NIH Director’s Pioneer Awards Granted to Two BRAIN Initiative Scientists

BY:BRAIN Initiative Alliance

Summary: The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award was granted to two scientists who are actively involved in the BRAIN Initiative: Dr. Jin Hyung Lee and Dr. James Eberwine.

BRAIN Initiative-associated neuroscientists, Dr. James Eberwine (left) and Dr. Jin Hyung Lee (right) were 2 of 11 recipients who received NIH Director’s Pioneer Awards for 2019. Photo credit: NIH Office of Strategic Coordination – The Common Fund.

As part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund, the High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program recently awarded 93 recipients from different biomedical, social, and behavioral science fields distinct awards for their original and innovative research. This program focuses on proposals that normally would be deemed too premature or risky in the traditional peer-review process, despite their relevance to the NIH’s mission. The four awards included the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (11 awards), the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award (60 awards), the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award (9 awards), and the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award (13 awards). The 93 funded grants total nearly $267,000,000.

One of the prestigious awards, the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, was granted to two scientists who are actively involved in the BRAIN Initiative: Dr. Jin Hyung Lee and Dr. James Eberwine. The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award was originally established in 2004 to fund scientists from all career stages who proposed “pioneering” research with broad scientific implications beyond their field. As consideration for the award, ground-breaking proposals included research with substantial departures from previously or currently funded research. Dr. Lee and Dr. Eberwine will be individually awarded $700,000 for five years to fund their innovative research.

Jin Hyung Lee, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery, Bioengineering and Electrical Engineering at Stanford Medicine, helped pioneer optogenetic functional magnetic resonance imaging (ofMRI). This revolutionary technique combines high-resolution functional MRI with the precision of optogenetic stimulation of specific neuronal populations. Thus, ofMRI can be used to elucidate neural networks across the entire brain. Dr. Lee is a BRAIN Initiative investigator who was awarded an R01 research project grant, which aims to define cell type specific contributions to fMRI signals. Dr. Lee is now focusing her research on the development of new brain-imaging technologies that allow subjects to move about freely.

James (Jim) Eberwine, Ph.D., is the Elmer Holmes Bobst Professor of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Eberwine helped pioneer single-cell transcriptome techniques that allow researchers to assess RNAs present in individual cells, and their relative abundance. Ushering in the new era of single cell genomics, Dr. Eberwine and his colleagues’ work aims to quantitatively define both the subcellular localization and the structure of RNAs in each cell. This research also hopes to address what types of RNA structures exist in dendrites and axons and how such structures affect RNA biology (e.g., whether they facilitate stability or degradation). Dr. Eberwine is an active member of the NIH BRAIN Initiative Multi-Council Working Group and NIH BRAIN Initiative Neuroethics Working Group, and he is co-chair of the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director BRAIN Initiative Working Group 2.0 Neuroethics Subgroup. Dr. Eberwine believes that “…this is a great time to be using transformative technologies. The BRAIN Initiative has enabled us to answer many of the questions we’ve been asking for years.” He encourages everyone to study the exciting field of neuroscience – to help elucidate the most complicated organ, the brain.