Top NIH Prize Goes to Three Stanford Faculty Members
News Sep 30, 2005
National Institutes of Health has announced that three Stanford University School of Medicine scientists are among a select group of 13 researchers nationwide being recognized for their innovative work.
The winners of the NIH Director's 2005 Pioneer Awards will each receive up to $500,000 annually for five years to help fund their research.
“Although the Pioneer Award is relatively new, it has quickly become one of the most prestigious and important recognitions by the NIH,” said Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the School of Medicine.
“Having three Pioneer Award winners is simply remarkable.”
The Stanford winners are Thomas Rando, MD, PhD; Pehr Harbury, PhD, and Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD.
The recipients were selected out of an initial pool of 840 applicants.
“The scientists we recognize with Pioneer Awards have far-ranging ideas that hold the potential to make truly extraordinary contributions to many fields of medical research,” said NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, MD.
Rando, associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences, said the award is “both an honor and a challenge.”
The challenge, he added, will be to live up to the high standards the award sets.
Rando is looking for ways to enhance the potential of stem cells to repair damaged tissue in the elderly.
Harbury, associate professor of biochemistry, and Stanford's two other winners clearly fall into the latter category.
Recently named a 2005 MacArthur Fellow (also known as a “genius” award), Harbury is trying to devise ways to use DNA molecules as blueprints for the synthesis of small chemical compounds that may be useful in drug design.
He plans to use his Pioneer Award funding for more work in that area.
Specifically, he hopes to develop an approach to designing drugs much more quickly and cheaply than is currently possible.
“We're trying to put the 'magic' into the magic bullet of drug design,” he said.
The third Stanford winner - Deisseroth, assistant professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences whose faculty appointments span both the School of Engineering and the School of Medicine - has been focusing on the electrical circuitry of the brain, on the theory that some mental illness may be due to circuitry glitches rather than chemical imbalances.
“We're trying to bring high-speed bioengineering tools to the study of psychiatry,” he said.
Rando said the medical school's support of his research helped make it possible for him to receive the Pioneer Award. “I attribute a lot to the environment in which we work,” he said.
Harbury added, “I feel extremely lucky to be at Stanford.” Part of the reason Harbury chose to come to the School of Medicine, he explained, was Stanford's reputation for “allowing people to go out on a limb and try hard things.”
As genome editing technologies advance toward clinical therapies, they are raising hopes of a completely new way to treat disease. However, challenges need to be addressed before potential treatments can be widely used in patients. To tackle these challenges, the National Institutes of Health has launched the Somatic Cell Genome Editing program, which has awarded multiple grants including more than $3.6 million to assess the safety of genome editing in human cells and tissues.