UT Southwestern Biochemist Receives NIH Early Independence Award
News Oct 07, 2015
Dr. William Israelsen, a UT Southwestern Medical Center research scientist whose studies on hibernation may aid the fight against cancer, became one of 16 investigators chosen for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Early Independence Award.
The Early Independence Awards, established in 2011, allow creative early-career scientists to leapfrog the traditional postdoctoral training period by providing funding of up to $250,000 per year for five years to conduct independent investigation in their own laboratories.
They are one of four awards issued by the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, which is supported by the NIH Common Fund. In all, 78 awards were announced today for “exceptional investigators pursuing bold research projects.”
“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.”
“This is a wonderful honor that will help to expand the scope of my work on this high-risk project, both to achieve my goals and to follow new avenues of research as they come up,” said Dr. Israelsen, a Sara and Frank McKnight Independent Postdoctoral Fellow who arrived at UT Southwestern in January. “I also want to thank the Chair of the Department of Biochemistry, Dr. Steven McKnight, the many other Biochemistry faculty members who have provided mentorship, and the McKnight Fellowship for helping launch this project.”
The McKnight Fellowship is named in honor of the parents of Dr. McKnight, who conducted similar independent research at the start of his career at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. The McKnight Fellowship provides funding to enable recipients such as Dr. Israelsen to conduct independent research.
“It is fantastic that he will receive one of the NIH Early Independence Awards,” said Dr. McKnight, who holds the Distinguished Chair in Basic Biomedical Research and The Sam G. Winstead and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry. “The competition for these awards is fierce. This accomplishment brings honor to Dr. Israelsen, the Department of Biochemistry, and UT Southwestern as an institution.”
As a graduate student conducting research on cancer biology, Dr. Israelsen had a conversation with another Ph.D. candidate that changed his research focus.
“We were talking about ways we could gain a better understanding of the hyperactive metabolism of growing cancer cells, which divide very quickly. Hibernation came up as a counterexample,” he explained. “The idea was to look up how animals shut down metabolism during hibernation, and then use that information to understand how cancer cells regulate their metabolic pathways.”
He began to research hibernation and soon realized that none of the questions he was interested in studying had been answered. “At that point, I was hooked,” he said.
Dr. Israelsen grew up in North Logan, Utah, and graduated from Utah State University with degrees in biology and economics before earning his doctorate in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In his downtime, he enjoys relaxing with his wife, Lora, and outdoor activities such as camping and working on the family cars.