Area researchers garnering honors

Several local researchers have earned significant awards recently.

Among them are those who have received New Innovator Awards from the National Institutes of Health for research projects “that challenge the status quo with innovative ideas that have the potential to propel fields forward and speed the translation of research into improved health for the American public.” Forty-nine people received the awards across the country, including:
n From UCSD: John Chang, an assistant professor of medicine, and Nathan Gianneschi, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

Chang and his research group will receive $2.3 million over the next five years from the agency to study the fundamental mechanisms by which cell fate is determined during immune responses against microbes.

Gianneschi and his group will receive $2.3 million over the next five years to conduct further research on their innovative new strategy for delivering molecules specifically to tumor tissue, while avoiding unwanted side-effects normally associated with chemotherapy.

— From The Scripps Research Institute: Brian M. Paegel, Ph.D., and Michael Petrascheck, Ph.D.

Paegel, a member of the Scripps Research Department of Chemistry based at the Jupiter, Fla., campus,

will receive $1.5 million to evolve new molecular tools for protein sequencing.

Petrascheck, Ph.D., a member of the Department of Chemical Physiology, the Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine, and the Dorris Neuroscience Center at Scripps Research, also will get $1.5 million. He will use the award to conduct research on aging and lifespan in C. elegans, a flatworm widely used in aging research. The project will test strategies that might be used in human therapies.

In other research award news:

— Scripps Research Institute Professor Cindy Ehlers has received a $3.6 million MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) Award grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the risk factors for alcoholism in Native Americans.

Ehlers plans to use the five-year grant to better understand alcohol dependence and alcohol-related problems in Native American Indians and to determine why some groups of Native Americans are at high risk for alcoholism by identifying key genetic and environmental variables.

Ehlers said she also plans to investigate whether Native Americans have a unique clinical course of alcoholism or a specific pattern of other psychiatric disorders present with alcoholism that may also influence treatment.

Ehlers’ previous work has done a great deal to dispel is the “firewater myth” that Native Americans are more sensitive to alcohol and they somehow metabolize alcohol differently. 
n Axel Nimmerjahn, Ph.D., assistant professor in The Salkl Institute’s Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center and holder of the Richard Allan Barry Developmental Chair in Biophotonics has been awarded a highly selective grant from the Whitehall Foundation. He will receive $223,000.00 over three years to study the contribution of astrocytes to normal brain function.

Astrocytes, named for their characteristic “star shape, have been traditionally considered members of the support crew, known as glia, which nourishes and protects neurons in the brain. More recently, they have emerged as sophisticated cellular players that are actively involved in regulating neural circuit development and function.

— Five bioengineering Ph.D. students from the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering whose research is aimed at improving human health are among the 2012 recipients of the annual Siebel Scholars awards. They are Jessica DeQuach, Che-Ming Jack Hu, Dan Kagan Lauren Hruby Jepson and Nathan Lewis.

Selected for their outstanding academic performance and leadership, each student receives a $35,000 fellowship during the final year of their studies.