Penn Medicine researchers receive prestigious 2021 NIH Director’s Awards

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PHILADELPHIA – The National Institutes of Health has awarded grants to researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania to support “highly innovative, high impact” biomedical science through the High Risk Research Program and High Yield Fund from the NIH Common Fund. The seven awards total approximately $ 8.2 million over five years,

The High risk, high return research program catalyzes scientific discovery by supporting research proposals which, due to their inherent risk, may have difficulty in the traditional peer review process, despite their transformational potential. Applicants to the program are encouraged to pursue innovative ideas in any area of ​​research relevant to NIH’s mission to advance knowledge and improve health.

Penn Medicine 2021 recipients are among the 106 national winners:

New Innovators Award

Amber Alhadeff, PhD

Harnessing sensory food circuits to influence eating behavior

Alhadeff, adjunct assistant professor of neuroscience, takes a unique approach to understanding obesity by evaluating the power of neural circuits of taste, smell and nutrients in modifying eating behavior. His team will also discover how sensory and nutritional information is integrated into the brains of mice to predict future weight gain. The success of this project will transform our understanding of how our brains and our environment interact to promote overeating and obesity.

Pierre Choi

Peter S. Choi, PhD

Exploring the Hidden Determinants of Splicing with Genome-Targeted Proximity Tagging

Choi, assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, will examine the link between epigenetics and RNA splicing to discover their relationship in healthy and unhealthy settings, as well as to identify new opportunities for therapeutic intervention in diseases such as cancer.

Erica Korb

Erica Korb, PhD

The epigenetic encoding of learning and memory

Korb, assistant professor of genetics, will seek to discover the transcriptional signature encoding a memory in a neuron and how it is influenced by epigenetic mechanisms. Through this work, Korb’s lab hopes to understand how the physical world influences the regulation of genes in the brain to enable us to learn, adapt, and become the person we are today.

mustafa mir

Mustafa Mir, PhD

Quantify the dynamics of gene regulation and nuclear organization during embryogenesis

Mir, assistant professor of cell and developmental biology, will integrate cutting-edge techniques to directly visualize and quantify how the regulation of gene expression is orchestrated during embryonic development. The essential new information that will be drawn from the proposed experiments has the potential to lead to new therapeutic approaches to prevent or repair defects resulting from aberrant expression of genes during development, aging and cancer.

lilang wang

Liling Wan, PhD

Illuminate transcriptional digest using an integrated approach

Wan, assistant professor of cancer biology, is studying the functions and mechanisms of a newly recognized form of transcriptional assembly, in order to better understand gene regulation. The success of this project would establish a new model of gene control and have the potential to transform the way we target gene deregulation in cancer and other diseases.

Transformative Research Fellowships

black bin

Ben Black, PhD


Mendelian inheritance of artificial chromosomes

Black, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the Eldridge Reeves Johnson Foundation, as well as co-principal investigator Michael Lampson, PhD, professor of biology, aim to build the first artificial chromosomes of synthetic mammals that follow Mendel’s laws, from minimum components. The success will transform the fundamental understanding of what constitutes a mammalian chromosome and have many applications in synthetic biology and biotechnology, such as creating animal models for drug development and as sources of personalized organs for transplantation. .

Pioneer Award

Phillips-Cremins

Jennifer Phillips-Cremins, PhD

From 3D genomes to neuronal connectomes: higher order chromatin mechanisms encoding long-term memory

Phillips-Cremins, PhD, associate professor of bioengineering and genetics, seeks to unravel the functional link between long-range 3D genome folding models and synaptic plasticity when encoding long-term memory in the mammalian brain. Since many key neurological disorders are considered diseases of the synapse, the success of this work will provide a basis for future studies on the role of misfolded genome topology on the onset and progression of neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodegenerative.

Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the country’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form an $ 8.9 billion company.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to the US News & World Report’s survey of research-driven medical schools. The school is consistently among the top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $ 496 million awarded in fiscal year 2020.

Patient care facilities in the University of Pennsylvania Health System include: University of Pennsylvania Hospital and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, which is recognized as one of the nation’s top hospitals by US News & World Report: Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the country’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Other facilities and businesses include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is fueled by a talented and dedicated workforce of over 44,000 people. The organization has also forged alliances with top community health systems in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community programs and activities. In fiscal 2020, Penn Medicine provided over $ 563 million to benefit our community.


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