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Four NIDCD Smell Grantees Receive Awards for Highly Innovative and High Impact Research

Four researchers who have received funding from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) were selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as recipients of either the 2009 NIH Director's Pioneer Awards or New Innovator Awards. Both programs are part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research (http://nihroadmap.nih.gov), established in 2004, and support exceptionally creative scientists who take highly innovative, potentially high-impact approaches to major challenges in biomedical or behavioral research. This year marks the largest number of Pioneer and New Innovator awards in the program’s history.

NIH Director’s Pioneer Award

Pioneer awardees receive up to $2.5 million in direct costs over 5 years. Among this year’s 18 Pioneer awardees receiving a total of $13.5 million are the following NIDCD grantees:

Timothy E. Holy, Ph.D., is an associate professor of neurobiology in the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. His research focuses on investigating the mechanisms by which neurons detect and recognize pheromones in mammals. Pheromones are chemical cues that are released into the air, secreted from glands, or excreted in urine. Members of the same species can sense these chemical cues through their sense of smell, triggering various social and reproductive behaviors. Focusing on the mouse, Dr. Holy's laboratory explores the actions of these species-specific chemical messages: namely, how they are received and interpreted by the brain and the types of behavioral responses they generate. Dr. Holy is also developing new optical methods for imaging neuron activity. With this award, he hopes to pursue new, non-destructive optical methods for visualizing neuron activity and develop techniques to see deeper into tissue. Dr. Holy received a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University.

Gene E. Robinson, Ph.D., is a professor of entomology and neuroscience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He studies the role of olfaction in the evolution of social behavior, using an integrative approach that draws perspectives and techniques from evolutionary biology, behavior, neuroscience, molecular biology, and genomics. In recent NIDCD-funded work, Dr. Robinson used the honey bee as a model to study how pheromones regulate gene expression in the brain. He is using his Pioneer Award to understand in molecular terms how to transform the brain’s reward system from a selfish to an altruistic orientation. The goal is to achieve new insights into the flexibility of reward circuits that will fundamentally change our understanding of drug addiction and other diseases of the reward system. Dr. Robinson earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University.

New Innovator Award

New Innovator awardees are early stage investigators who have not received an NIH R01 research grant. They receive up to $1.5 million in direct costs over 5 years. Among this year’s 55 New Innovator awardees receiving a total of $131 million, including $23 million in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are the following NIDCD grantees:

Stavros Lomvardas, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the department of anatomy at the University of California in San Francisco. His NIDCD-funded research focuses on the regulatory principles governing how olfactory sensory neurons—neurons located high in the nasal cavity—come to express only a single allele of one of the roughly 1,300 possible mammalian odor receptor genes. Dr. Lomvardas’s New Innovator award focuses on possible long-term changes in the activity of genes that may be modulated by neural activity and play a role in long-term plasticity of neurons. Dr. Lomvardas received a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Columbia University.

Mark W. Albers, M.D., Ph.D., is a neurologist and researcher at the Massachusetts General Hospital. His research focuses on changes in the olfactory system as a biomarker for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease. Starting in 2001, Dr. Albers received a Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Award (K08) for five years from NIDCD in which he mapped olfactory coding and perception in the olfactory bulb and at higher levels of sensory processing. His New Innovator award focuses on his recent research in which he has developed a mouse model that expresses the AD gene in olfactory sensory neurons. He plans to use his mouse model to learn how neurodegenerative disease genes interact with odor detection and the function of olfactory circuits. Dr. Albers earned his M.D. and Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School.

To see a list of all 2009 Pioneer Award recipients, go to http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/pioneer/Recipients09.aspx. For a list of the 2009 New Innovator Award recipients, go to http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/newinnovator/Recipients09.asp. Read more about the NIH’s Roadmap initiatives on high-risk research at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/highrisk.