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Salk Investigator Lei Wang receives NIH new innovator award

$1.5 million in funds will support novel use of amino acids to study cancer development

Salk researcher Dr. Lei Wang has been named a 2008 recipient of the National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award. He joins a group of young scientists who will receive a portion of more than $138 million in support of innovative approaches to biomedical research.

Wang, assistant professor in the Chemical Biology and Proteomics Laboratory, will receive $1.5 million over the next five years to fund research that will design and incorporate novel amino acids in roundworms, a widely used model organism that’s easy to raise in the lab, to study how a class of proteins transmits signals regulating development and cancer. A total of 31 scientists from scientific institutes across the country received the honor this year.

“Lei’s pioneering work in proteomics and his innovative approach in an effort to answer important questions in this field of research is quite deserving of this honor,” said Salk’s Interim President and Nobel Laureate Dr. Roger Guillemin. “I congratulate Lei and applaud the NIH for supporting young scientists who ask bold scientific questions.”

Launched in 2007, the New Innovator Award supports early career investigators with high-impact research interests. Today’s announcement was made in conjunction with a second NIH award, the Pioneer Award, which went to 16 researchers who will each receive $2.5 million over five years. Both awards are part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, a series of initiatives designed to address fundamental knowledge gaps in science.

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“Nothing is more important to me than stimulating and sustaining deep innovation, especially for early career investigators and despite challenging budgetary times. These highly creative researchers are tackling important scientific challenges with bold ideas and inventive technologies that promise to break through barriers and radically shift our understanding,” said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

A Searle Scholar, a Beckman Young Investigator, and a recipient of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s (CIRM) New Faculty Award, Wang pioneered a method to accommodate additional amino acids, the molecular building blocks of all proteins, in bacteria. Since then, he developed a novel strategy to expand the natural repertoire of amino acids in mammalian cells, including neurons.