have not yet received a research project grant (R01) or equivalent NIH grant.
The Transformative Research Award, established in 2009, promotes cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches and is open to individuals and teams of investigators who propose research that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms.
The Early Independence Award, established in 2011, provides an opportunity for exceptional junior scientists who have recently received their doctoral degree or finished medical residency to skip traditional post-doctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions.
In 2015, NIH has awarded 13 Pioneer awards, 41 New Innovator awards, eight Transformative Research awards, and 16 Early Independence awards. The total funding, which represents contributions from the NIH Common Fund and multiple NIH institutes, centers, and offices is approximately $121 million.
Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) Core Faculty member, Dr. Alex K. Shalek, is currently the HLF von Helmholtz Career Development Assistant Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT and an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. He is also an Associate Member of the Ragon and Broad Institutes, and an Assistant in Immunology at MGH. His research is directed towards the development and application of new technologies that facilitate understanding of how cells collectively perform systems-level functions in healthy and diseased states. Alex received his bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from Columbia University, his Ph.D. from Harvard University in chemical physics under the guidance of Hongkun Park, and performed his postdoctoral training under Hongkun Park and Aviv Regev (Broad/MIT). To date, his interdisciplinary research has focused on realizing and utilizing nanoscale manipulation and measurement technologies to examine how small components (molecules, cells) drive systems of vast complexity (cellular responses, population behaviors).
His project title is “Bottom – Up” Profiling of Interacting Cellular Systems.
New Innovator awardee bios and projects can be found here.