October 5, 2007

NIH grants $8 million to U of C scientists

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded $8 million last month to four young University scientists whose fields of study span several scientific disciplines.

The grants were part of a $105-million grant that the NIH awarded last month to 41 researchers across the country.

Margaret Gardel and Rustem Ismagilov, recipients of the fourth annual Director’s Pioneer Awards, each garnered $2.5 million, while Kristen Jacobson and Dorothy Sipkins, among the first recipients of the New Innovator Awards, received $1.5 million each.

Both awards are designed to assist scientists who propose “highly innovative—potentially transformative—approaches that have the potential to produce an unusually high impact,” according to the NIH’s website.

The New Innovator Awards are particularly geared toward “new investigators” who have not benefited from previous NIH grants. Applicants for the awards underwent a multitiered peer-review process.

Gardel, an assistant professor of physics, is studying the cytoskelton, the inner structure of a cell. She plans to study the differences between living biological matter and inert physical matter and hopes to identify what causes errors when cytoskeletons change their shape, a frequent occurrence in cancerous cells.

Ismagilov, an associate professor of chemistry, specializes in microfluidic technology, the manipulation of fluid flows liquids—on the scale of nanoliters.

Kristin Jacobson, an assistant professor of psychiatry, is one of only two behavioral researchers who received an NIH award this year. For the next five years, she will conduct a study attempting to disentangle various genetic and environmental effects on the behavioral development of adolescents.

She will study similarly aged siblings from local middle schools and the differences and similarities in their behavior. Her data will be used to determine what racial, socioeconomic, and familial factors can affect gene expression.

Sipkins, an assistant professor of medicine, is studying stem cell and tumor microenvironments and how they function in bone marrow. She hopes to study environments that dictate where and how cells travel and how that information can be applied to develop therapeutic methods of treatment.