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Genetics work earns U-M Medical School professor New Innovator Award

National Institutes of Health announces Sundeep Kalantry, Ph.D., will receive New Innovator Award

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The National Institutes of Health will grant a 2011 New Innovator Award to University of Michigan Medical School Assistant Professor Sundeep Kalantry, PhD, a scientist studying long-lasting changes in gene expression – potentially reversible – that occur during both normal development and diseases such as cancers.

The NIH Director's New Innovator Award addresses two important goals: stimulating highly innovative research and supporting promising new investigators. Many new investigators have exceptionally innovative research ideas, but not the preliminary data required to fare well in the traditional NIH peer review system.

As part of NIH's commitment to increasing opportunities for new scientists, it has created the innovator award to support exceptionally creative new investigators who propose projects that have the potential for unusually high impact. The 2011 award recipients, a total of 49, were announced today.

With the award, Kalantry, a faculty member in the U-M Department of Human Genetics, will receive $1.5 million to support his research over the next five years.

He will study X-chromosome inactivation to identify novel epigenetic factors. Epigenetic mechanisms regulate gene expression in a long-lasting manner, but are reversible. Epigenetic dysregulation is an important contributor to human diseases and the U-M professor’s research has the potential to provide novel targets for disease diagnosis and therapy.

“This proposal aims to discover and delineate novel factors and mechanisms that trigger epigenetic transcriptional regulation,” Kalantry explains. “Dysregulation of the epigenetic cellular machinery is increasingly being recognized as a cause of, or significant contributor to, human diseases such as cancers.

“Importantly, as opposed to irreversible mutations in DNA, epigenetic modifications are reversible. This reversibility makes epigenetic changes, including those we propose to identify, potentially amenable to manipulation and therapeutic intervention,” he says.

The NIH Director's New Innovator Award program is different from traditional NIH grants in several ways. It is designed specifically to support unusually creative new investigators at an early stage of their career when they may lack the preliminary data required for an R01 grant.

“The NIH Director’s Award programs reinvigorate the biomedical work force by providing unique opportunities to conduct research that is neither incremental nor conventional,” said James M. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives, who guides the Common Fund’s High-Risk Research program.“The awards are intended to catalyze giant leaps forward for any area of biomedical research, allowing investigators to go in entirely new directions.”

Since inception, the NIH Director’s Award Program has funded a total of 406 High-Risk Research awards: 111 Pioneer Awards since 2004, 216 New Innovator Awards since 2007, and 79 Transformative Research Projects Awards since 2009. This tally includes this year’s 13 Pioneer Awards, 49 New Innovator Awards, and 17 Transformative Research Projects Awards.

The NIH expects to make competing awards of approximately $10.4 million to Pioneer awardees, $117.5 million to New Innovators, and $15.9 million to Transformative Research Projects awardees in Fiscal Year 2011. The total funding provided to this competing cohort over a five-year period is estimated to be $245.6 million.


NIH’s New Innovator Award



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